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On Judy Garland's 100th birthday, a look at the classic 'Wizard of Oz'

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Her name at birth was Frances Ethel Gumm. But you probably know her as Judy Garland - actress, singer, one of Hollywood's biggest stars as a teenager. She had dozens of film roles from the "Let's Put On A Show" movies with Mickey Rooney to "A Star Is Born." She's especially beloved for the film that critic Bob Mondello revisited when its multi-disc 75th anniversary set was released in 2005. We thought an encore would be a nice way to celebrate Judy Garland today, which would have been her 100th birthday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BOB MONDELLO: The first few times I saw "The Wizard Of Oz," my family still had a black-and-white TV set. So Dorothy's arrival into Oz was not the gee-whiz moment it might have been. She stepped from her black-and-white Kansas farmhouse into a black-and-white Oz, where the foliage was shiny and the Munchkins looked like tiny gray clowns.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE WIZARD OF OZ")

JUDY GARLAND: (As Dorothy Gale) Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.

MONDELLO: When we finally got a color TV, it was different but only slightly. When Dorothy stepped through her door, it wasn't so much from black and white into color as from sepia into pastel.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE WIZARD OF OZ")

GARLAND: (As Dorothy Gale) We must be over the rainbow.

MONDELLO: I have since seen "The Wizard Of Oz" on much better TV sets and also on the big screen, at a theater where our local friends of Dorothy greeted Glinda's arrival in her pink bubble by releasing pink helium balloons that floated to the ceiling. On the bigger screen, it was easy to see that, in between her lines, Judy Garland had to hide her face in Toto's fur a couple of times because vaudevillian Bert Lahr was cracking her up.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE WIZARD OF OZ")

BERT LAHR: (As The Cowardly Lion) Is my nose bleeding (crying)?

GARLAND: (As Dorothy Gale) Well, of course not.

LAHR: (As The Cowardly Lion, crying).

GARLAND: (As Dorothy Gale) My goodness, what a fuss you're making.

MONDELLO: The prints I saw both on TV and in theaters were serviceable but gave the impression that 1930s cameras made everything a little fuzzy. The Technicolor process used separate film strips for blue, yellow and red. But when the original negatives got warped, the color strips didn't line up right, and the crispness disappeared. When the film was restored for the DVD, the negatives were realigned digitally. After 66 years, it's almost as if someone finally thought to clean the lens on the projector.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE WIZARD OF OZ")

GARLAND: (As Dorothy Gale) It's beautiful, isn't it?

MONDELLO: The new DVD also has 13 hours of extras - a half dozen alternate versions of "Over The Rainbow," for instance, including a deleted verse that a scared, miserable Dorothy was to have sung after she'd been locked up in the witch's castle.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OVER THE RAINBOW")

GARLAND: (As Dorothy Gale, singing) Someday I'll wake and rub my eyes, and in that land beyond the skies, you'll find me.

MONDELLO: I'm going to guess this was cut because Judy Garland did it too well. Kids would have been inconsolable if they'd left it in. The film might not have recovered.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE WIZARD OF OZ")

GARLAND: (As Dorothy Gale, singing) Somewhere over the rainbow, blue birds fly. Birds fly over the rainbow. Why...

(Crying) I'm frightened. I'm frightened, Auntie Em. I'm frightened.

MONDELLO: Isn't that sad? How on earth would you follow it? How am I going to follow it? How about with a version that's more like the one we all remember?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OVER THE RAINBOW")

GARLAND: (As Dorothy Gale, singing) Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high, there's a land...

(Coughing) I'm sorry.

MONDELLO: There now, isn't that better? And there are other outtakes, too - a deleted dance sequence for Ray Bolger's Scarecrow and a song that never got fully staged but that did get recorded about a big insect called the jitterbug.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE JITTERBUG")

GARLAND: (As Dorothy Gale, singing) Did you just hear what I just heard?

RAY BOLGER: (As The Scarecrow, singing) That noise don't come from no ordinary bird.

GARLAND: (As Dorothy Gale, singing) It may be just a cricket or a critter in the trees.

JACK HALEY: (As The Tinman, singing) It's giving me the jitters in the joints around my knee.

MONDELLO: The scene was never filmed. What we see on the DVD are composer Harold Arlen's home movies, shot from behind one of Oz's apple-throwing trees. So you can sort of see how it might have looked and also see the guys inside the trees.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE JITTERBUG")

GARLAND: (As Dorothy Gale, singing) Who's that hiding in the treetops? It's that rascal the jitterbug.

MONDELLO: You can see why they cut this number. It was padding, something you could also say about a few of the DVD's extras. Five silent versions of "The Wizard Of Oz" dating back to 1910 don't add much, even though one stars Oliver Hardy, the big half of Laurel and Hardy. If those, why not shows that came later? - the African American musical "The Wiz" and "Wicked" and that dreadful Chevy Chase movie "Under The Rainbow." But then, wandering too far afield would hardly be in this movie's spirit.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE WIZARD OF OZ")

GARLAND: (As Dorothy Gale) If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own backyard because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with.

MONDELLO: That's sort of what the restorers discovered and why they labored so hard to revive the film's color, clarity and sound. The point was to make the film not better but just the way we think we remember it. And now it is - not quite enough to make you say, there's no place like home video, but close.

I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF HAROLD ARLEN SONG, "IF I ONLY HAD A BRAIN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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United States & World MoviesMorning EditionAll Things Considered
Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.