History of Make Up: The Wizard of Oz 1939

Film: The Wizard of Oz

Year: 1939

MUA: Jack Dawn (and about 28 other people who aren’t credited)

I love the Wizard of Oz, who doesn’t? But not many people know about the advances the makeup team on the production made during filming.

The classic would have looked very different if everything had gone to plan, but it didn’t and we ended up with the film people know and love to this day!

Up until the 1930s the makeup actors wore on film was basically just stage makeup. It was heavy with over-exaggerated expressions. Things started to improve when sound happened.

The Wizard of Oz presented new challenges for the makeup department: lions, scarecrows and witches, oh my!

The character of Dorothy was originally going to be blonde with a Hollywood glamour look, but the production changed directors and the new director felt she should have a more home-girl type of look (my words not his). (Like a rumour I once heard about someone trying for cheerleaders at the Quidditch matches in Harry Potter, thankfully no). In the end they finally decided on the iconic braids, though she still wears a red lip. (It was the 30s, so the make up industry was about the only one, except Hollywood, that had any money. More lipstick was sold during the Great Depression than at any other time but that’s another post for later)

Garland’s co-stars suffered more the she did, however – in the make up department anyway. We’re talking chemical burns, respiratory problems and a lasting greenish hue. The original tin man had to go to hospital for several weeks after he had a reaction to the aluminum powder used to make him silver.

The next tin man hardly had a better time. He couldn’t sit down in the costume and had to stand for the whole day, that’s at least 12 hours, probably more. He also couldn’t touch his face because the make up department used paint instead of the more dangerous powder.

The Wicked Witch of the West’s famous green skin was make up too. Yeah, not a bad skin condition, who knew? She was also painted – seems like they learned their lesson after they nearly killed someone. The green was copper-based and needed alcohol to remove it. That sounds reasonable, after all the Skin Illustrator palettes most of us pros have in our effects kits are alcohol based and need alcohol to remove them. Three problems:

One: the alcohol-based removers, etc. were in the early stages really and so had no safety standards.

Two: All of her skin that showed was painted in what one would assume was a thick layer of paint, so you would have to scrub hard to remove it.

And three: Her costume had caught fire earlier on in the production (in the scene where she disappears in a puff of smoke) and she was burned. She came back after a few days, what a trooper, but the alcohol must have hurt.

Jack Dawn is the only one credited in the make up department for the production in the actual credits, but there were around 30 other people who worked on it too. They are all listed on IMDB now though.

These are just a few stories that are known to of occurred during the production. I’m glad they made advancements in the field and paved the way for future MUAs,

Disclaimer: The way I think/type is all a little tongue in cheek. I mean no harm and I’m not paid for these opinions.

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