On August 25, 1939 mere weeks after it was completed, The Wizard of Oz had its premiere. MGM pulled out all the stops to promote its answer to Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
The mighty lion roared, but that wasn’t enough to bring out the crowds. The Wizard of Oz barely made back its production cost. When promotional costs were factored in, the film actually lost money. As far as Louis B. Mayer was concerned, the film was a major disappointment. Any plans for subsequent Oz pictures were canceled and Louis B. Mayer tried to salvage his investment by selling the Oz rights to the person who inspired him to pursue them to begin with- his friend Walt Disney.
Subsequent re-releases would eventually put the film in the black by 1948, but even then it wasn’t a huge profit. The film would be mostly forgotten until 1956 when CBS chose to air the film as part of its Ford sponsored movie block. This would be the Showcase the film needed. The Wizard of Oz exploded in popularity, finally becoming the classic film that MGM had expected.
The Wizard of Oz would finally get its happy ever after ending. That the production would suffer through so many problems and still come out a quality, classic film is a testament to MGM’s movie making system. Any one of the problems that befell the film could have dragged down a lesser studio. For all of the bad things that have been said about Hollywood’s studio system, a quality film like The Wizard of Oz would have been impossible to make without it.
To this day, The Wizard of Oz still enchants and delights new generations of children who long to discover for themselves what lies over the rainbow. Ray Bolger summed it up best when he told an interviewer who asked him if he received royalties that he had actually gained something more valuable to him- immortality.