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The Wizard of Oz tornado scene was the costliest, not directed by Victor Fleming

Thursday, August 12th 2021, 4:34 am - On this day in weather history, The Wizard of Oz premiered at the Strand Theater in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.

This Day In Weather History is a daily podcast by Chris Mei from The Weather Network, featuring stories about people, communities and events and how weather impacted them.


On Saturday, August 12, 1939, The Wizard of Oz first opened at the Strand Theater in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. The film is based on L. Frank Baum's 1900 children's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

The film stars Judy Garland and was primarily directed by Victor Fleming. Fleming was pulled away to help take over the direction of Gone with the Wind.

The Wizard of Oz (1939) The Wizard of Oz, 1939. Courtesy of Flickr

The Wizard of Oz was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It won the Oscar for Best Original Song and Best Original Score but Best Picture to Gone with the Wind.

The film assigned Fleming's friend, King Vidor, to finish directing the movie. Vidor directed Garland's singing of Over the Rainbow and the tornado scene. So, in a way, both Fleming and Vidor were directing "gone with the wind" (a terrible tornado pun).

The tornado scene is considered to be incredibly realistic – even in today’s special effects standards. Arnold Gillespie, special effects director of The Wizard of Oz, created the tornado by suspending a muslin cloth from a steel gantry. The crew originally used rubber, but it wasn't flexible enough to make the tornado appear realistic.

Oconomowoc, Wisconsin Courtesy Stand Theater Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. Courtesy of Strand Theater

Gillespie used compressed air to spray Fuller's earth, emulating the effects of a tornado. They used a model version of Dorothy's house to create the scene. Footage of the tornado was used in the 1943 film Cabin in the Sky.

The tornado is the costliest scene in the movie. The overall budget for the film was $2.8 million, and it made $29.7 million at the box office.

To learn more about the creation of the tornado in The Wizard of Oz, listen to today's episode of "This Day In Weather History."

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