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1939 theatrical release poster, from Wikipedia

1939 theatrical release poster, from Wikipedia

Last Friday, September 20, 2013, NBC Nightly News aired a piece narrated by Brian Williams about The Wizard of Oz. Although the reason for this news segment was the just-released 3D version of the film, Brian Williams waxed nostalgic about the world in 1939 when the original movie came out. He placed us in a time so very different than our own, and made us think about how the world has changed in the intervening 74 years and about our own experiences with the movie.

Mr. Williams described the film as “scary and magical and happy and sad.” It had everything, he said—heart and brains and courage, a girl from Kansas, a good man who was a bad wizard, a good witch and a bad witch, an F5 tornado, Auntie Em, flying monkeys, and Toto, too.  (I smiled when I heard “and Toto, too,” the tag line that has become part of our popular lexicon.) The film’s lessons, according to Mr. Williams, are about trust, about good and evil, and most importantly about going home.

Isn’t that a wonderful summary of the movie’s story and themes? NBC has some very good writers, but listen to Brian tell the tale, because his gentle humor and goodwill add to the impact of a story well told.

As I heard Mr. Williams last Friday, I wondered whether anyone could summarize my stories so well. That’s how writers think—always comparing other works to their own. Writers worry about how to craft a good pitch for their novels. And, of course, The Wizard of Oz was a novel before it was a movie. (Though the book by L. Frank Baum was not as magical as the movie. I read several of the Oz novels as a child; there were about twenty of them all told.)

In addition to listening to this news segment as a writer, I also heard it as a movie-goer myself and as a teller of family tales.

My parents were just six years old when The Wizard of Oz came out. They talked about seeing it as children and the impression that it made on them. It and Disney’s Snow White were the major children’s films of their era.

I probably saw The Wizard of Oz for the first time when I was about six. I don’t remember if I saw it first on television or in the theatre. The flying monkeys scared me silly, though I didn’t think their boss—the Wicked Witch of the West—was so bad.  And like all little girls, I wanted to be Glinda when I grew up.

What I remember most about the movie from my childhood was the setting where I most frequently watched it—at the home of some family friends. The Wizard of Oz was broadcast annually on television during my grade school years. A couple in my parents’ bridge club had all the bridge club members, and all their children, and sometimes other friends and relations, over to watch—a group of about 25 people. It seemed like this gathering happened every year, but it probably only occurred two or three times. The setting pretty much wrecked the movie for me, even more so than the flying monkeys.

The hosts were the family that served Family Night Casserole, which I have described in an earlier post. Our entertainment began with a potluck dinner, which usually featured the dreaded Family Night Casserole, followed by popcorn during the movie. At least there were no restrictions on eating dinner before dessert, so I could fill up on popcorn.

The adults watched the movie upstairs on the hosts’ color television. The kids were sent to the basement. There were toys in the basement, but the only TV was an old black and white. Now you all know that one of the main attractions of The Wizard of Oz is seeing the screen turn to Technicolor when Dorothy gets to Oz. We second-class citizens in the basement didn’t get that thrill.

But even my father, who got to watch the movie upstairs, was heard to grouse before we went, “I don’t know why we can’t stay home and see it on our own TV.” Of course, he didn’t like Family Night Casserole either.

What do you remember about your family’s experience with The Wizard of Oz?

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