Amherst, N.H. - It was only one in a series of mishaps that upset production of the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz. Nearly seventy years later, a memento of a near-tragedy has re-emerged as a one-of-a-kind treasure with a provenance tracing directly to the set of the film. A copy of L. Frank Baum's New Wizard of Oz, signed by the principal cast, more than a dozen other cast and crew members, and even Dorothy's "little dog, too" is among the lots featured in R&R Enterprises' February auction.
The history of the item begins in December 1938. As the cameras rolled during the sequence in which Margaret Hamilton, as the Wicked Witch of the West, was supposed to disappear from Munchkinland in a puff of smoke, a malfunction in the trapdoor elevator ignited her highly flammable makeup. Hamilton suffered severe burns that left her unable to return to the studio for six weeks, and she thereafter refused to perform in any scenes involving pyrotechnic effects.
In a demonstration of the showbiz dictum "the show must go on"-a virtual imperative, given the film's then-astronomical budget of $2.77 million-a number of the Witch's scenes were shot with Betty Danko, who had been hired as Hamilton's stunt double. Though better prepared for physical rigors than Hamilton had been, Danko herself was injured during filming-most notably when, during the famous ³Surrender Dorothy² skywriting sequence, a smoke-effects pipe exploded and blew Danko off her broomstick.
Danko's contribution to the storied production was obviously much appreciated by her fellow cast and crew members, who showed their regard by signing this copy of Baum's beloved tale. Among the signatures are those of Judy Garland (who signed twice), Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Frank Morgan, and Clara Blandick. Margaret Hamilton signs with a grateful inscription: "Between fire & explosion, it's been fun! Thank you Betty dear-for all you 'took' for me!" The book even includes what is arguably the rarest of all Oz-related "signatures," the inked paw print of Toto, helpfully identified with a caption in a human hand.
Billed at the time of release as "MGM's Technicolor Triumph," The Wizard of Oz has transcended mere popularity to become a singular icon in the history of film-and one of the benchmarks of American popular culture. With a mere handful of items signed by all of the film's principal cast members known to exist, the provenance tracing directly to an important member of the production, and the likely unique contribution to Toto, the present item is expected to generate an unusual level of interest among the legions of collectors and die-hard fans.
R&R Enterprises, based in Amherst, New Hampshire, holds monthly auctions of autographs in every field. The next auction begins January 29 and ends February 14; bids are accepted online or via telephone, fax, or mail. For information on consigning, visit the R&R website at www.rrauction.com or contact consignment manager Elizebeth Otto at [email protected]. The company's toll-free telephone number is 1-800-937-3880.