Wildly Dangerous Things That Happened On The Set Of The Wizard Of Oz

Workplace health and safety standards were pretty much nonexistent in the early 20th century, especially in Hollywood. There are few films where this was more apparent than during the 1939 production of The Wizard of Oz. The film's director, Victor Fleming, was known for being a stickler, as well as a bit of a bully, and he didn't seem to be concerned about letting a minor thing like safety stop him from making the hit movie he envisioned. From the very beginning of filming, The Wizard of Oz was the site of all kinds of dangerous accidents and unsafe working conditions.

For starters, the white snow that fell on the actors during the famous poppy field scene was actually pure asbestos. According to Atlas Obscura, chrysotile asbestos fibers were commonly used by film studios to simulate falling snow, despite the fact that people had been aware of its health risks since the early 20th century. The Wicked Witch's broom was also made up of asbestos, as well as the Scarecrow costume that Ray Bolger wore nearly every single day of filming.

That wasn't the only costume that had the potential to cause significant health issues, either.

The Tin Man's make-up was toxic

The Tin Man costume also caused quite a few problems. Buddy Ebsen, who was the initial actor cast as the Tin Man, turned out to be dangerously allergic to the aluminum dust that was used to give the Tin Man his metallic shine.

Ebsen — who went on to play Jed Clampett on the sitcom "The Beverly Hillbillies" from 1962 to 1971 — had to be hospitalized due to that allergic reaction, and he ultimately had to bow out of the film entirely. However, Ebsen's singing can still be heard during "We're Off To See The Wizard" as his recording made it into the film's soundtrack. As a result of his time as the Tin Man, Esben experienced lifelong health effects and breathing problems, and he never even got the chance to appear on the screen. 

Ebsen was replaced by Jack Haley, and the dust was replaced with an aluminum paste that could be painted on, reports ThoughtCo. The paint wasn't without its own problems, though — it gave Haley an eye infection and filming had to be delayed while he recovered. Luckily, Haley was able to keep the job, and he did not appear to have any long-lasting effects from the Tin Man's makeup.

The Oz costume woes don't stop there, unfortunately. Bert Lahr's Cowardly Lion costume had been fashioned out of genuine lion hide which unsurprisingly made it very heavy and hot inside. Coupled with the heat generated by the overhead studio lights, Lahr getting overheated while in character was a legitimate concern (via Dusty Old Thing).

Pyrotechnic disasters put two actresses in the hospital

Even more dramatic accidents also occurred while on the set of The Wizard of Oz. Both Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West, and her stunt double, Betty Danko, were badly burned when scenes involving fire went terribly wrong. When the Wicked Witch leaves Munchkinland in a pyrotechnic display of fire and smoke, Margaret Hamilton was supposed to drop through a trapdoor. However, the door malfunctioned, and Hamilton suffered second- and third-degree burns on her face and hands. To make matters worse, Hamilton's role as the Wicked Witch required her to be painted green, and the only way to remove the paint was with alcohol, which exacerbated her wounds, per History Collection. Hamilton had to take six weeks off to recover before she returned to the set, on the condition that she would not do any more scenes involving fireworks.

Betty Danko, Hamilton's stunt double, was tasked with filming the next scene that required fire, and that scene also went horribly wrong. While filming the scene in which the Wicked Witch writes "Surrender Dorothy" across the sky with her broom, Danko was required to sit on an actual metal pipe that was filled with combustible materials. The pipe exploded, and Danko suffered extreme burns on her legs and had to be hospitalized for 11 days. The studio still decided to go forward with the skywriting scene, hiring a stunt actress named Aline Goodwin to finish the take. 

Judy Garland's preparation for her role as Dorothy wasn't exactly heatlhy

According to History of Yesterday, Judy Garland hadn't been the top choice to play Dorothy. Instead, studio heads wanted Shirley Temple who was six years younger than Garland, but upon auditioning, Temple was found to be lacking in the vocal range department. Garland was 16 years old when she shot the film, and she was required to take extreme measures to make her body appear younger including having her breasts taped down and squeezing into a tight corset. 

The studio also put Garland on a weight control diet that no modern dietician in their right mind would ever recommend. It consisted of only chicken soup, black coffee, and cigarettes, and this was then supplemented with diet pills for good measure. Additionally, the studio administered adrenaline shots to keep Garland's energy up, but at night she was given the sleep aid Seconal to help her rest at night (via Dusty Old Thing). Sadly, this wasn't a new thing for Garland, as her mother was known to give her what she called "pep pills" when she performed as a young child.