As “Oz: The Great and Powerful” becomes the year’s first blockbuster, with hopes of making a dent in the upcoming awards race, let’s take a look back at the Oscar history of Hollywood’s most memorable adaptation of Frank L. Baum’s classic tale.
“The Wizard of Oz” is one of the most beloved films of all time. Back in 1939, it was among the greatest lineup of Best Picture nominees ever assembled, contending against “Dark Victory,” “Gone with the Wind,” “Goodbye, Mr. Chips,” “Love Affair,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “Ninotchka,” “Of Mice and Men,” “Stagecoach” and “Wuthering Heights” for the top prize.
In addition to Best Picture, “Oz” was nominated in five other categories: Best Color Cinematography,(Harold Rossen), Best Art Direction (Cedric Gibbons, William A. Horning), Best Special Effects (A. Arnold Gillespie, Douglas Shearer), Best Music, Original Score (Herbert Stothart) and Best Original Song (Harold Arlen, E.Y. Harburg) for the oft-recorded “Over the Rainbow.”
1939 was a good year for director Victor Fleming, who directed both “Oz” and “Gone with the Wind” and won Best Director for the latter.
On Oscar night, “Oz” took home two awards – Original Score and Original Song – while David O. Selznick’s mega-production “Gone with the Wind” swept through the categories, winning Best Picture, Director, Actress (Vivien Leigh), Supporting Actress (Hattie McDaniel), Writing, Screenplay (Sidney Howard), Color Cinematography (Ernest Haller, Ray Rennahan), Art Direction (Lyle R. Wheeler), and Editing (Hal C. Kern, James E. Newcome), plus an honorary award for designer William Cameron Menzies and a Technical Achievement Award for R.D. Musgrave.
“Oz” lost its Special Effects bid to “The Rains Came” (Fred Sersen, Edmund H. Hansen). In the other top categories, Robert Donat took home Best Actor for “Goodbye, Mr. Chips,” while Thomas Mitchell won Best Supporting Actor for “Stagecoach.”
“The Wizard of Oz” turned Judy Garland into an overnight sensation, and she was rewarded for her efforts with a Munchkin-sized Juvenile Oscar, presented to her by frequent costar Mickey Rooney. It was the only Oscar statuette Garland would ever receive, despite bids for Best Actress for “A Star is Born” (1954) and Supporting Actress for “Judgment at Nuremberg” (1961).
Interesting side note about the 1939 awards: prior to the ceremony, the Los Angeles Times spilled the beans and revealed the winners, along with the respective vote counts of the nominees (Since then, only Price Waterhouse has been able to view the results before the winners are announced). Here’s betting you’ve never seen so many brave faces in Hollywood as you did that Oscar night!
So now the question becomes whether or not “Oz the Great and Powerful” can follow in the footsteps of its famous predecessor and become an Oscar contender. Production Designer Robert Stromberg, a two-time winner for his work on “Avatar” (2009) and “Alice in Wonderland” (2010), could certainly get some play, as could Costume Designer Gary Jones (a 1999 nominee for “The Talented Mr. Ripley”) and Visual Effects artists Scott Stokdyk and John Frazier (both previous winners for “Spider-Man 2” (2004)). But when it comes to the major categories, both an early release date and mediocre reviews mar its chances.