Movie history: Wizard of Oz turns 75 Friday

Learning about Wizard of Oz's tornado

DETROIT – When I was a kid, the Wizard of Oz was one of my favorite movies … but probably not for the same reasons as you (insert geeky image of a young Paul Gross here).

You see, I've been fascinated with weather since I was seven years old, and the Wizard of Oz had the best man-made tornado ever.  So whenever the movie came on, I watched through the tornado scene, and then changed the channel.  That's all I needed to see!  It's a good thing that DVRs hadn't been invented then, because who knows how long I would have sat there playing and replaying that tornado scene.

Have you ever wondered how they made that tornado?  Special effects back in 1939 obviously entailed a lot of manual labor, and the Wizard of Oz tornado was no exception.  In fact, it was the single most expensive special effect in the entire movie!  So how did they do it?  Believe it or not, that tornado was a cloth windsock, like you see blowing in the wind at airports – showing pilots the wind direction.

For the movie they made a thirty-five foot long windsock, and everything they had to do to make this thing look like a tornado is quite a story.  Veteran tornado chaser Tim Marshall wrote a great article explaining the whole process, which you can read right here.

But before you do that, check out the video below! This is the actual footage showing the Wizard of Oz production team's tornado tests!  They obviously got it just right, because the tornado scene in the movie is spectacular and very realistic.

Wizard of Oz tornadoes

And now, here's the real icing on the cake:  I just received an e-mail from Patrick Patercsak of Clarkston.  He told me that they had seen the discussion on the Today Show this morning about the 75th anniversary of the Wizard of Oz.  Later, he was driving his nine-year old daughter to camp, and she said that the Wicked Witch of the West was flying over Clarkston!  He snapped the photo below of a cloud that really does look like the witch!  Wow…what a coincidence.

This photo, sent in by 9-year-old viewer Natalie Patercsak and her father Patrick, looks strangely like the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz!

Finally, how about a little trivia:  The Wizard of Oz was nominated for but did not win the Academy Award for best picture in 1939.  What movie beat it out?


Gone With The Wind!

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