Growing up in the sixties, the once-a-year broadcast of “The Wizard of Oz” was a big event, a sacred ritual in our family. I must have watched it a dozen times, but I saw that movie through the eyes of a child. Captivated by the story, terrified by the flying monkeys, wowed by the extravagance of the big numbers, I took the supporting characters for granted.
Only Dorothy mattered. Sure, the Cowardly Lion was good for a few laughs, but who cared about his dilemma? Ditto the Scarecrow and the Tin Man. Courage, brains, a heart: well, okay, they obviously needed reasons of their own to accompany Dorothy to Oz. You couldn’t have her skipping alone down the yellow brick road, or fretting about lions and tigers and bears (oh, my!) if there was nobody to fret with; sidekicks have their uses.
So it came as a surprise, this time around, to realize that it’s the sidekicks who carry the picture. Auntie Em and Uncle Henry were preoccupied with their own worries. Farming’s tough—I get that—but couldn’t they have fought a bit harder to keep Toto out of the clutches of Miss Gulch? As for the Wizard, I’m sure he meant well, but his wisdom consisted largely of smoke and lights, as he was the first to admit. And Glinda the Good Witch of the North was pretty patronizing, don’t you think, floating around in that bubble of hers? No wonder the Munchkins’ growth was stunted!
Only the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion see Dorothy for who she is, and in their company she becomes her better self. Don’t get me wrong. Judy Garland holds a special place in my heart. There she was, achingly young, her yearning expressed with such fervor in “Over the Rainbow.” I wish I didn’t know how her life began to unravel from that point onwards.
If only she’d had her three companions to see her through, she’d have kept her wits about her, trusted her heart, and discovered her reservoir of strength. She’d have stood up to the studio bosses who put her on pills and micro-managed her life, stopped marrying the wrong men, treated Lorna and Liza like daughters instead of rivals. Oh, and she’d have kept those ruby slippers. With good friends and the right pair of shoes, a girl can do anything
(24 October 2011)