Today we reminisce about
Frank Morgan in The Wizard of Oz
Frank dressed as The Wizard of Oz alongside director Victor Fleming.
* Published specifically for The Wizard of Oz Blogathon hosted by Rebecca at Taking Up Room *
The Wizard of Oz is almost as quintessentially American as apple pie. It is not only a cinematic masterpiece; it is also a part of pop culture royalty. I cannot remember exactly when I first saw the film but I am supposing that it was at a very young age. When I was about 5 years old, I remember going to see my big brother’s Elementary School play version of The Wizard of Oz. The experience was particularly memorable because he was playing one of the Wicked Witch of the West’s flying monkeys. Even though this was a family-friendly production, I was as terrified as if those monkeys were the exact same ones from the film. As the years went by, L. Frank Baum’s book appeared on my school reading lists and the film would regularly be shown on television. Years down the road, I even got to see a pair of Dorothy’s ruby slippers at The Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. The Wizard of Oz seemed to be a living part of mainstream society.
Whenever I watched the film, I was always mesmerised by the transition from sepia-toned Kansas to the jaw-dropping Technicolor of the Land of Oz, which I thought really existed. Glinda the Good Witch of the North reminded me of an angel while the Wicked Witch of the West made me very uneasy. The moment when the legs of the Wicked Witch of the East shrivel up and retreat under the Gale farmhouse still feels very macabre to me. Not only that, the impending tornado was nerve-racking due to its realism. Even today, I find myself retaining the emotions about the film that I had as a child. (I am still somewhat in denial that the three farm workers doubled as the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and The Cowardly Lion!) This is truly a story for all ages and is a great conveyor of the appeal of fantasy worlds.
In regard to specific characters, I never really had a favourite even amongst the main leads. As I watched more classic films and became familiar with some of the actors’ other pictures, they started to stand out more as individuals rather than being just a part of an ensemble cast. It is the Great Wizard himself, Frank Morgan, who has completely won my heart as an incredibly talented character actor and genuinely all-around nice guy. His most beloved role to me is in fact not one that he played in The Wizard of Oz but one he played the following year in The Shop Around the Corner. To this day, he is Mr. Hugo Matuschek to me and my family. No matter what part he is playing however, Frank always makes an impression.
Frank with Jimmy Stewart in The Shop Around the Corner.
Frank’s full range of talent is displayed in The Wizard of Oz as his casting afforded him to the opportunity to play six completely different characters. He is first introduced to us as Professor Marvel, a fortune-teller who can read one’s past, present and future in a Crystal Ball. Purportedly, he is also acclaimed by the Crowned Heads of Europe! After the tornado hits, we do not see Frank again for quite a while until Dorothy and her friends reach the Emerald City. His second character is the greeter at the city gateway, officially recognised as The Uppity Doorman to the Emerald City. Immediately after the group is granted access to enter, they are transported by a Coachman with a Horse of a Different Color. Within a matter of a seconds, the horse changes from purple to red and then to yellow! When they have all been groomed and prepared, they try to see the Great Wizard, at which point they are refused by the Guard at the Gates to Oz’s Castle. Again, after some delay, they go into the castle where they come face-to-face with an altar-like structure and a large, glowing face that identifies itself as the Great Wizard of Oz. It is only at the end of the film that we finally get the see The Wizard of Oz in his human form.
Not one, not two, but 6 times Frank Morgan! 🙂
“It is unclarified if the Gatekeeper of Oz, the Guard and the Coachman are the same character as the Wizard of Oz himself, dressed differently because he finds [it] more safe to do everything in his house without trusting in anybody to do ‘his’ work, but not wanting the people of Oz (and Dorothy) to know how he really looks like.”*
I found the above statement very interesting because these three characters are very similar to one another and the three others in both appearance and behaviour. All of them have big, bushy moustaches which curl up at the end and each of them wears gloves. Both the Doorman and the Guard are very rude to Dorothy and their friends when they seek entry, also very much in the spirit of the Great Wizard who seems to spurn them at any given opportunity. The Coachmen is the nicest of them all and is most like Professor Marvel while the Wizard is a combination, showing a wider array of reactions. Professor Marvel and the Wizard have very similar costumes as they both wear a white shirt, black tie, vest, blazer and patterned pants (the Professor has a gingham pattern while the Wizard has a striped one). It is highly logical to believe that the Wizard of Oz is pretending to be other people and that he is able to swap costumes so rapidly. After all, how many people are actively trying to get into the Emerald City? There are apparently so few that the Doorman forgot to put up the “Out of Order” sign. He would admittedly have to be extremely rapid to change into the Coachmen’s costume but nothing is impossible in Oz! Since the Wizard tends to isolate himself and refuse visitors, he would certainly have some extra time on his hands not to mention be quite bored.
The Wizard is probably the most elusive of all the characters Frank plays because he does not share much about himself or his intentions. I have always wondered why he never gives an explanation as to why he was so mean to Dorothy and her friends when he was behind the curtain pretending the be the Great Wizard. Dorothy was obviously a gentle, polite young woman who was not asking for much but to go home. When Toto uncovers his true identity, Dorothy exclaims that he is a “very bad man” to which the Wizard responds that he is in fact a “very good man”. This is something that I want to believe myself but I still do not understand his negative, domineering alter ego that is the Great Wizard, which is also the polar opposite of the Professor’s personality. Also, if he could provide help so easily then why would he not want to be more open and available to people? In the novel, it is revealed that the Wizard is not from Kansas but is from Omaha, Nebraska, and is a conman who pretends to have magical powers. This is a direct reflection of Professor Marvel who, though kind-hearted, is clearly not gifted as a psychic.
It goes without saying that Frank’s contribution to this film is beyond compare and without him, the film would lose a certain amount of its appeal. Sources say that W.C. Fields was first offered the role(s) but turned down MGM’s offer while it is also said that Frank heavily campaigned for the film and was outright the first choice. Whatever the case, Fleming saw something in Frank that did not prove him or anyone else wrong. If you are not familiar with Frank’s other films, I highly suggest you see them. No doubt you will be pleasantly surprised at how much of his six characters are noticeably present in his other performances. Frank Morgan was a consummate thespian; something these days that is a stuff of legends… or dreams.