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« What’s Alito’s Favorite Movie? | Main | You Can’t Always Get What You Want »

November 07, 2005


Beautiful, thought provoking post. Always loved the film, but never before considered it in the Jewish context. Hmmmm. My favorite character -- the cowardly lion. Not because of his nature or mission, but because his bulky size reminded me of my dear dead father (aleha ha-shalom).

You know that one day, this post will end up as some college freshman's term paper.

"Off to See the Wizard: The Historic Correlation Between the WWII-Jewish Experience and the Wizerd of Oz."
Professor Ludwig
FILM 205 (Mon/Wed)

Danny, what a brilliant and captivating post.

"Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore, we're in The Land of Danny Miller. I think we're going to like it here!"

Absolutely freaking hysterical and brilliant. Blog Danny be on a roll.

Crazy!!! Brilliant!!! Just yesterday I was telling my daughter that it used to be the case (before VCR's and DVD's) that when The Wizard of Oz came on around Thanksgiving it was a huge event. But the "jew" and "not jew" is just priceless, Danny. Thanks.

You're a genius! I know that this is going to sound impossible and unbelievable to you but I know very little about the Wizard of Oz. This piece has made me want to find out OH so much more about it. I'm guessing that Thanksgiving is the time? Please, please forgive my ignorance ...

Your post's title got me laughing right away.
Brilliant - a must read!

Isn't it weird how such an old movie has impacted so many? I never had these experiences with "viewings" but I was always fascinated by Dorothy and her story, at times obsessively.

Danny, you are so creative and write so well that I have to admit, I am insanely jealous. If they ever have a Wizard of Oz singalong at the Hollywood Bowl, can you please let me know?

Oh Danny...this made me laugh and made me cry, too! It is so very dear in every way. And I think your treatise on the deeper message of this movie has a truer message than maybe even you know! I'm serious! This is on of the most wonderful posts I have ever read! And THE most powerful essay on "The Wizard Of Oz" itself, I've ever seen,too!
Remember, also, the man who wrote the music for this film, the brilliant brilliant Harold Arlen, was Jewish, too!
(Lyricist Harburg probably was Jewish, too, in fact I'm pretty sure he was....!)

Thanks for a truly illuminating and deeply touching post, that had me laughing out loud and sobbing out loud, too!

I have never seen the entire movie. Maybe I should.

Danny, It's heartwarming to hear your description of the anticipation of the Wizard of Oz coming on t.v. each year. We did not have a color t.v. either, and each year I would trek down the street to my neighbor's house (the only person we knew with a color t.v.). Of course, that was after re-enacting the Wizard of Oz all day long prior to the evening's showing. I couldn't wait for this event year after year. (and it was an EVENT!). It was much to my delight when my first born took an extreme liking to the movie. But in the '80's, you could pop in the video and watch it 5 times a day (which he did). Our kids don't get to experience the "event" as we did...kind of sad, I think. Thank you for such a wonderful description of this timeless movie... timeless because of the last line...the message that we all need to remember...that everything really meaningful is right in your own backyard!


When I was a little kid we had a black and white TV, and when Dorothy would open the door of the cottage upon Oz, my mother would say, "Next year, in color!" Like "Next year, in the Holy Land."

Oh, Danny,
As soon as I saw that absolutely chilling picture of Dorothy superimposed outside the gates of Auschwitz, I knew that everything you say in this brilliant posting is true. The Wizard of Oz foresees what's going to happen in the world and the plight of Jews. By the way, was the movie (forget the Baum book which was really different) written by Jews?

Dorothy is clearly a sister to one of your other favorite heroines, Anne Frank. She's got the same tragic understanding of life that's way beyond her years. She's displaced, alienated, never knowing what the rules are, cut off from her heritage. Who is this Uncle and Aunt anyway? Are you sure they're not righteous gentiles keeping her safe from the Nazis? Where is her cantor father -- no wonder she's got such a great voice!! Oh, and when Dorothy says, Oh, oh, oh(which she says lot throughout the film) it's code for Oy Oy Oy. Danny, this deserves much wider exposure. The New Yorker, maybe???

To me, this was clearly your weirdest -- and most interesting post.

I also have fond memories of the Wizard of Oz's once a year showing (on CBS, I think). In some ways, the ease of seeing movies today is not as exciting as the 'special event' showing on TV before the advent of cable and VCRs. That experience is probably lost forever, just as is a family sitting around the radio listening to "Fibber McGee and Molly."

I also clearly remember hiding behind the couch when the flying monkeys came out. The Wizard of Oz was one scary movie!

Awesome post.

Some time ago, I read a terrific Salman Rushdie essay about how deeply resonant for Indians The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is - for Hindu, Moslem, and Sikh alike. So it crosses cultures, too.

I wish they would have kept the long scene of the Scarecrow dance and re-cut the movie with the Jitterbug scene in it. But sometimes a cake is just a cake, and to a hammer everything looks like a nail: this little Munchkin thinks your stretching things! :)

Deborah was brilliant to make the connection between Dorothy and Anne Frank. That immediately felt right.

It was really sad and ironic to read about how superior in some ways the experience of once-a-year event TV was -- when you looked forward to it so all year, and savored it so intensely -- to having a cassette you can pop in and watch half-distractedly any time you want.

This corresponds to my strange preference for listening to the radio, hunting through stations (if only NYC had an even halfway decent rock station!) and being surprised by a song I love, rather than wearing a WalkMan or iPod and hearing what I want, when I want it. (I suppose the iPod Shuffle is the compromise for me.) Some Frenchman, Camus maybe, said that what we really desire is to desire. Humans were not made to get what they want too easily! We all can have a surfeit of customized satisfaction now whenever we want, and it cloys.

On the other hand, I shouldn't be too nostalgic for such scarcity. You could read a book you loved over and over again and memorize it -- why not a movie? I would have been happy as a kid to have, say, "Bambi" and get to know it that well.

Dear Danny:
A sensitive, deep-sighted link-comparison between fact and fiction.

I'm not one for reading Blogs, but a friend suggested this one. It had me mesmerized to the very end.

Astounding -- why did you choose the Polish town of Staszow ?? My ancestors came from there. I go back there every year on a self-assigned mission of Holocaust Remembrance.
Jack G.

And here I thought it was a parody of William Jennings Bryan's financial "policies."

The annual showings on TV were an obligatory ritual in my WASP home, too, Danny. Oddly enough, though we felt duty-bound to watch it, I don't believe a single member of my household ever enjoyed it. It was like medicine you had to take. That, when you think about it, is how some people feel about religious ritual. So, maybe your feelings about 'Oz' as a Passover-like event with its own informal Haggadah aren't far off the mark.

Interestingly, after my wife and I were married, I learned that she disliked 'The Wizard of Oz,' too. I guess that proved that we were compatible. We haven't watched it in thirty-one years and I am content to leave it that way.

Mark Daniels

Hello Mark, via Danny.
I watched "The Wizard of Oz" last night on television. I felt duty-bound to after this amazing post ... and, oh dear, ... I fell asleep! T. woke me for parts he thought I should not miss like the Munchkins and the melting witch.

Somewhere the culture has missed me. Or perhaps there is something missing in me?

I adored the song: "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" though. That was magical and so wonderfully sung ...

Danny, can you ever forgive me? I kept thinking of Seinfeld "making out" during Schindler ... that's how bad I felt about falling asleep. You see, it was not out of fatigue ... I was bored. Oh dear! Oh dear!

Mark and Tamar, that's fascinating to me—I wonder if an early (non-forced) indoctrination is required. Of course all films are a matter of personal taste but I know when I watch the film today I am transported right back to my grandparents' wood-paneled den and I am reviewing each character as an archetype that represents a part of myself. I always feel Dorothy's longing for home at a visceral level and I'm still shaken by the terror of the Wicked Witch, especially the scene when Dorothy is trapped in the witch's castle waiting to be killed when the hourglass empties and suddenly Aunt Em appears in the witch's crystal ball shouting Dorothy's name. Dorothy runs to the ball screaming "Auntie Em! Auntie Em, I'm here!" just as Aunt Em's kindly black-and-white face morphs into the hideous distorted green face of the witch, mocking Dorothy's fears with her cackle, "Auntie Em! Auntie Em! I'LL GIVE YOU AUNTIE EM!" That scene still shakes me today, and I think of all the young people Dorothy's age who were calling out for their separated loved ones in the concentration camps or other terrible, lonely places throughout history. I heard an interview with Margaret Hamilton, the actress who played the witch, and even she thought that scene went too far—pure terror.

I forgive you for not liking the film but if the two of you are ever in L.A. together I'd like to organize a screening/lecture!

I also recommend seeing it in a theatre at some point to experience the communal energy (and a pristine print). Leah and I once saw the "The Wizard of Oz" screened at the Hollywood Bowl with 18,000 other people in attendance. Leah went dressed as author L.Frank Baum and got to meet several of the living munchkins and Judy Garland's daughter Lorna who was judging the costume contest.

A screening/lecture with you, 18,000 people, the Hollywood Bowl and meeting Judy Garland's daughter would help. Yes indeed, Danny, it would surely help!

You coming, Mark?

I don't know the protocol for this Danny, but I came back this AM to read what people's responses to your fantastically brilliant post were...I am shocked to read that there are people who do not like this film! Hmmmmm. I think what you said is true...the citcumstances on how you FIRST saw the film, make a Big difference....and I was reminded of something that Joyce V.P and I use to feel about the people who did not respond to "Spoon River" in a positive said something about them to us, and it wasn'good! I know that is a judgement not worthy of either Joyce or myself...but we couldn't help it. It was like, anyone who didn't respond to "Spoon River"...they were people from another planet....I apologize for these feelings, but.....well, draw your own conclusions.

I agree that this post belongs in The New Yorker!!!

Tamar and Danny:
I'm game.


By the way, Margaret Hamilton was originally from my hometown of Columbus and would occasionally give interviews to local stations about 'Oz." It was assuring as a kid for me to see this woman who had been so completely evil in the movie to turn out to be a pleasant and convivial person.

(Wasn't she in coffee commercials toward the end of her life?)

Mark Daniels

Hmmm, says that Hamilton was born in Cleveland.


Amazing writing! This film never ceases to astonish in it's ability to speak for the oppressed.You did a beautful job of speaking for those of us who love the movie and loathe anti-semitism. I'll leave it at that.

Certainly an interesting start to a thesis:-)

I also watched the annual showing of the film, but over here in the UK it was (is) always a Christmas presentation, so always brings memories of happy & full families. Although we were Jewish & brought up on stories of WW2, I never saw the connections before. Although my mother used to drum home the moral that no matter how poor you were, you were rich if you were loved!

I watched with my son last Christmas - his first time. He just didn't understand the black & white bit at all, never having seen B&W TV before!

Wonderful piece!! I love "The Wizard of OZ" and have ever since I was a little girl. Watched it last Sunday night even. Like others have mentioned, don't be surprised if your words show up on some students paper one day! ;)

I'm here because OldOldLadyOnTheHill sent me, I'm so glad she did!!

I just found this and I love the movie. The thought had never occurred to me to look at this in this way.. Thank you very much

Danny's analysis was interesting and 180 degrees different from my own. I watched the movie with my three year old recently and concluded the green, hooked-nose Witch of the West was the classic negative symbol of jews in Western Civilization.
The man behind the curtain in OZ is the Pope. The Vatican is what's down the Yellow Brick Road. The Good Witch of the North is the Queen of England. The Witch's Communist henchman are wearing traditional Russian garments, but immediately worship Dorothy upon the Bolshevik Jew Witch's death. The flying monkeys are African- Americans, specifically the Detroit Pistons. The Strawman is the Stupid Lovable American. The Lion is the Cowardly Powerful, slightly faggy, English Nobility. Tin Man is the Heartless Industrial German.
The Pope Wizard refuses to give the crew what they wanted unless they fetch him the Wicked Jew Witch's broomstick then he goes back on the promise except to say that only by killing the, ahem, Witch, they have acquired that for which they were searching.
I can't figure out Dorothy. She and Toto just want to go home. But the whole thing was just a dream, right?

Wow! A wonderful article about one of my all-time favorite movies! It was interesting how you compared the story to your cultural history. I especially liked the Jew/Non-Jew bit.
Now I have to be off to the nearest store to find a copy of Wizard of Oz, as you have given me a craving to watch the movie. :)

Probably too late for anyone to even read my comments, or moderate them...but...excellent. I teach Jewish High School on Sundays to 9th/10th graders...this semester, teaching Jews and Hollywood (yes, Hollywood is a Jewish invention)....will absolutely use this in tomorrow's class.

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