Latest 'Wizard' stirs up memories from childhood and later years

Lynda Hollenbeck

It was a nasty day weather-wise and I wasn't sure I wanted to spend a couple of hours cooped up in a movie theater, even for a sure-fire entertainment hit like "The Wizard of Oz." It was showing at a Central Arkansas theater as part of a special anniversary showing and the invitation was tempting.
I had been in and out of the drizzle throughout the day and looked like something the cat had dragged in and rejected. Humid, rainy weather and redheads are not a good mix.
To top it off, the nastiness had stirred up my allergies and I had a headache. I wasn't sure I was fit company for a gathering of gnats, much less longtime family friends.
I could hear the couch calling my name, but at the last minute I rejected the temptation and decided to go along for the wide-screen showing of "Oz," which now has 3-D enhancement.
Suffice it to say it was a wise move on my part. The movie is wonderful when the characters are bigger than the audience folk watching it, and when you're with classic movie aficionados, as I was, it made it even more fun.
Details that had escaped my attention in the many previous viewings proved to be a delightful form of serendipity. The colors are enhanced, Judy Garland is twice as beautiful as she seemed in the dozens of times I've seen the movie previously, and the children in Babyland are charming. One little girl was having the best time, just giggling away; I had never even noticed her before.
However, the flying monkeys and weird birds are a bit disconcerting, albeit interesting, in 3-D.
"Wizard" is just a great film any way, no matter what size screen it's shown on — from the ones we used to watch on the smallest, round-screen TVs to the giant theater screen where I recently saw it.
This calls to mind a bit of trivia. Friend Brenda remembers her first time to see "Wizard" — on a black and white TV set in her family home. She swears that as Judy Garland as Dorothy stepped into Oz, Dorothy and her trio of Tin Man, Scarecrow and Lion suddenly turned into living color.
That's Brenda's story and she's sticking to it. Go figure.
James Theatre in Cotton Plant was the venue for my first venture into Oz. I was in elementary school and was completely enthralled — until the tornado scene. At that point I was so overcome with such terror that I got down on the floor and crawled under my seat.
"Wizard" is great in live form as well. Several years ago I was part of the cast of the Royal Players' production of "Wizard."
I hadn't planned to be in the show, but was drafted by the director after rehearsals were under way. His entreaty to me was: "I need you. I'm making you a singing tree."
With apologies to Joyce Kilmer, my response — which only people of a certain age will get — was: "Only God can make a tree."
I bowed to persuasion (begging can work wonders) and agreed to be one of the three trees that sang in the Enchanted Forest. In doing so, I wore the hottest costume I've ever had on in my life. It was a brown felt thing that left only my eyes, nose and mouth exposed.
This was in July in Arkansas in the air-conditioned Royal Theatre where the AC at that time was barely functioning. The person trying to help by adjusting the thermostat accidentally turned the setting to heat and the audience came close to seeing three living trees turn to dust.
But that wasn't the whole of the experience. Not only was I a tree that sang, I also became one of the citizens of Oz (a beautician wearing an elf-like tunic with green leggings); an intoxicated poppy; a chorus member; and a marching Winkie guarding the witch's castle.
It was an adventure I'm not likely to forget.
Several years back, when my cousin Paula — my first drama teacher and a lifetime theater buff — lay on her hospital death bed, the keen wit that had marked her personality throughout her life was rekindled in her last hours.
During that final visit with Paula, a nurse came in to attend to her. I never would have said anything to call attention to the fact that the woman bore a remarkable resemblance to the actress who played Miss Gulch/Wicked Witch of the West in "Oz." But of course I noticed the uncanny likeness.
My witty cousin was another story — and remember, at this stage, she had no reason to hold back.
Paula turned toward her sister and me, then cut her glance back in the direction of the nurse and said, with the perfect enunciation and precise projection you'd expect from a theatrical director, "Margaret Hamilton."
Sissy (Paula's sister) was mortified and quickly tried to cover the situation. She said to the nurse, who looked puzzled, "Oh, sometimes she talks out of her head."
It's one of those classic family moments I'll treasure always.

Lynda Hollenbeck is senior editor of The Saline Courier.