Study Guide

The Wizard of Oz Screenwriter

Advertisement - Guide continues below


Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, Edgar Allan Woolf; L. Frank Baum (novel)

Too Many Cooks Couldn't Spoil This Soup

Brace yourself: as befits a production as troubled as this one, the screenwriting credit is a bit of a hash. There are officially four people's names on the screenwriting titles, and IMDb lists a whopping 15 writers whose contributions went uncredited. This is the problem with writing by committee: too many fingers in the pie usually turn the whole thing into a mess.

At least everyone's clear about one thing: L. Frank Baum wrote the book, and a darn fine book it turned out to be. Baum died in 1919 and was probably very glad to be free and clear of the stinky bog that was the film adaptation process. After that things started to get hairy. Three other writers—Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf—are listed on the screenplay credits, but Langley gets an extra-special bonus credit: "Adaptation by." What the heck does that mean?

Untangling all those Titles

It helps to understand a little bit about how the screenplay got made. Langley was a South African émigré who wrote a series of bestselling novels in the early 1930s. In Hollywood, the phrase "bestselling novels" produces the same general reaction as throwing steak to hungry wolves, so Langley soon scored a high-end Tinseltown contract. By the time MGM wanted to make The Wizard of Oz, he already had a half-dozen writing credits to his name.

He started the script and contributed some of its biggest ideas: the notion that it could all be a dream, for instance, and the farm hands taking on roles in Oz. (He also changed those slippers from silver like they were in the book to ruby, thus altering the course of sequin history forever.) He didn't know that others would get involved. In fact, when he turned in the script in June of 1938, he figured the cameras were ready to roll.

Not so much.

His official co-writers, Ryerson and Woolf, also had big meaty contracts at MGM, and knew their way around a screenplay. They worked as a team, and when the brass made grumbling noises about Langley's version, these two came on to spruce it up.
The sprucing, it seems, got a little out of hand, and while the truth remains elusive, the producers apparently thought that the Ryerson/Woolf version was too talky. So Langley came back in to fix their fixes, probably sporting one of those eyeball twitches you get when the rage just cannot be contained any longer. He yanked out as much of the Ryerson/Woolf stuff as he could until MGM declared victory and turned the whole thing over to production (where revisions continued right up until the end).

Some Screenwriters are More Equal than Others

In light of that, the "adaptation" credit helps Langley stand out a little higher, while still giving Ryerson and Woolf their credit. This isn't at all unusual, and a lot of careful negotiation goes into who gets credit and how. (It's why, for example, Dwayne Johnson gets co-starring credit for The Mummy Returns, even though he's only in about 10 minutes of it.) Even so, be thankful that we got any kind of movie out of that hot mess, let alone one of the most beloved films ever made.

From chaos came perfection...don't ask us how.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...