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In 1938 to 1939 MGM Studios spent record amounts of money and applied new techniques while filming the classic movie, The Wizard of Oz. Many have written about the production of the film. It advanced film making to a new level.

During filming some members of the cast sustained injuries. In some cases the injuries delayed the filming process.


In the early days of film making, injuries and death were not uncommon. Accidents were often under-reported. Frequently, the production philosophy was “keep on filming to stay under budget.”

There are many hazards during filming. Examples are many electrical wires and equipment, hot lights, ladders, heavy and suspended equipment, power tools, and trip hazards. Cabling and carpentry items are everywhere. Often neglected is preplanning to deal with potentially hazardous situations.

The Wizard of Oz was groundbreaking. It filmed in Technicolor, which required bright lighting and sometimes raised the sound stage temperature to 100 degrees. The film incorporated many special effects.

Case #1. Allergic Reactions for the Tin Man

The original Tin Man in the film was Buddy Epson. He recorded all of the songs for the film before beginning filming his role.

He underwent testing of several approaches to make him look like a tin man. Finally, they glued a cap on his head and glued on a rubber nose. They covered these items and his skin with clown white and then put powdered aluminum dust on his face and head. After finishing tests, he took a deep breath. Two weeks later he could hardly breath. He went to a hospital where they determined that his lungs were coated with the aluminum dust. He spent two weeks there. Most likely it was an allergic reaction. At the time, pure aluminum dust was considered harmless. It was given to miners to breathe in order to protect their lungs from silicosis.

Some reports say Epson was placed in an oxygen tent and others say an iron lung. Some reports claim he experienced a collapsed lung. Following the two week hospital stay, Epson faced a six week recovery period. In any case, his tendency toward bronchitis remained the rest of his life. Because of his illness, he was replaced.

Jack Haley was Mr. Epson’s replacement. The production team switched makeup. Instead of applying the aluminum as a powder, the makeup team made it into a paste and painted it on. However, the paste caused Mr. Haley to experience a severe eye infection and was off work for four days. The Tin Man character had succumbed to a second, job-related incident.

Case #2. Flying Monkeys Fall

The flying monkey scene in the movie involved many miniature models of the creatures suspended from a gantry by piano wire.

In addition, there were about a dozen real people who played the part of a flying monkey. Most were small people. Some were jockeys and some were little people who also played Munchkins. One of the actors was 13 years old.

The costumes included battery packs on the actors’ backs that caused the wings to flap. The actors were suspended above the sound stage using thin piano wire about the diameter of pencil lead.

Several of the actors received significant injuries when the supporting wire broke and they fell several feet to the floor.

Case #3. The Wicked Witch of the West Receives Burns

The most famous injury during the film involved Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West. In one scene, she was to vanish in a burst of flame and smoke. The plan was for her to drop through a trap door and get carried into a pit by an elevator device just as the pyrotechnic devices were ignited.

The first take went well. However, management wanted a second scene. That occurred after lunch. There were about four attempts with mistakes in each. On the next attempt, the smoke and flames came too quickly. Part of Ms. Hamilton’s costume and props caught on fire. The fire burned off her eyelashes and right eyebrow. She burned her upper lip and badly burned an eyelid, second degree burns. However, she did not realize the burns she suffered. She looked down and saw there was no skin from her wrist to her fingernails on the right hand, third degree burns.

Then the pain set in. It became worse as film staff tried to remove the green makeup. Green makeup was toxic because it contained copper. Makeup staff knew the green makeup had to be completely removed. Normally, the makeup staff used acetone to remove the green makeup at the end of a day of filming. With the burns they used alcohol. It was a painful process. Then the MGM physician coated the burns with salve and bandaged them.

She recovered in a hospital and at home for six weeks. Upon her return to the studio, she refused to participate in any additional pyrotechnics scenes.

Ms. Hamilton had a stunt double and stand-in, Betty Danko. She, too, was severely burned in a scene. During a skywriting sequence at the Emerald City, she sat on a smoking pipe configured to look like the Witch’s broomstick. The pipe exploded during the third take. She spent 11 days in the hospital. The burns on her legs left permanent scars.



  • Aljean Harmetz, The Making of the Wizard of Oz, Knopf, 1977.

Web Sites

  • http://thoughtcatalog.com/nico-lang/2013/09/23- surprising-facts-about-the-wizard-of-oz-that-will-blow- your-mind/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Hamilton_(actress)
  • http://www.irishexaminer.com/lifestyle/features/the- wizard-of-oz-dark-side-of-the-rainbow-286270.html
  • http://oz.wikia.com/wiki/Margaret_Hamilton
  • http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/10938938/H ollywoods-health-and-safety-nightmare.html
  • http://listverse.com/2017/05/21/top-10-terrible- accidents-from-the-early-days-of-film/
  • http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0032138/trivia
  • http://www.kansas.com/entertainment/movies-news- reviews/article1236642.html

Safety Issues in Film Industry Exist Today

Work in the film industry continues to be hazardous. One grieving father who lost his daughter in a train accident during filming is trying to change that. The following web sites tell the story of his daughter’s death.

  • http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/midni ght-rider-accident-sarah-jones-death-gregg- allman-685976 !http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/ midnight-rider-sarah-jones-autopsy-780791
  • http://deadline.com/2014/10/midnight-rider -death-timeline-sarah-jones-train-accident-investigation-1201266684/
  • http://deadline.com/2014/10/midnight-rid er-death-timeline-sarah-jones-train-accident -investigation-1201266684/
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Izbq Hx-DxJc
  • http://deadline.com/gallery/midnight-rider-train-accident-sarah-jones-death-site-photo s/#!14/sarah-jones-portrait-2/

Visit the following web sites to learn what the father is doing to improve safety and health in the film industry.

  • http://www.sarahjonesfilmfoundation.org
  • http://safetyforsarah.com

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