MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Judy Garland was paid less for “The Wizard of Oz” than the dog that played Toto.
One of the most dispiriting pieces of news that surfaced last year from the Sony picks hack is that there was noticeable wage disparity at the studio between men and women, from Co-President of Columbia Pictures Hannah Minghella making nearly $1 million less than her male counterpart Michael De Luca to the two female leads of “American Hustle” (Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence) earning less than the three male stars (Christian Bale, Jeremy Renner and Bradley Cooper) and director David O’Russell. If that’s the case today, you can only imagine how out of whack the scale was decades ago, when actors signed long-term contracts with studios, locking in their pay rate early in their careers. So actors, especially those just starting out, were paid some surprisingly low wages on famous films.
That has led to a few legends, perhaps none more notable than the story that Judy Garland, star of the 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz,” was paid less for the film than Terry, the dog that played Toto. As the story goes, “For the movie ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ Judy Garland was paid $35 a week while Toto received $125 a week.”
Is that true?
In a lot of ways, the making of “The Wizard of Oz” is a perfect encapsulation of what it was like to produce major motion pictures at in the 1930s. As I noted in an old Movie Legends Revealed, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer wanted Shirley Temple for the role of Dorothy but she was under contract with 20th Century Fox. So the only way that they would be able to get Temple was to make a trade of one of MGM’s actors for her. The studio was unable to work out a deal, so executives instead went with their original choice, a promising young actress they had already signed, Judy Garland.
Garland was treated like a piece of meat on the set, with director Victor Fleming (the movie’s fourth director!) even slapping her when he felt it was necessary to get her to give a certain performance. The studio forced her to practically starve herself to keep herself skinny (often resorting to smoking dozens of cigarettes a day to keep her mind off eating). It’s fairly remarkable she was able to give such a magnificent performance under the circumstances.
But was she also paid less than the dog?
That, at least, was not the case.
Garland was paid $500 a week, while Terry, the 5-year-old Cairn Terrier made $125 a week. Interestingly enough, there was such a desperate search for a dog that looked like Toto that Terry’s owner and trainer, Carl Spitz, likely could have held out for more had he known how desperate the studio was (Terry was the last of the main cast to be hired).
Like most of the actors, Terry was injured during the production (one of the extras stepped on her paw during a scene), and Terry she stayed with Garland while recuperating. The actress grew so close to Terry that she begged Spitz to let her adopt her. Spitz naturally enough said no.
Garland’s pay rate was significantly lower than her co-stars, however, as Scarecrow Ray Bolger and Tin Man Jack Haley were each making roughly $3,000 a week. The lowest salaries were for the actors who played the Munchkins, as they were each paid less than Terry ($100, but with their manager, Lew Singer, getting a 50 percent commission).
The legend is…
Thanks to my buddy Eric Gjovaag, and his excellent Wizard of Oz website, for the information. Eric wished to credit Aljean Harmetz’s book “The Making of The Wizard of Oz,” as his source. Thanks again, Eric!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be sure to check out my Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the worlds of TV, Movies and Music!
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