The Jitterbug! I used to tell my friends at school that this was a song from The Wizard of Oz (which we all watched slavishly once a year in glorious black and white, taking a little chunk out of the technicolour surprise of "I guess we're not in Kansas any more"), and they would look at me like I was crazy.
I'd get that look a lot in my childhood. I might as well have gotten used to it.
I had a record with the songs from The Wizard of Oz on it. I am not sure now if it was by the original cast. But I think not. I wore out the grooves on this thing, and most especially I noted a song about The Jitterbug, which I assumed was a dance of some kind.
I don't know how many eons later I found out that it HAD been a song in The Wizard of Oz, one that was deleted for various reasons. The video/gifs here depict the rehearsals, and I have highlighted the choreography between the Tin Man and the Lion.
These guys were expected to stumble around on a soundstage covered with fake leaves, under broiling hot lights, sweating buckets in their confining, 50-pound costumes for take after take. . . and they weren't even dancers. Or they sure don't look like it here.
Jack Haley was, maybe, but I can only picture him doing the Old Soft Shoe with a top hat and a cane. Lahr was a vaudevillian by trade and by nature, a sort of aggressive carnival barker type - and yes, when he played the lion, he barked! "With a rrrrroof. And a rooooroof. And a rrrRROOOOOOF!" He was most people's favorite character in the movie, with his big fur coat and his waving tail and that incredible song he sang, "If I Were King of the Forest". Here he does a dead-on impersonation of every hammy, pretentious singer that you've ever heard. Kids just think he's funny, but adults recognize a "type", giving his broad humor a sly edge of parody.
Anyway. The poor Tin Man really stumbles through some of these takes (and you can tell they're different takes by what the trees are doing in the background. The one on the right is the most active, waving and clapping its "hands". In the video, we see that they're really giant puppets with guys in behind them, moving the branches and the mouths. And throwing the apples.) Jack Haley nearly falls down in some of them, leaning forward to avoid a backward-falling, immobilizing disaster. The lion just sort of clomps around, trying to find the rhythm.
But in any case, the number was pulled. It wasn't the fact that the jitterbug was just a dance craze and thus likely to "date" the movie (and who cared? No one even knew that television would exist, and that it would give what was essentially a flop a brilliant second life.) It wasn't even that Lahr and Haley danced so badly. It's the fact that it was just so totally out of character for them. The best part about this movie is the sureness with which all the actors inhabit their characters, so to make them do this - . There was an extended dance scene with the Scarecrow that was cut, and it's a shame, but I saw it once and I see why. He ricochets off the rails of a fence in one shot, then appears to ricochet backwards when they reverse the film - and the rails of the fence vibrate BEFORE he hits them. It just didn't work. Too bad, because he was the only real dancer in the lot.
OK: so we know all that. But the real issue here is, who is my favorite character? It's not quite the witch, though I think Margaret Hamilton deserved an Oscar for the razor-witted sadist who still freaks kids out to this day (and who can forget that nasty, macabre music?). No. . . my favorite is one that absolutely nobody else picks.
Without Toto, there would be no Wizard of Oz.
If Toto hadn't bitten Miss Gulch, she wouldn't have taken him away in her basket. And if she hadn't taken him away in her basket, he wouldn't have jumped out and run back to Dorothy. And Dorothy wouldn't have gotten all paranoid about losing her dog and decided to run away from home.
And and and. Shall I tell you more? Had she stayed home and fed the chickens and slopped the hogs like she was supposed to (and a more unlikely farm hand than Bert Lahr you will never find), she would've been hunkered down safely in the storm cellar with the rest of the family.
And the whole thing never would have happened.
But wait: there's more.
It's Toto who bravely confronts the Lion and barks at him when everyone else is cringing in terror. It's Toto who fearlessly leads the Tin Man, Lion and Scarecrow back to the Witch's castle where Dorothy is imprisoned (and I confess I ALWAYS cry when Auntie Em appears in the crystal ball). And it is Toto, my friends, who ends the story as dramatically as it began: by pulling back the curtain and exposing the Wizard of Oz as a fraud.
So do you get it now? Do you? I'll get you, my pretty. And your little dog, too.
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