Town where "Wizard of Oz" premiered celebrates film's 75th anniversary

FILE - In this 1939 file photo originally released by Warner Bros., from left, Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion, Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow, Judy Garland as Dorothy, and Jack Haley as the Tin Woodman, are shown in a scene from "The Wizard of Oz." (AP Photo/Warner Bros., file) ASSOCIATED PRESS

When "The Wizard of Oz" premiered 75 years ago, MGM didn't send the film to New York or Hollywood.

Instead, it debuted in a Wisconsin town of Oconomowoc, which on Thursday became "Oz" for a day, CBS News correspondent Jamie Wax reports.

Residents dressed as the tin man, lion, and scarecrow were all in attendance, as well as plenty of Dorothy's and witches, wicked and good.

Jalane Sauer is in charge of this event where lounge chairs and blankets fill the streets for a special 75th anniversary screening of The Wizard of Oz.

"It's a great small town event and it's free. It's a free family event," Sauer said.

Oconomowoc is where the Hollywood classic had its world premiere in 1939.

"That was the year I graduated high school and I was 17 years old," said resident Catherine Buckeridge.

Buckeridge is now 92, and was there that night.

"It was something special that happened in my life and in our family life," she said.

The Oconomowoc Historical Society proudly displays memorabilia of Oz year round, though no one in town can definitely say why the premiere happened here at all, including docent Shirley Hinds.

"Don't ask me, but I don't know why it wasn't Kansas, but I guess we aren't in Kansas anymore. We certainly aren't," Hinds said, mimicking the classic line that is still a familiar catchphrase to this day.

Annette Insdorf is the director of film studies at Columbia University. She says when audiences traveled to Oz, they also entered a new world of color in movies, as the film was one of the first to be shot in Technicolor.

"Those wide eyes of Judy Garland probably mirrored the wide eyes of everyone in the theater," Insdorf said.

Aside from this magical journey in Technicolor, there was the voice of Judy Garland. Her rendition of "Over the Rainbow" tops the American Film Institute's list of the greatest movie songs of all time.

"It was an amalgam of that particular song of that yearning for something beyond that one but Judy Garland captured with that particular tremolo," Insdorf said.

Though not a big screen blockbuster of its day, "The Wizard of Oz" would reach generations through syndication on television.

"Don't forget that for so many Americans today, the viewing of the Wizard of Oz was a family affair in the living room, repeated many times," Insdorf said. "Those kinds of stories resonate in a different way in every generation. It's my hope that the Wizard of Oz will remain a vital classic."

And if the crowd of 7,000 packed into downtown Oconomowoc is any indication, the Land of Oz appears as vital as ever.

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