WE'RE OFF TO SEE THE WIZARD! - COMPOSING THE SCORE TO THE WIZARD OF OZ
Once signed, the team began work immediately having only had two months to turn out what was expected to be a unique and extended film score! The pressure was on, even for the veteran writer Arlen, who later admitted that the assignment really troubled him. Once they had completed what Harold called the "lemon drop" songs, We're Off to See the Wizard, The Merry Old Land of Oz, Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead, Harold felt that a ballad was needed to balance them out. "I felt we needed something with a sweep, a melody with a broad, long, line. Time was getting short, I was getting anxious. My feeling was that picture songs need to be lush, and picture songs are hard to write."
The song came to Harold literally out of the blue one day while he and Anya were headed to a movie at Grauman's Chinese Theater. As they were driving along Sunset Boulevard, the broad, long-lined melody suddenly came to him. He jotted it down in the car on one of his jotting papers, which he was known to carry around with him in case struck with an idea. Of the breakthrough, Harold said, "It was as if the Lord said, 'Well, here it is, now stop worrying about it!'"
After completing the bridge (the middle section of the song) the next day, the song was ready for Harburg to hear. Unfortunately, the lyricist did not react to it with the joy Harold had hoped for. Harburg felt that the song was too grand in proportion for a little girl in Kansas to be singing and that it might clash the direct simplicity and lightness of the other songs. Still, Harold defended his hard-won tune and played it for friend Ira Gershwin to get a second opinion. Gershwin liked it. Harburg, in response to Gershwin's approval, quickly titled the new song Over the Rainbow and composed its lyrics.
Judy Garland, who was cast to play the lead role of Dorothy, heard the song and loved it, but the other ears at M-G-M were not as impressed. Miss Garland has written, "When I first met Harold I was just 14 years old and the first song of the score for The Wizard of Oz they played for me was Over the Rainbow. I was terribly impressed by Mr. Arlen's great genius and very much in awe of him. As I recall, it seems that Harold always treated me as an equal and not as a child. We have been great friends through the years."
"[As for] my feeling toward Over the Rainbow now, it has become a part of my life. It is so symbolic of everybody's dream and wish that I am sure that's why people sometimes get tears in their eyes when they hear it. I have sung it dozens of times and it's still the song that is closest to my heart. It is very gratifying to have a song that is more or less known as my song, or my theme song, and to have had it written by the fantastic Harold Arlen."
Over the Rainbow was deleted from the print of The Wizard of Oz three times! After each deletion Arthur Freed would storm into the front office and argue it back into the film. Further opposition came from the publisher, who objected to the "difficult-to-sing" octave leap in the melody on the word "some-where," and also to the simple middle. But Freed and Arlen stood up to the powers-that-be and the song remained, ironically to later receive the Academy Award as the best film song of the year!
The Wizard of Oz was completed in 1939 and cost M-G-M some three million dollars to create. The movie was a huge success when released that year. Over six decades later, it continues to be a favorite of the young and old alike. The movie is simply magical as it takes its viewers from reality to fantasy by transforming the black and white scenes in Kansas to vivid color upon Dorothy's arrival in Oz. And while the special effects, grand costumes, lavish scenery and masterful makeup capture the eye, the songs settle in the hearts and heads of the audience and remain long after the movie's end.
2000, Over the Rainbow was recognized as the Number One
Song of the 20th Century proving that the song that Harold Arlen worked
so hard to keep in the film was truly worth fighting for.