Sunday, November 4, 2007

Fictional Role Models, Part Three: DOROTHY from THE WIZARD OF OZ

Continuing my series on fictional role models for little girls, it's time to look at movies. The Wizard of Oz is a time-tested classic because it has great characters, music, performances, sets, and a little dog, too. For me, as a child, Dorothy was the best thing in the movie. It used to bother me that she was so sad in the beginning and had the horrifying Miss Gulch trying to steal her dog. I couldn't think of a worse thing than someone destroying your dog (especially since I didn't know the word "destroy" when I was little and thought she'd said "de-straw", as in take the stuffing out of him. It was a confusing time).

For me, the most frightening sequence of the entire film was the twister. I thought Dorothy was uncommonly brave as she tried to find shelter. She didn't panic – even when the cellar door wouldn't open. Tornados scared me to death as a kid and I forever saw them in my mind's eye looking exactly like the one in the Wizard of Oz. I remember running home from school, imagining being chased by Dorothy's twister. No lollygagging or dawdling on those days – I made record time.

One of the things I loved about Dorothy was that she embodied all the qualities her friends were seeking. She was smart, loving, and courageous. She didn't need the Wizard to give her any gifts to improve herself. All she wanted was to go home to her family. I understood that message clearly as losing my family was far more frightening than even a tornado.

Judy Garland did an amazing job portraying Dorothy. Because Judy had that sad vulnerability, even at a young age, I believed her performance from sepia to color and back again. Her portrayal of Dorothy was the anchor on which the other characters clung, always the one they turned to, always the focus, whether in munchkin land, on the yellow brick road, the Emerald City or the Witch's Castle. As a child, Dorothy showed me what it was like to be a leader. She didn't have to bully anyone into following her. Everyone did so willingly. My eager little eyes adored seeing a film where a young girl was stronger and more level-headed than all of the adults around her.

I used to have the soundtrack album to The Wizard of Oz and I would sing along with it, do all the dialogue (it had snippets of scenes as well as songs), and imagine myself as Dorothy. There were two skips on the record – one for the line "I'll get you my pretty, and your little dog, too!" It kept saying, "...and your little do—, and your little do—, and your little do—." The other was "You're more trouble than you're worth, one way or another." That one said, "You're more trouble than you're wor—, You're more trouble than you're wor—, You're more trouble than you're wor—." Naturally, when I talked along with the record, I always imitated the skips. To this day, those lines are stuck in my head, skips and all. But I digress.

The Wizard of Oz has made a strong impression on so many kids over the years. It's a part of our collective pop culture history and ties generations together in the shared experience of watching Dorothy long for a place over the rainbow until she understands there's no place like home. The film was made in 1939, long before most of us were born. Yet it endures, as fresh, imaginative, and meaningful today as it ever was. A big reason for that is the pivotal role young Dorothy plays. As a character, she's worth our admiration, which is why she's one of my fictional role models.


Madonna said...

Hi Joanna,

Another great addition to your fictional role models for girls. I never thought of Dorothy in quite this way, and your right that Judy Garland's own vulnerability informed Dorothy's character. I love the images. I do remember having nightmares as a kid over the witch. She really was frightening.

Nell said...

My brother, who is 5 years younger than me hated the witch. I never really liked the film and for me it's a bit like Roald Dahl's books, faintly creepy and disturbing. Maybe I should try and look at it in a new light.

Joanna Sandsmark said...

I was a lot more afraid of the tornado than the witch, though Margaret Hamilton did a fantastic job with that role. On the DVD there are outtakes and one showed Hamilton posing for publicity shots. It was so unnerving to see her in full witch paraphanalia making scary faces and then she'd burst out laughing with a big, engaging smile. I'd never seen the Wicked Witch of the West smile before.

Thank you, Madonna and Nell, for your insightful comments.