Here’s Part Two of my look at Wizard of Oz cast members and their pre- and post-Oz interactions. Below are some of the pre-Oz match-ups.
Frank Morgan (the Wizard) and Ray Bolger (the Scarecrow) were both in two Nelson Eddy musicals: Rosalie (1937), starring Eleanor Powell, and Sweethearts (1938), starring Jeanette MacDonald. Morgan, who romanced Billie Burke (Glinda) in the aforementioned post-Oz Wild Man of Borneo (1941), had already been amorously linked to her in the pre-Oz Piccadilly Jim (1936), in which he plays Robert Montgomery’s never-employed Shakespearean-actor father, which, unfortunately, never proves to be as fun as it sounds. These three films are disappointments, despite their intermittent pleasures.
Better is Party Wire (1935), a comedy-drama sleeper starring the fresh and radiant Jean Arthur on the brink of superstardom (which came with the following year’s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town). It’s a small-town tale set in Rock Ridge (a different Rock Ridge than the one in Blazing Saddles), all about the damaging power of idle gossip. Not only is Clara Blandick (Auntie Em) featured in the supporting cast (as the vicious-tongued banker’s wife) but you’ll also find Charley Grapewin (Uncle Henry) as Jean Arthur’s apple-jack-loving father. Blandick and Grapewin would get along better once they moved to Kansas. Grapewin had already appeared with Frank Morgan in The Kiss Before the Mirror (1933), a souped-up and implausible melodrama in which Morgan had a starring role as a lawyer and Grapewin was his law clerk.
The best pre-Oz teaming of Oz castmates has to be Everybody Sing (1938), an unpretentious black-and-white musical that also happens to be a spirited screwball comedy. It’s about a showbiz family, in all their theatricality, and it’s fast, merry, and occasionally hilarious. A pre-Dorothy Judy Garland sings sensationally. She’s a young and brassy vocalizer, stuck in her in-between years, who gets kicked out of school for “swinging” in music class. (Try to forgive Judy’s later black-face number.) As Judy’s star-actress mother, there’s Glinda herself, Billie Burke, in what may be her greatest performance. Burke gives a model high-comedy acting turn as a stage actress who is always acting and can’t stop acting. When Burke is on-screen, extravagantly so, the film is as funny as My Man Godfrey. Taken as a whole, Everybody Sing is a minor MGM musical, but, whenever Billie can’t stop acting or Judy can’t stop swinging, it’s wonderful. And off to Oz they went.