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The yellow brick road led to the newly renovated Chinese Theatre in Hollywood on Sunday as Warner Bros. held a special screening of The Wizard of Oz to celebrate the classic’s 75th anniversary at the grand reopening of the historic theater.
It was a return home for Oz, which had its premiere at the Chinese Theatre back in 1939. The Chinese had been closed since early summer as the venue underwent a renovation, overseen by its new owners, the Chinese electronics manufacturer TCL.
TCL has turned the Chinese, perhaps the theater most associated with Hollywood movie premieres, into the largest Imax auditorium in the world. Sunday also featured a ribbon-cutting ceremony unveiling the new venue and name (TCL Chinese Theatre).
Warner Bros. converted the lobby of the Chinese 6, the adjacent movie theater, into an Emerald City with a green crystal theme, a nail station, a lion-sized cupcake station, Oz-themed video games, a life-size wax figure of Judy Garland as Dorothy from Madame Tussauds and, guarded by three security guards, the actual pair of ruby slippers worn by Garland for the scene when she clicks her heels.
Amid the fun was Ruth Duccini, one of only two surviving Munchkin actors. The 95-year-old was in a wheelchair but stopped to check out the nail station and later munched on a pizza as she told THR how she was 20 when she appeared in the movie.
Her fondest recollection from the set wasn’t a particular scene or how the movie was embraced in later years but “meeting all those other little people,” she said. “I was born in Minnesota in a small town, and I didn’t know that there were other people like me. It’s really nice to have little people to talk to. You’re not talking to someone’s belly button!”
There was some outrage among modern film observers after learning that Toto the dog made more money than the Munchkin actors, but Duccini harbored no ill will.
“Things were rough then; we were glad to have the work,” she said. “We were paid living expenses, we were fed. I have no complaints. And I’ve been making appearances for the last 10 years.”
Duccini said she made about four other movies after Oz, including an Alfred Hitchcock picture, although she couldn’t remember which one, before leaving the business. During World War II, she worked at Douglas Aircraft, where her size came in handy working in small quarters. She has been living in Las Vegas for the last two years.
William Shatner and director Bryan Singer were among those making the trip to Oz, as were New Line’s Toby Emmerich, Warners domestic distribution president Dan Fellman and Legendary Pictures president Jon Jashni, who couldn’t wait to see the movie projected in Imax and in 3D.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see it play like this … and in the site where it premiered,” said Jashni.
Oz will now start a one-week engagement in approximately 300 Imax theaters then Warner Bros. Home Entertainment releases a 75th anniversary collector’s edition five-disc set, which features Blu-ray 3D and Blu-ray, among other platforms.
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