Pop Goes The Movies: OVER THE RAINBOW - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Pop Goes The Movies: OVER THE RAINBOW

There's a land that I heard of once in a lullaby.
On June 22nd 2004, as part of a CBS television special, the American Film Institute revealed their list of "100 Years...100 Songs," basically the top 100 songs from American cinema of the 20th century, chosen by a panel of jurors selected by AFI, who voted from a list of over 400 nominated songs.

The most represented female singer with five entries on the list (and who tied with Gene Kelly as most represented male) was Judy Garland. Her charting entries included Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas & The Trolley Song from Meet Me In St. Louis, Get Happy from Summer Stock, The Man The Got Away from A Star Is Born, and topping the list in first place Somewhere Over The Rainbow from The Wizard Of Oz. It's perhaps no surprise as Over The Rainbow won an Academy Award for Best Original Song and became Garland's signature song. But it may surprise you to know that it very nearly didn't make it into the final cut of the movie.
The majority of The Wizard Of Oz had already been shot, but as composer Harold Arlen had not supplied the required song for the Kansas scene which takes place about five minutes into the film, that segment had not been shot. The brief was that Dorothy would sing a song after failing to get Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, and the farmhands to listen to her story of an unpleasant incident involving her dog, Toto, and the town spinster, Miss Gulch. In the script, Aunt Em tells Dorothy to "find yourself a place where you won't get into any trouble". This prompts her to walk off by herself, musing to Toto,
"Some place where there isn't any trouble. Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto? There must be. It's not a place you can get to by a boat, or a train. It's far, far away. Behind the moon, beyond the rain..."
And queue the music...

But, as mentioned, there was no music yet! And the future of the opening sequence was unknown as the film's director, Victor Fleming, was required by MGM to move on to direct a little movie called Gone with the Wind. Fortunately, Harold Arlen found inspiration for the melody to what was to become Over the Rainbow during a drive with his wife Anya...
"I said to Mrs. Arlen... 'let's go to Grauman's Chinese ... You drive the car, I don't feel too well right now.' I wasn't thinking of work. I wasn't consciously thinking of work, I just wanted to relax. And as we drove by Schwab's Drug Store on Sunset I said, 'Pull over, please.' ... And we stopped and I really don't know why—bless the muses—and I took out my little bit of manuscript and put down what you know now as 'Over the Rainbow.'"
I love that he called his wife Mrs. Arlen.

Passing the music on to his lyricist partner Yip Harburg, the song came together, and MGM brought in King Vidor to direct the Kansas scenes and complete the movie, with Victor Fleming returned to oversee the final editing of The Wizard Of Oz.

However, after a preview showing in San Luis Obispo, California Over The Rainbow was deleted from the film because MGM chief executive Louis B. Mayer thought it "slowed down the picture," was far over the heads of its targeted child audience, and sounded "like something for Jeanette MacDonald, not for a little girl singing in a barnyard". Fleming, producer Mervyn LeRoy, associate producer Arthur Freed, and Roger Edens, who was Judy Garland's vocal coach and mentor, fought together to have the song reinserted back into the film and, as history will tell you, they eventually won.

Across the years, it's not just been the AFI which have honoured Over The Rainbow. In 2017, it was entered in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress as music that is "culturally, historically, or artistically significant", and both the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) ranked it number one on their Songs of the 20th Century list. The song has been covered by artists as diverse as Eva Cassidy, Cliff Richard, Arianna Grande, and Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, but none of them quite have the same magical feel as that original 1938 recording by Judy Garland.

Check out all our Pop Goes The Movies articles here.

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