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Margaret Hamilton

The Wizard of Oz or The Wizard of Lethal Asbestos Exposure?

asbestos exposureLike most Americans, you may be fond of the classic 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz”. It turns out that the merry old land of Oz was a toxic cloud of lethal asbestos exposure.

Remember that famous poppy field scene? The one in which the Glinda the Good Witch counters the sleep-inducing effect of the Wicked Witch’s poppies with snow? You’ll be shocked to know that the “snow” falling on Dorothy played by Judy Garland, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion and the Tin Man was made from 100% industrial-grade chrysotile asbestos—despite the fact that the health hazards of asbestos had been known for several years.

Chrysotile, or “white” asbestos, visually resembles real snow. Throughout the late 1920s and 30s, artificial snow made from asbestos was sold under dozens of brand names such as “White Magic,” “Pure White,” and “Snow Drift.”

Sadly, this hadn’t changed by the 1950s. As Bing Crosby sings the title song in the 1954 movie “White Christmas” a stage hand was overhead dumping asbestos “snow” on him, the National Institute for Occupational Safety Hazards reports.

Because the “Wizard of Oz” calls for the Scarecrow played by Ray Bolger to have several close run-ins with fire, his straw-filled costume is reported to have been flame-proofed with asbestos

Margaret Hamilton, who portrayed Miss Gulch and her evil alter ego the Wicked Witch of the West in the “The Wizard of Oz,” wielded a burning broom made of asbestos. Although the witch later melted, her asbestos broom didn’t, according to a newspaper report.

Although none of the principal actors in “The Wizard of Oz” are known to have died from any cause related to asbestos, it is sadly worth noting that Jack Haley, Jr., an award-winning director and producer and the son of Jack Haley who played the Tin Man, is reported to have developed “respiratory failure” and died at age 67 in 2001. Could it have been mesothelioma from asbestos dust unknowingly brought home by his father during the filming of “The Wizard of Oz”? We’ll never know.

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