The snow in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz was made using the toxic mineral asbestos. A lot has changed in the entertainment world since then, but the Judy Garland-starring movie still inspires creativity to this day, especially the practical effects that were utilized. As it turns out, some of the tricks that the crew used were more than a little hazardous to the cast and crew, which included the use of asbestos. In the early to mid-1900s, asbestos was used a lot during the holidays as a fake snow with dozens of brands popping up like, “White Magic,” “Pure White,” and “Snow Drift.”
The poppy scene in The Wizard of Oz has become infamous over the years after viewers learned that the fake snow in the scene was 100% asbestos. In the movie, Dorothy wakes up in a snow covered poppy field engineered by Glinda the Good Witch. Chrysotile, which is white asbestos, was commonly used as fake snow for Christmas decorations, but it was mostly used in roofing, brake pads, interior fire doors, stage curtains, popcorn ceilings, and more. When asbestos dust is inhaled or ingested, the mineral fibers can possibly become permanently trapped in the body. According to Atlas Obscura, The Wizard of Oz, “literally dous[es] its main characters in carcinogens.”
Trapped asbestos fibers within the body can cause lung inflammation, scarring, and even genetic damage. The rare cancer type mesothelioma is almost exclusively linked to asbestos exposure, along with other types of cancer and lung disease. With that being said, it has not been officially confirmed that anybody from the set of The Wizard of Oz passed away from the asbestos use in the poppy field scene.
In addition to the fake snow in The Wizard of Oz, asbestos was reportedly also used on Ray Bolger’s Scarecrow costume. Since the character has several run-ins with fire in the movie, it is believed that his costume was sprayed with a flame-proofing material made from asbestos. Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West, uses a burning broom, which was also made of asbestos to keep it from actually burning on the set. Now, movie crews utilize other methods when creating fake snow or dealing with real-life flames on the set, thanks to up and coming technology.
The Wizard of Oz may be the most beloved movie of all time. However, there were more than a few troubling aspects about its production. Buddy Ebsen, who originally played the Tin Man, landed himself in the hospital for two weeks after the aluminum used in his makeup seeped into his body, poisoning him in the process. He was replaced with Jack Haley Jr. Margaret Hamilton was badly burned performing one of the smoke-filled disappearing stunts, and had to be driven to the hospital. It took her six weeks to fully recover from her injuries. Snopes was the first to confirm that asbestos was used on The Wizard of Oz set.