Take a moment and picture this— The Wizard of Oz without Judy Garland singing “Over the Rainbow.” According to Ben Sidran’s new book, There Was a Fire: Jews, Music and the American Dream, the first movie viewers saw it like this. He tells how the songwriting team of Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg were inspired late in the game to write the song that would become the “dramatic hinge of the whole film.” They knew they had struck gold, but were in for a shock. Sidran writes:
“Some in the front office felt like the song created too slow a moment too soon in the film. Some thought it was too depressing, too odd, to see a love song being sung in a barnyard to a dog. Still others thought that the big octave leap at the beginning of the song made it unsingable. Subsequently, when the film was first screened, unannounced and unbeknownst to Harburg and Arlen, the song and the scene had been cut from the film. They were dumbfounded.”
When we’re familiar with something that has touched us, we imagine that it was as natural as The Grand Canyon and as inevitable as rain. In fact, there are thousands of little decisions made along the way—especially in the film world— some of which (“cut the rainbow song!”) would have made the final version significantly less memorable. (Including Judy Garland as Dorothy. Apparently, it was first offered to Shirley Temple.)
I’m a lifelong advocate of speaking up for what you feel is right, insisting on further conversation. Had Arlen and Yarbug just shrugged their shoulders with a “You’re the boss” attitude, the world would have missed those happy little bluebirds flying over the rainbow carrying our own dreams with them. Instead, Harburg relates:
“Harold and I just went crazy. We knew this was the ballad of the show; this is the number we were depending on. We went to the front office; we went to the back office’ we pleaded; we cried, we tore our hair out. Finally, Arthur Freed went to Louis B. Mayer and pleased with him… L.B. Mayer was very kind to Arther and said, ‘Let the boys have the damned song. Get it back in the picture, it can’t hurt.’ So the song went back in the picture and of course, you know what happened—when the film was released the following year, the song won the Academy Award.”
Anything worthwhile in this life begins with dream, but it turns out that looking to a rainbow and singing your dream to a dog in a barnyard is just step one. After that, you have to fight like hell so that the ignorant ones in power don’t tread on your dreams, don’t shout out in the midst of your final notes, “Cut the rainbow!!”
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