VHS killed "The Wizard of Oz" for me


Update: Thanks to you, our Kickstarter campaign to "Keep Them Ruby" was a success and we have the support we need to conserve and display Dorothy's Ruby Slippers from The Wizard of Oz. Stay tuned for updates on the project. But our journey on the yellow brick road isn't over yet. Help us conserve Scarecrow's costume from the 1939 movie so that it can join the Ruby Slippers on display and help support a new exhibition devoted to the arts, music, sports, and entertainment. Your support will help to make this project a reality. 

As part of our Keep Them Ruby campaign to conserve the Ruby Slippers, we asked staff members to reflect on what the ruby slippers and The Wizard of Oz have meant in their lives. Here's one take.

For many people, The Wizard of Oz brings back great memories. Who does not love a great story with witches, wizards, and flying monkeys? I was terrified of the flying monkeys as a kid, but that is another topic. For many people the movie brings back memories of when they were children watching the movie, and maybe even later memories of watching the movie with their children. For me, The Wizard of Oz was a very different experience.

Photo of the Ruby Slippers on a yellow background.

I grew up in Kansas where The Wizard of Oz is more than just a movie; it is a local tradition. The movie played annually on a Sunday evening each spring; this coincided with Kansas's tornado season. Of course, the movie begins with a tornado whisking Dorothy, Toto, and her house away to a fantasy world of "lions and tigers and bears, oh my!"

It was more than just watching the movie. I remember the weekends when it was televised or the afternoon before it came on TV. It was the talk of the neighborhood. Kids would ask one another who was watching it and where; parents would ask their neighbors and kids the same. Even my grandparents would sometimes call before it started, to remind me that "The Wizard of Oz will be on tonight!" or they would bring me to their house to watch it with them. They watched it with my brother and me because for them this tradition went as far back as when they watched it with my father as a child, and it was a good memory for them. But no matter how great the tradition, it would not last.

The Wizard of Oz first appeared in theaters in 1939, then made its first television appearance on CBS on November 3, 1956. By the 1980s, the childhood tradition I enjoyed was drawing last breaths. With the increased development and use of home entertainment systems—VHS, Beta and Laser Disks—my childhood tradition faded away. Why wait to watch it? There was no need to wait until spring, when you could buy your own copy to watch the movie at your leisure.

While improvements in the digital age of television can be a good thing, sometimes our innovations kill some great things, including traditions. The Wizard of Oz for me was one of these fantastic traditions. And now that I have my own children, I try to chase them down occasionally to sit with me and watch the movie as close to the way I used to when I was little. So with my own copy of The Wizard of OZ, I save it for spring to share with my kids. I hope they will appreciate this childhood memory as well as I did. On a positive note, though, I now have a fast forward option for the terrifying Flying Monkey scenes!

Walter "Joe" Hursey is Reference Coordinator with the Archives Center, National Museum of American History.