The Spies Report #7
In the history of television, there is probably no theatrical film that had greater success with television than The Wizard of Oz. In fact, from around 1959 to 1991 or so, its airing became an annual television event. Every time it aired, The Wizard of Oz was a ratings smash. In its 1966 broadcast on CBS, the film was the highest-rated and most-watched show of that week. It was even more popular that night than Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. Because of its wild success (and probably because of their continuing success with Disney’s anthology series), ABC decided to take a chance on an anthology series built around the Oz characters. Because MGM owned the rights to the Wizard of Oz film, the MGM unit, then ran by Chuck Jones would produce the series. The series consisted of MGM family features with animated interstitials directed by Abe Levitow and produced by Levitow and Jones. The series only ran for an hour each week so the films would be divided in half. Some of the features shown included The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Captain Sinbad, The Glass Slipper, and Zebra in the Kitchen. The cast of the segments was Mel Blanc (The Cowardly Lion), Daws Butler (The Wizard of Oz and the Scarecrow), June Foray (The Wicked Witch and Dorothy), and Don Messick (Toto and the Tin Man). Hal Holbrook narrated the series. The series lasted only one season.
Here is an excerpt (below) from an interview with Abe Levitow as part of Bob Jones’s radio show. Bob Jones was a radio host in Cincinnati, and Levitow was a guest. The full interview is most likely nonexistent anymore, but from the little information about the radio episode available, it is presumed that Levitow was being interviewed about the animation industry in general. What survives from the episode though is excerpts from it with Levitow speaking about the Off to See the Wizard series as reprinted for a Cincinnati newspaper that week. The writer here was not the best typist but I’ve left most of the typist’s mistakes as originally published to show it to you as it was originally printed in 1967.
Here is another gem, an article written by Levitow about the series that was published in a Santa Maria newspaper
And finally, a rare sponsor’s message from the show, a commercial for Curad Band-Aids:
Special thanks to the Chuck Jones Gallery and the Levitow family (and the Abe Levitow Website) for lending me photos for this post.