“Over the Rainbow,” with music by Harold Arlen and E. Y. “Yip” Harburg, is one of the most beloved songs of all time, especially as sung by Judy Garland in her role as Dorothy Gale in the 1939 MGM film The Wizard of Oz. The song itself is familiar all over the world. But some things you probably didn’t know:
1. Before Arlen and Harburg wrote this ballad in June 1938, another composer on MGMS’s staff named Roger Edens had drafted a totally different song for this place in the screenplay, a jaunty tune in which Dorothy celebrates the values of her home in Kansas rather than a magical land somewhere else. Its refrain went:
Mid Pleasures and palaces
In London, Paris, and Rome,
There is no place quite like Kansas
And my little Kansas home-sweet-home.
2. “Over the Rainbow” was cut during previews of The Wizard of Oz in June 1939 because Louis B. Mayer, the studio chief, felt it slowed up the film and that no one would want to hear a girl sing a slow ballad in a farm yard. The associate producer, Arthur Freed, a key figure on the film’s staff, told Mayer, “’Rainbow’ stays—or I go!” “Rainbow” stayed and went on to become the film’s most popular song.
3. Less than a year after The Wizard of Oz premiered, MGM used the song again in another film, the social comedy The Philadelphia Story. Katherine Hepburn, playing a wealthy socialite on the eve of her wedding, and James Stewart, a tabloid reporter sent to get a scoop on the event, share a drunken midnight swim at her family estate. As he carries her back to the house, Stewart sings a garbled version of the song:“Some day over the rainbow,” he croons, much to the delight of a groggy Hepburn.
4. “Over the Rainbow,” though a very serious number, has been subjected to numerous parodies, including by Judy Garland herself. On October 8, 1944, at a dinner for the Hollywood Democratic Committee, accompanied by Johnny Green at the piano, she sang a version in which the opening melody had the ill-fitting lyrics:
The Democratic Committee
Loves you so.
You’re cute, you’re smart, and you’re pretty,
Also we need your dough.
In the decades since, “Over the Rainbow” has been subject to many more parodies. In one YouTube video, a man plays the tune on an “organ” comprised of differently pitched stuffed cats. In a different video, Judy Garland’s original scene from The Wizard of Oz is given a death metal voice over.
5. “Over the Rainbow” has also been a source of solace and reassurance at times of trouble. In January 2013 the singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson assembled a group of children from Newtown, Connecticut, to sing “Over the Rainbow,” just weeks after the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The message was one of rootedness, of determination that they would not allow their community to be disrupted by the act of a crazed shooter. In a similar spirit, on June 4, 2017, the pop star Ariana Grande sang “Over the Rainbow” as the encore at her One Love Manchester concert in England. A benefit for victims of the recent suicide bombing at that city’s arena, the event was attended by 50,000, and broadcast and live-streamed to millions more worldwide. Members of the mostly young audience wept during the number, and Grande herself almost broke down in the coda.
Featured image: “Streamers” by Nicholas A. Tonelli. CC by 2.0 via Flickr.