Childless in Oz: Auntie Em and Clara Blandick
Have you ever seen the original Hollywood production of The Wizard of Oz? Well, of course you have. And if you haven’t, it’s beyond time to catch up. August 2017 marks the 78th year after the film’s release in 1939. If things go as planned, the long-awaited Wicked movie will coincide with the original's 80th anniversary in 2019.
Back then, no one, including its producers and stars, thought The Wizard of Oz would amount to much. Wrong-o. For both children and adults, it became and remains, a classic. The 1900 book by L. Frank Baum has led generations to accept that everything we need to thrive lies within us from the start. The message resonates with children, teens, adults, and elders, too.
Of the movie’s four female leads, only Clara Blandick, the actress playing Dorothy’s Auntie Em (and pictured in the crystal ball above), never had children. And according to the book, neither did Auntie Em:
“When Dorothy, who was an orphan, first came to her, Aunt Em had been so startled by the child’s laughter that she would scream and press her hand upon her heart whenever Dorothy’s merry voice reached her ears; and she still looked at the little girl with wonder that she could find anything to laugh at.”
A childless aunt (and uncle) agreed to raise their orphaned niece. Today, we call that kinship care, and it’s more common than tornadoes in Kansas.
Dorothy, Auntie Em, Good Witch, and Bad Witch are joined in the story by farm hands who become the Scarecrow and Tin Man and Cowardly Lion. Viewers eventually see the actors as their Oz and Kansas characters, but the roles of Auntie Em and Glinda the Good Witch were assigned to two different actresses. Producers wanted Glinda to be noticeably younger than the Bad Witch, and so they cast Billie Burke, who at the time was just four years younger than Ms. Blandick.
Plotwise, for Dorothy, Auntie Em is her anchor, but audiences love Auntie Em, too, though hardly anyone knows the name of the woman who brought her to life. Clara Blandick is the last name listed in the movie’s closing credits, and she doesn’t appear at all in the opening credits.
According to GreatEntertainerArchives.com, Ms. Blandick scored several more movie roles before her health began to fail in the 1950s. After carefully arranging her room and appearance, in 1962 she took an overdose of sleeping pills that killed her at the age of 82.
I believe there are no coincidences, and yet, coincidentally, in real life, one of Hollywood’s most famous aunts was survived only by her niece. Ms. Blandick’s one marriage ended in divorce in 1912 and they had no children.
(Image Credit: © 1939 Warner Home Video)