In 1939, the United States was a couple years shy of entering World War II. Asbestos hadn’t hit its peak for importation, mining and usefulness.
However, the label of “magic mineral” was ramping up. The trust in asbestos went beyond industrial use and into cinema.
The 1939 classic “Wizard of Oz” used asbestos in a unique way: fake snow. The production team dropped threads of asbestos from the ceiling onto the set for filming snow scenes. The final cut shows Judy Garland (playing the main character Dorothy), the lion and the scarecrow having asbestos fragments fall on their hair, skin and costumes. The asbestos “woke them up” from a spell cast by the Wicked Witch of the West.
Nowadays, no movie would ever use asbestos in such a way. It’s proven to cause cancer — it’s actually the only proven cause of mesothelioma — and is largely phased out of all industrial applications.
In 1939, the only people who knew the truth of asbestos were the profiting manufacturers. Judy Garland, her fellow actors and actresses, and the production staff likely were unaware it could cause deadly diseases.
However, the sight of asbestos falling on those characters’ faces is still unsettling.
Asbestos was marketed in various ways, notably as a fireproof insulant. It protected industrial plants from fire damage, added a fire-resistant layer to protective suits, and guarded homes and other buildings from fire damage.
In the “Wizard of Oz” movie, the Wicked Witch’s broom included asbestos, and the scarecrow’s costume also had asbestos. Both characters either interacted with fire or were in close proximity to it.
Fake snow was just an additional, lesser-known use for the mineral. Companies marketed it as a decorative item for trees, wreaths and ornaments around the holiday season.
Sources & Author
- The Snow in The Wizard of Oz Was 100% Pure Asbestos. Movieweb. Retrieved from: https://movieweb.com/wizard-of-oz-snow-asbestos/. Accessed: 03/22/2021.
- Was Fake Snow Made from Asbestos Marketed as Christmas Decor? Snopes. Retrieved from: https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/fake-snow-asbestos/. Accessed: 03/22/2021.
Sources & Author