We're off to see the wizard — again and again and again

Remember the joy of seeing The Wizard of Oz the first time?
Boomers! Remember how CBS used to show the movie just once a year, then open it for us in prime time as a holiday gift? It was an Event, right up there with Halloween, Christmas and birthdays.

You whippersnappers today, raised on home video and On Demand and streaming movies — you'll never know the thrill of anticipation, the-whole-family delight of curling up with Mom and Pop and Sis and Baby Boy Phil in front of a television the size of Kansas to watch the annual showing of that masterpiece from Hollywood's golden era.

And remember how we loved the familiar story and laughed again at the old jokes and, perhaps, shed a tear for poor Dorothy on her long journey home? Was any film ever so pure-D deliciously wonderful?

So it's kind of fun to find out what a pain in the ass it was to make that movie.

Next year is the 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz's 1939 release and so The Making of The Wizard of Oz (Chicago Review Press, $18.95), one of the best behind-the-scenes books ever written about filmmaking, is hitting the shelves again.

Aljean Harmetz, who wrote this as part of her long career covering Tinseltown, adds a new preface but nothing else to the book, which appeared first in 1977. And why should she? Who could improve on perfection?

Harmetz gives us all the good behind-the-scenes gossip about the making of the movie, the mistakes nearly made (cutting the "Over the Rainbow" sequence, for example, and how the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion hated their costumes and sometimes each other. We learn how the sensitive skin of Buddy Ebsen cost him his role as the Tin Man, and how the little people who played the Munchkins were a soused and horny lot.We also learn about the revolving director's chair. Victor Fleming got credit for directing both The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind in the same year, but he was aided by uncredited colleagues on both films. The studio system was a pretty amazing machine.

Learning these things doesn't ruin the film or diminish its magic, If anything, it makes you appreciate the professionalism and artistry that went into making this classic.

CHECKING IN: We get a different backstage view of the arts in This Ain't No Holiday Inn (Schaffner Press, $16.95), James Lough's oral history of New York's Chelsea Hotel.

That was the crash place of choice for a gang of artists and musicians in the 1960s — Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, Joni Mitchell among them. Just imagine the beautiful noise that filled the hallways.

But Lough's history focuses on a later era — 1980-1995 — and there less creative spirit and more creative burnout. The Chelsea was the end of the road for a lot of these people and so their stories drift past melancholy and occasionally into tragic.

Plus, it's an oral history, which means it's somewhat disjointed, and that enhances even more of the inside-baseball nature of the book. If you're a fan of the Beats or the Ramones, by all means you need to inhale this book. Not sure this one works for the casual fan.

TINGLY TOME: I certainly understand addiction, because I cannot function without Diet Coke. Don't put lemon or lime in it or fuck with it any other way. Just give me the regular old Diet Coke.

Fizz (Chicago Review Press, $17.95) is British journalist Tristan Donovan's social history of soda pop, tracing how the industry grew from the era of patent medicines up to the present.

It's hard to imagine the world without these colas, so ingrained have they become in our modern life. Though not a medical investigation, Donovan does contemplate the relative benefits of sodas. (At least we don't learn what an old editor used to tell me about my soda intake: "Don't'cha know they pave roads with that stuff?"

A good deal of the narrative concerns the Coke and Pepsi wars and the deep, somewhat perverse attachments people have to their favored colas. But it's not just about the big boys — a huge number of carbonated beverages are profiled in these pages.

Yet Pommac is missing. This is a fabled soda from my misspent youth in Texas. It was available for a dime from a vending machine in my junior high auditorium and it was the most elegant soda I ever tasted. Drinking it, I felt like the most sophisticated 12-year-old in the world — or at least in Fort Worth. I never saw it outside of Texas.

But that was before I lost my heart to Diet Coke.

A former faculty member at the University of Florida, William McKeen now chairs the journalism department at Boston University. He is the author most recently of Mile Marker Zero, Outlaw Journalist and Homegrown in Florida .

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