The Real Reason Shirley Temple Lost The Role Of Dorothy In The Wizard Of Oz

The role of Dorothy Gale in "The Wizard of Oz" is arguably one of the most iconic in film. Few can forget how incredible Judy Garland was in the role, but, believe it or not, she wasn't the first pick to play the character. In fact, there was certainty within the industry that when the "Wizard of Oz" was made into a film or film series, the role would go to another iconic child star, Shirley Temple.


Temple's star power was undeniable from the very first moment she graced the screen. The public fell in love with her sweet smile and curly locks instantly, and fans were interested in knowing all about the child star. Temple did countless interviews and was the subject of many profiles throughout her career. In some of those interviews, Temple pointed to "The Wizard of Oz" as her favorite book, making her the fan favorite to play the role when it came time for the film adaptation.

"Judy Garland was not the popular choice among book fans," historian Jay Scarfone told Fox News. "She was 15 years old, which was considered too old for the role. She was vivacious and over the top. The Dorothy in 'The Wizard of Oz' has a very different personality from what is seen in the film. But there was never a serious contender except for Judy Garland."


Rumors of Shirley's involvement in the film continued into 1937

Shirley Temple was under contract with Twentieth Century-Fox in 1937. Studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck was always looking for the best projects for the star. While she worked on "Heidi," Temple found out about a negotiation proposed between Fox and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer that involved loaning her to MGM for a "Wizard of Oz" film (via Huffington Post). In exchange, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer would lend two of their biggest stars, Clark Gable and Jean Harlow, to Twentieth Century-Fox.


It would end up being a little more complicated than that. Harlow died in June 1937, complicating the deal as it stood. As production began in February 1938, producer-director Mervyn LeRoy had his mind made on Judy Garland for the role of Dorothy, feeling her vocal abilities were crucial to the musical aspect of the film. He was at odds with Nicholas Schenck, head of Loew's, MGM's controlling parent company. Schenck felt that Temple was needed to ensure returns on the film's big budget.

Shirley got her shot at the role, but it didn't work out

Roger Edens, an MGM composer who mentored Judy Garland, was the one to hear Shirley Temple at her audition. When he heard her sing, he knew their original choice was correct. He reported to the other executives that Temple didn't have the range necessary for the big musical numbers they had planned for the film (via Huffington Post).


When the role officially went to Garland, it wasn't long before Temple's birthday. On her birthday, the press regarded Temple losing out on the role as "the greatest disappointment of her brief and eminently griefless career" (via Clever Journeys).

Years later, Temple would be asked if she still had complicated feelings about being passed on for the role she so publicly desired. She was gracious in her response and came to terms with it, noting, "Sometimes the gods know best."