Considering (once again) the fact that Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs opened the doors that allowed MGM’s The Wizard of Oz to be made in the first place, it is both ironic and fitting that what would have been Disney’s first filmed foray into Oz, planned to begin in 1957, was inspired by the first television broadcast of the MGM film the previous year.
Two years before that, the film rights to eleven of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books became available, and, having missed his chance to film Wonderful Wizard to Samuel Goldwyn, Disney wasted no time in acquiring these.
A popular T.V. show of the time was called Disneyland, namesake of the park it helped to raise funds to build. Disneyland broadcast adventure serials, including the wildly popular Davy Crockett, starring Fess Parker. Disney decided that two editions of the show would be devoted to an adaptation of The Patchwork Girl of Oz.
He recruited the famous Mouseketeers of his other T.V. series The Mickey Mouse Club to be the stars and assigned the writing of the screenplay to Dorothy (!) Cooper. Her script went through many revisions, though in its final form, The Rainbow Road to Oz, it still prominently featured Scraps; she even had her own song, “Patches,” which she sang with the Scarecrow.
The project was announced on the fourth anniversary broadcast of Disneyland, presented as an idea the Mouseketeers pitched to Disney. He spoke of doing an animated Oz story, but since Snow White had taken three years to make, the Mouseketeers persuaded him, via production sketches and a brief overview of the story, that live-action was a better idea. They also put on three of the songs that had been composed for the picture by Tom Adair and Buddy Baker.
The story was that the Cowardly Lion (Jimmie Dodd) had come under an evil spell which turned him into a cruel tyrant, usurping the throne of Oz from Princess Ozma (Annette Funicello), who summoned Dorothy Gale (Darlene Gillespie) back to Oz to help, accompanied by her cousin Zeb (Lonnie Burr). Meanwhile, the Scarecrow (Bobby Burgess) encountered the Patchwork Girl (Doreen Tracey with the singing voice of Gloria Wood) and the two fell instantly in love.
Eventually the spell on the Lion was broken when Dorothy, Ozma, Zeb, the Scarecrow, Scraps, Polychrome (Karen Pendleton), and Button-Bright (Cubby O’Brien) performed a fusion of Kansan and Ozite dance styles called “The Oz-Kan Hop.” Having read recently that Tommy Kirk had been cast as the son of the late Wicked Witch of the West, I presume he was to have been revealed as the culprit behind the Lion’s curse.
The “promo reel” ended with a celebratory rendition of the title song with the cast making their way up a gigantic cake.
Sadly, The Rainbow Road to Oz never reached fruition. Happily, we at least have an entertaining glimpse of what could have been, as the musical sequences still exist and can be seen on YouTube.