Hollywood has many tricks up its sleeve when trying to create magical worlds for us to enjoy. The end product can be so believable that it’s hard to imagine that anything untoward could possibly been a factor. Unfortunately Hollywood perfection comes at a price.
One of the most popular films of all time and a creative masterpiece, The Wizard of Oz, broke boundaries in film which has made the industry what it is today. But along with the eradication of the studio system which put actors at risk and extorted and took advantage of the people who made them great there is more. The health and welfare of both cast and crew were regularly put at risk.
Asbestos is a highly toxic substance linked to various illnesses including cancer. The ironic thing is that it was a member of the emergency services, a fireman, who at the time suggested the use of asbestos due to it’s fire retardant properties. The negative health effects were not widely known at the time and so asbestos was considered safer than the highly flammable cotton batting which had been used previously.
What’s more the form of the asbestos in The Wizard of Oz film was particularly hazardous. Asbestos is most dangerous when the fibres become loose and airborne. Fake snow products were simply loose pure asbestos fibres and in this scene in the film, Dorothy and co. are completely enveloped in it. It is unclear the long term lasting effects that this exposure had on cast and crew during this period in Hollywood history but the only potential saving grace is that snow products were seasonal and so were unlikely to be inhaled over a prolonged period of time. But in the case of film sets seasons mean relatively little and the extent of the exposure could vary dramatically.