By John Dodge
CHICAGO (CBS) — Holding the premiere of a major motion picture in a tiny town in the Middle West would be unthinkable now.
However, that’s what happened 75 years ago in Oconomowoc, Wisc., a small town of just west of Milwaukee and two hours from Chicago.
That movie? “The Wizard of Oz.”
The big Hollywood premiere happened a few days later.
The critically acclaimed MGM musical fantasy about Dorothy’s walk down the Yellow Brick Road with The Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion was actually not a huge commercial success originally.
It went on to become one of the most beloved motion pictures in history.
The movie opened at the Strand Theatre on Wisconsin Avenue on Aug. 12. 1939.
Catherine Buckeridge attended. The 91-year-old was a recent high school graduate.
“We saw strangers here and we saw those lights and the confusion around the door,” she told WISN-TV in March. “Everybody was dressed in their best.”
None of the movie’s leading players attended the event.
The film’s producers reportedly wanted to test-market the film in the Midwest before making the big Hollywood splash.
There were a handful of other sneak previews elsewhere, but none were remembered like the one in Oconomowoc, which still holds and outdoor screening of the movie each year.
The Strand no longer stands in downtown Oconomowoc. There is a small monument marking the historic moment.