The Secret History of the Tin Woodman

You may think you know everything there is to know about the soft-hearted man of tin but there is a surprising secret history behind L. Frank Baum’s creation.

Buddy Ebsen, the original Tin Man

For one thing, Jack Haley was not originally part of the cast. The role of Tin Man was given to the well-known character actor Buddy Ebsen (later famous as Jed Clampett in The Beverly HIllbillies.) He was sidelined by an allergic reaction to the toxic aluminum that they used to paint his skin which sent him into the hospital. Only then did Jack Haley step into the role.

But even more fascinating is L. Frank Baum’s personal connection the the seemingly humdrum topic of lubricant oil.

Before The Wonderful Wizard of Oz made Frank Baum famous, he tried his hands at a number of trades, and one of them left a lasting impact. Frank Baum once worked in a company called Baum’s Castorine. The company made a lubricant for buggies. Just the kind of oil can you would reach for if you needed to loosen up the rusted joints of a man made of tin. Frank Baum was fascinated by all things mechanical– he loved gadgets and newfangled inventions, so it’s not surprising that he would imagine a character who was entirely mechanical. As you can see, the film copied the Tin Man’s costume quite faithfully from the original illustrations in the book.

One of the big trees had been partly chopped through, and standing beside it, with an uplifted axe in his hands, was a man made entirely of tin. His head and arms and legs were jointed upon his body, but he stood perfectly motionless, as if he could not stir at all.
Dorothy looked at him in amazement, and so did the Scarecrow, while Toto barked sharply and made a snap at the tin legs, which hurt his teeth.
“Did you groan?” asked Dorothy.
“Yes,” answered the tin man, “I did. I’ve been groaning for more than a year, and no one has ever heard me before or come to help me.”
“What can I do for you?” she inquired softly, for she was moved by the sad voice in which the man spoke.
“Get an oil-can and oil my joints,” he answered. “They are rusted so badly that I cannot move them at all; if I am well oiled I shall soon be all right again. You will find an oil-can on a shelf in my cottage.”

L. Frank Baum– The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

I think we can all agree that Jack Haley created an unforgettable performance.

And don’t worry. If you don’t have a heart, can fix you right up. Just pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

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