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Explore theater history
in the Looking Back feature!

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Looking Back

August 1939

Step back in time to see what area movie theaters were presenting in August 1939. Film titles are linked to the Internet Movie Database.

For more information about these theaters, see Cinema Treasures or Water Winter Wonderland.


The Wizard of Oz opened in Detroit on Thursday, August 24, 1939 at the United Artists theater. It helped people escape from the bad news in Europe, where World War II would start a week later. The movie had earlier opened in New York City on August 17, 1939.

"There is so much to be said in commendation of 'The Wizard of Oz' that your correspondent, who dates back to when the L. Frank Baum story was the eighth wonder of the stage, finds himself a bit bewildered in selecting a spot from which to take off," wrote Len G. Shaw in The Detroit Free Press on August 25, 1939. "Certainly no happier medium could have been chosen for reopening the United Artists Theater than this fantasy which Victor Fleming directed, Mervyn LeRoy produced and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer bankrolled without any reservations."

"More than $3,000,000 and prodigious and painstaking labor went into 'The Wizard of Oz,' but the studio should have little fear of success, " wrote Al Weitschat in The Detroit News on August 25, 1939. " As 'Snow White' proved, the fairy tale knows no limitation in appeal. Young and old of all classes and races can partake of its enjoyment."

Other downtown Detroit movies when The Wizard of Oz opened were When Tomorrow Comes (Irene Dunne, Charles Boyer) at the Fox; Stanley and Livingstone (Spencer Tracy, Nancy Kelly, Richard Greene) at the Adams; Only Angels Have Wings (Cary Grant, Jean Arthur) and Maisie (Robert Young, Ann Sothern) at the Broadway-Capitol; Each Dawn I Die (James Cagney, George Raft) at the Michigan; and The Man in the Iron Mask (Joan Bennett, Louis Hayward) at the Palms-State.

The Redford was screening a double bill of the Republic western Man of Conquest (Richard Dix, Gail Patrick) and the crime drama Inside Information (Dick Foran, June Lang). The Senate was showing a double feature of John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln (Henry Fonda, Alice Brady) and Blind Alley (Chester Morris, Ann Dvorak). On screen at the Fisher and other theaters outside of downtown Detroit was a twin bill of Only Angels Have Wings and Maisie.

Also on the bill with The Wizard of Oz at the United Artists were the short subject The Giant of Norway and Culinary Carving, a Pete Smith Specialty. The Wizard of Oz played at the United Artists until September 6, before being replaced with another famous movie of that great Hollywood year of 1939, Beau Geste.

The Wizard of Oz began its Detroit neighborhood run on October 27, 1939, when it opened at the Hollywood, RKO Uptown, and other theaters. It played at the Redford from November 12 to November 15, 1939, with Grand Jury Secrets (John Howard, Gail Patrick).

Ann Arbor audiences were treated to the opening of The Wizard of Oz at the Michigan theater on Saturday, September 16, 1939, after a run of Five Little Peppers and How They Grew. The Wizard of Oz played at the Michigan for five days, with the Porky Pig cartoon Chicken Jitters and a newsreel. It was followed on September 21 by They All Come Out (Rita Johnson, Tom Neal).

"Technicolor can claim much of the credit for the success of the picture," read a review of The Wizard of Oz in the September 16, 1939 edition of The Ann Arbor News. "The bright colors make a real fairy land of Oz, and the cast, capably directed by Victor Fleming, does the rest."

Also playing in Ann Arbor on September 16, 1939 were The Under-Pup (Gloria Jean, Robert Cummings) at the Majestic; The Lady's From Kentucky (George Raft, Ellen Drew) at the Wuerth; Lucky Night (Myrna Loy, Robert Taylor) at the Orpheum; and Women In The Wind (Kay Francis, William Gargan) at the Whitney.

Click here to see a PDF of newspaper images relating to the opening of The Wizard of Oz.


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Launched November 25, 2005.

Last updated November 16, 2014.

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