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Mercer Islander traveled the yellow brick road
It was the golden age of cinema when the musical fantasy, “The Wizard of Oz,” starring the great Judy Garland, was filmed in 1939.
Islander Meredythe Glass not only remembers that time — she was in the movie, cast as one of the many townspeople of the Emerald City, an ‘extra’ in the vernacular of film.
The recent death of Karl Slover, one of the last surviving actors who played a munchkin in the film, led the Reporter — via a tip from a friend — to Glass, who lives at Covenant Shores. Glass doesn’t think her part in the movie is any big deal, but it is, considering that the movie is still much loved and cherished.
“The Wizard of Oz” had all the elements of a great film. A young girl in distress, her loyal new friends helping her along her journey to get back home, a wicked witch for a villain and, of course, the frightening and realistic flying monkeys.
“I was just an Emerald City townsperson,” Glass said of her role. “All the way through the movie, we were in and out [of scenes].”
Glass’ involvement in the movie confirms the adage that having a friend or relative in ‘the business’ helps to get a foot in the door.
Glass, who turns 91 on Dec. 4, got the part because her cousin, Mervyn LeRoy, was the film’s producer. LeRoy is credited for discovering Clark Gable, Loretta Young, Robert Mitchum and Lana Turner.
“My mother’s side goes all the way back in the movie business,” Glass explained.
She said LeRoy was selling newspapers in front of the Curran Theater in San Francisco and got to know all of the actors going in and out of the theater. One day an actor didn’t show up, so LeRoy got his break standing in for the missing actor. From there he did a little vaudeville, then went to Hollywood with another cousin, Jesse Laskey, a pioneer film maker, she said.
LeRoy cast Glass in “The Wizard of Oz” after working his way up from camera assistant and writer.
“We all just yelled, ‘here comes the wizard,’” Glass said of her single line.
Glass later secured a small contract with MGM (Metro Goldwyn Mayer) studio, appearing as an extra in several Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney films, including “Babes on Broadway,” “Strike up the Band,” and “Babes in Arms.”
Glass also stood in for Vivian Leigh during the 1940s filming of “Waterloo Bridge,” Leigh’s first film after “Gone With the Wind.”
Glass said Leigh was a very sweet woman whom she remained friends with for years.
Glass remembered a very special time during the making of “The Wizard of Oz.”
“Judy was in a carriage, they were having a conference, and all of a sudden we heard ‘Over the Rainbow,’” she said. “We heard Judy singing and we all got quiet. There was that beautiful number. No one had heard the song before. That was a moment in history in my mind. Then, we all clapped.”
Glass said the most important thing she did for MGM was to allow stylist to the stars, Sydney Guilaroff, carte blanche with her naturally curly hair.
“He loved to cut my hair,” she said. “I had one of the first feather cuts.”
Before her days at MGM, Glass said she did a great deal of oratorical speaking and debating, and she was asked to try out to host a Christian radio show. Glass is Jewish.
“I wanted to be a commentator with all my heart, but they wouldn’t let me do it [because she is a woman],” she said. “I was never happy in Hollywood because I felt I didn’t earn it.”
Glass also witnessed the beginning of the end for Garland. They were very young, still carrying “baby fat,” she said. Louis Mayer, knowing he had a star on his hands with Garland, was giving Garland dexedrine to lose weight.
“I tried one, and couldn’t sleep a wink,” Glass said. “The energy that she (Garland) spent dancing should have done it. Then, they knocked her out at night with sleeping pills.”
But Glass said they all had a good time when the camera wasn’t rolling. They were just kids.
Mervyn LeRoy married Dorris Warner of the Warner Bros. family, which meant that Glass was invited to fancy Hollywood parties. But she said she was never comfortable, fearing her dates were just there with her so they, too, could be part of the glamour.
She met her future husband, Leonard Glass, whom his friends called Jaz, in Long Beach at a friend’s summer house. She said it was very romantic. They were married on Nov. 3, 1941. He ended up in the Pacific theater during the war, and Glass served as a volunteer phone operator.
After the war, Leonard earned his Ph.D. and was the director of alcoholic rehabilitation in San Joaquin County.
Glass lost contact with Garland not long after the war. She never knew Karl Slover, but remarked about Mickey Rooney, who is still alive.
“He was fun, but kind of noisy,” she said. “He wanted all of the attention.”
As for Margaret Hamilton, the wicked witch of the west, she said she was a wonderful woman, enduring hours of makeup every day of filming.
Glass, who is in good health, moved to Mercer Island six years ago from San Diego. Her son, Dr. Lee Glass, lives here with his family.
Today she volunteers at the Mercer Island Youth and Family Services Thrift Store three days a week, a far cry from Hollywood.
“I love working at the thrift shop, and I love the people I work with,” she said.