Harburg had worked on a dozen Broadway musicals before coming to the Oz project. His most famous lyric was that for the Depression-era anthem, "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" He was influential in getting Bert Lahr cast as the Cowardly Lion in the MGM production; Harburg and Lahr had worked together on Broadway in Life Begins at 8:40 (1934), and Harburg foresaw the kind of material that could be created for the character as played by Lahr.
Harburg also made uncredited contributions to the screenplay for the film, writing dialogue that provided seques into the songs, plus late revisions to the script. Most significantly, he wrote the speech by the Wizard of Oz on brains, heart, and courage for the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion. That speech took the place of a proposed song for the Wizard that was never realized.
Other songs written or planned for The Wizard of Oz were omitted from the final version of the film. Most notably, the major "Jitterbug" production number was cut during final editing. A proposed musical number for the Horse of a Different Color also fell by the wayside, its place taken by "The Merry Old Land of Oz." A full song development of the chant "Lions and tigers and bears" was abandoned. A dirge-like march, "Death to the Wizard of Oz," was projected for the Wicked Witch's Winkie Guards. Dorothy at one time had a reprise of "Over the Rainbow" during her captivity in the Witch's castle, while "Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead" also had an intended reprise late in the movie.
The socialist Harburg was blacklisted in Hollywood in the 1950s. Though politically conservative himself, Oz producer Arthur Freed worked to get Harburg re-instated.
- Harold Meyerson and Ernie Harburg, Who Put the Rainbow in the Wizard of Oz?: Yip Harburg, Lyricist, Ann Arbor, MI, University of Michigan Press, 1995; p. 124.
- John Fricke, Jay Scarfone, and William Stillman, The Wizard of Oz: The Official 50th Anniversary Pictorial History, Warner Books, 1989; p. 42.