The Wizard of Oz, written 70 years ago during the Great Depression by Oscar-winning lyricist EY ‘Yip’ Harburg, had a serious political message woven into the lyrics. It was part of body of work that was to guarantee he was blacklisted in the McCarthy era.
Harburg grew up in poverty and was deep in debt after the 1929 Wall Street crash. Then he penned the song “that captured the essence of the Great Depression, ‘Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?’”, writes Goodman.
The Wizard of Oz picked up the theme, recalls Yip’s son, Ernie Harburg, with the storyline about people confronting and defeating seemingly insurmountable and violent oppression. The Scarecrow represented farmers, the Tin Man stood for the factory workers, and the Munchkins of the “Lollipop Guild” were the union members.
Other work kept up the lyrical assault on oppression, writes Goodman. ‘Finian’s Rainbow’, a Broadway hit, addresses racial bigotry, hatred of immigrants, easy credit and mortgage foreclosures and in 1947 was the first Broadway musical with an integrated cast.
Goodman notes: “When Harburg’s unabashed political expression made him a target during the McCarthy era, he was blacklisted, and was banned from TV and film work from 1951 to 1962.”
In response to his blacklisting, Harburg wrote a satiric poem, which reads in part:
Lives of great men all remind us
Greatness takes no easy way,
All the heroes of tomorrow
Are the heretics of today.
Why do great men all remind us
We can write our names on high
And departing leave behind us
Thumbprints in the FBI.
Goodman concludes: “Let’s give thanks to Yip Harburg and all heretical artists, past and present, who have withstood censorship and banishment just for talking turkey.”