Today, we all know Jack Haley as the actor who portrayed the aluminum covered man with no heart or the “Tin Man” in the iconic 1939 production of The Wizard of Oz.
Even though Jack Haley is the credited actor for the role of Tin Man, he was not originally cast for the role, or more precisely, he wouldn’t have been cast at all if it wasn’t for an accident that happened to the previous “Tin Man”, Buddy Ebsen.
Buddy Ebsen, the prolific American singer, dancer, author, film, television and character actor was the original Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz.
Ebsen had bad blood with Louis B.Mayer, the head of MGM, after turning down the offer of an exclusive contract. Mayer even threatened Ebsen he would never find a job again in Hollywood. Nonetheless, MGM eventually did cast Ebsen as the “Scarecrow” in the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz.
Ray Bolger, who was originally cast as the Tin Man, was keen to play the Scarecrow as his childhood idol Fred Stone had done on stage in 1902 and was unhappy with his role as the Tin Man claiming “I’m not a tin performer, I’m fluid”.
After Bolger had convinced the producer Mervyn LeRoy to give him another chance and recast him as the Scarecrow, the studio agreed to provide him the long-desired role so Ebsen didn’t object much for playing the Tin Man.
The production started, and Ebsen went through all rehearsals and recorded all his songs as Tin Men. Soon after the filming had begun, Ebsen began experiencing shortness of breath and cramps.
One night, while Ebsen was preparing for dinner, he encountered serious problems in breathing.
Ebsen’s health gradually worsened and eventually he was hospitalized. While at the hospital, doctors determined the aluminum dust used in the Tin Man makeup caused the health issue.
Consequently, Ebsen was forced to leave the production as he was suffering a reaction to the harmful aluminum dust.
The studio didn’t take much blame for Ebsen’s health situation, and in an interview, Ebsen recalled that the MGM heads didn’t believe he was sick until someone ordered him back to set and was intercepted by a furious nurse.
Ebsen was instantly replaced by Jack Haley, and the studio, now taught by the latest experience, quickly changed the makeup, using a safer aluminum paste. MGM’s hopes that the previous catastrophe which happened to Ebsen wouldn’t be repeated went down the hill, as the application of the aluminum paste to Haley’s face, triggered a bad eye infection that put him off the set for days.
At the time of Ebsen’s departure, MGM did not publicize the reason nor had told Haley until later.
Although Haley recorded most of the Tin Man vocals, Ebsen’s voice, and the recognizable Midwestern accent can still be heard on the soundtrack of the song We’re Off to See the Wizard.
Although Ebsen outlived most of the major cast members of The Wizard of Oz, until the day he died he complained about lung problems from “that darn movie”.