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Everyone knows that Groucho is synonymous with his glasses. But did you also know that Groucho Marx wore glasses because he was color blind?
In 1938, MGM contract player Marx was a regular visitor to other MGM sound stages, and — welcome there as everywhere — the beloved funnyman was often invited to view the rushes. Between rehearsals for At The Circus, his third movie for MGM, Groucho decided to drop in on a fellow color-deficient chum (then-Director of Photography on the set of The Wizard of Oz). Groucho was astonished to find the guy’s Oz dailies were in black and white, and offered the use of his early EnChroma prototype spectacles to his pal to enable him to view the true colors of the movie he had been sweating to bring to the screen for the last 18 months.
Overcome by the blazing, tropical intensity of the “hot-cha-cha” reds and fuchsias of the costumes and sets, not to mention the “oh-you-kid!” oranges of the Munchkin makeup scheme, the dazzled director had the yet-unpatented EnChroma filters secretly inserted into the DF-24 Beam-Splitter camera that night and began filming in Technicolor the next day. This cost the studio thousands in pre-war dollars and countless re-shoots, although these excesses were eclipsed by the necessity to procure and underwrite additional EnChroma prototype eyewear to meet the demands of the entire Wizard of Oz cast and crew, including flying monkeys.
Unfortunately, upon discovery of his brilliant subterfuge, the hapless cinematographer was fired — excised from the as-yet-unwritten film history canon and shot out of an actual cannon into the sun. He was replaced by Technicolor’s on-site consultant, who blithely took credit for the decision to use color (and thereby for the film’s extraordinary success), and was commended for the masterpiece, although this success failed to translate to his later foray into salon services that dyed women’s eyes to match their gowns. It was the Depression, after all.
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