Friends, as I believe has been proven by my article concerning Vicki Lawrence singing The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia – there are vast areas relating to pop culture that I am wholly ignorant of. Granted, I would never call myself an expert in anything, I just enjoy sharing those things that I enjoy. The reason I brought all of that up however is that being a fan of animation, especially the work of Chuck Jones – I somehow had never heard about the Off to See the Wizard anthology series that aired on ABC beginning in September of 1967. The show sounds like it was a little like The Banana Splits – although I think it would be correct to say in reverse in this case – with animated segments featuring the characters from The Wizard of Oz providing the intro and outro for the show as well as commercial breaks. The animation was handled by MGM Animation/Visual Arts – which was in fact founded as Sib Tower 12 Productions in 1962 by Chuck Jones and Les Goldman before being purchased by MGM two year later. As Jones had a hand in the segments, it should come as no surprise that regulars such as Daws Butler (Scarecrow, Tin Man, Wizard of Oz), Mel Blanc (Cowardly Lion, Toto), and the iconic June Foray (Dorothy) were tapped to provide voices for the animated characters.
The really interesting thing about Off to See the Wizard beside the fact that Chuck Jones was an Executive Producer – is it was created to showcase the vast library of Family films from MGM. Which is naturally why in that promo you saw the likes of Clarence, the Cross-Eyed Lion, Rhino!, Lili, and Zebra in the Kitchen. The length of a feature film obviously meant that generally it had to be split between two shows. Off to See the Wizard apparently edited for content and time – but provided hosts as well as narrators to help catch the audience up on what they had missed. A quick glance at the Internet Movie Database page feels like a plummet down the rabbit hole – as hosts and narrators included the likes of Milton Berle, Jack Lemmon, Richard Petty (?), Edward G. Robinson, and Hal Holbrook.
Off to See the Wizard appears to have shown nature documentaries and even failed TV pilots – which was the case with Alexander the Great. This one is extremely interesting as it was in fact a 1963 pilot turned TV movie – it also happened to star William Shatner as Alexander with Adam West as Cleander. In addition it featured the likes of John Cassavetes (The Dirty Dozen), Simon Oakland (Kolchak: The Nights Stalker), and Joseph Cotten (The Third Man) to name a few.
As I understand it there are no full episodes of Off to See the Wizard available online or for purchase – which is understandable I suppose with the copyrights of the films involved and such. It Just feels like to me that we are missing out on some pretty impressive pop culture history, for example there was an October 13th special entitled Who’s Afraid of Mother Goose? that aired in ’67. A humorous look at the characters of Mother Goose that featured a cast made up of Maureen O’Hara, The Three Stooges, Steve Martin, Margaret Hamilton, Jim Nabors, as well as Dan Rowan and Dick Martin among others.
At the very least we can enjoy a few of the animated segments from Off to See the Wizard, such as this one featuring the Tin Man needing just a dab of oil.