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'The Wizard of Oz' back home in Oconomowoc, Wis.

August 09, 2009

Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood rightfully boasts about the scores of legendary film stars who have walked through the front doors to attend world premieres. But contrary to popular belief, "The Wizard of Oz" wasn't first screened at the Hollywood Boulevard icon. Audience reaction screenings aside, that honor went to a small town -- not in Kansas, but in Wisconsin.

On Aug. 12, 1939 -- three days before its first showing at Grauman's -- the movie opened at the Strand Theatre in Oconomowoc, Wis.

At the time, Oconomowoc (pronounced oh-CON-oh-moe-wok) and its surrounding lakes were a popular vacation destination for wealthy families from Milwaukee, 35 miles east. One of the lakeside cottages was owned by Herbert Stothart, a composer who won an Oscar for the background music in "The Wizard of Oz."

"He'd come back here every summer," says local artist Paul Schultz, who owns the cottage with his wife, a relative of Stothart's.

To celebrate the 70th anniversary of the premiere, the movie will be shown on a large, outdoor screen in downtown Oconomowoc on Thursday. As part of the festivities, a commemorative plaque will be unveiled on the site where the Strand once stood. It's now a bank.

-- Jay Jones

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