The actors of "The Wiz" (L-R Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Diana Ross and Ted Ross) pose for a public shot in 1978 in new York, new York.

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before there to be NBC’s The Wiz Live!, certification Queen Latifah, mary J. Blige, David Alan Grier and Stephanie Mills, there was The Wiz, a 1978 movie based upon the music of the exact same name.

This earlier production of The Wiz might have to be so much better. It had actually a great concept (an African-American take on “The magician of Oz” in i m sorry the characters don’t monitor the yellow brick road, they ease on down it), a strong director (Sidney Lumet, who’d just done Dog work Afternoon and Network) and a solid actors (Diana Ross together Dorothy, Richard Pryor together the Wiz, Nipsey Russell as the tin Man). And it had actually Michael Jackson, a year before he would start his solo career v immortal dance access such together “Don’t avoid ‘Til You get Enough” and “Off the Wall.” however The Wiz to be most necessary for what taken place behind the scenes—veteran producer Quincy Jones, Lumet’s film-score colleague, to be musical director, and also he met his future “Thriller” collaborator MJ by appropriately pronouncing “Socrates” to the young singer on set. Later, Jones referred to as his brand-new friend and also listened intently as MJ described he could hear totally formed songs in his head and also needed someone to aid write castle down.

The Wiz came follow me at a perfect for Berry Gordy and Motown Records. To finish Lady Sings the Blues, Gordy had actually to sink in $2 million of his own money due to the fact that Paramount’s peak executive, open minded Yablans, had told him the best a studio could spend on a black color film at the moment was $500,000. “This is not a black film,” Gordy repair him. “This is a film with black stars.” There to be clashes top top the set, together star Diana Ross make her change from music diva to Hollywood diva, demanding an update of she period-piece wardrobe. However the 1972 drama to be a success in the end, illustration five Oscar nominations, return Ross lost finest Actress to Liza Minnelli of Cabaret.

In 1977, Motown to buy the legal rights to The Wiz, a script based on a Broadway hit with African-American stars putting their very own spin ~ above The magician of Oz. Gordy and producer rob Cohen cast Ross, then 33, together Dorothy. The director that signed on, after ~ a number of false starts, was Sidney Lumet, who had collaborated with a young Al Pacino top top Dog job Afternoon and Serpico. In ~ 53, Lumet to be an old Hollywood hand with fast-talking charisma, ending sentences with “darling sweetheart.” To provide The Wiz an orchestral punch, Lumet sought the end an old friend to request a favor.

He dubbed Quincy Jones.

Q didn’t want to execute it. Jones liked only three song from the Broadway show—“Home,” “Brand new Day,” and also a funky ensemble number referred to as “Ease On under the Road.” however he feel indebted come Lumet, who’d hired him for many film scores in the past. “I felt ns owed him more than one,” Jones said of Lumet. “I fan him a lot.”

Lumet stocked The Wiz with top-tier African-American talent—Ross, Richard Pryor, Lena Horne. Plunder Cohen, head that Motown Productions, believed Michael Jackson would be perfect for the role of the Scarecrow, and also he approached Gordy v the idea. To his surprise,

Gordy agreed. “Aw, Michael’s great,” said the Motown cook not much removed from year of litigation with the Jacksons over contracts. “Michael’s a star.”

Lumet to be harder come convince. He wanted Jimmie “J. J.” Walker, star the TV’s Good benidormclubdeportivo.orgs. “Michael Jackson’s a vegas act. The Jackson 5’s a vegas act,” the manager told Cohen. Quincy Jones was doubtful of Jackson, too, however Cohen arranged a meeting, paris 19-year-old MJ to new York. Finally, Lumet and also Jones witnessed the attributes that Cohen saw. “That young is for this reason sweet! He’s for this reason pure!” Lumet exulted. “I desire him as the Scarecrow.”

The final barrier was Joe Jackson, that wasn’t thrilled about Michael act a task that separated himself financially native the rest of his siblings. Cohen mollified Joe by offering about $100,000 because that Michael to play the Scarecrow. Once The Wiz began filming in new York, the 27-year-old producer moved Michael and also La Toya into a Manhattan apartment, and also Michael was on his own for the first He lived a common life, other than for a strange habit Cohen occurred to discover—taking baths in Perrier water.

The shoots were long and grueling, lasting every day underneath the human being Trade facility towers. In ~ night, the young actors went the end to beat in brand-new York City. Cohen took Michael, along with other members the the cast, come Studio 54, the disco hot spot known for both that is crazy sexual escapades and celebrity regulars choose Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger, cary Grant, and Brooke Shields. The rest of the club took notice whenever Michael Jackson danced. “The happy side that the run floor would stop,” Cohen says, “and the hetero side would certainly stop.”

During having lunch on The Wiz set, Lumet, the director, told an oblivious Michael that women about him were “like ricocheting bullets all over the place.”

On the set, Michael took exceptionally seriously his choreography sessions v Louis Johnson, who’d to be a pioneering African-American ballet dancer over years of punishing Hollywood racism. In the film, Michael’s most impressive measures are v Diana Ross, as he clumsily learns come walk after gift imprisoned by crows ~ above his scarecrow pole. In huge clown shoes, he stumbles, roll on the ground, and also knocks the end his knees. “He had actually seen Charlie Chaplin. He to be a an excellent fan that Fred Astaire and also Gene Kelly,” states Johnson, who is in his at an early stage eighties, by phone native his new York home. “So ns let him use it … that asked me, ‘Could I perform this?’—and then intensified it.” Jackson’s Scarecrow costume was hot and cumbersome, v a vast curly wig, a hat and vest stuffed through scraps that newspaper, not to mention a painted-on nose. Tony Walton, the film’s production and also costume designer, didn’t understand Michael to be tormented by his brothers’ constant teasing—they called him “Ugly” and “Big Nose.” “He to be thrilled to have his nose covered,” Walton says. His costume, stuffed through newspaper and also bits the trash bags, was an ext cumbersome, but Jackson made the work.

Quincy Jones was constantly present. (In the film, Jones shows up dressed in gold, playing a huge piano in benidormclubdeportivo.orgs Square.) He, too, began to pay attention to Jackson. When it came for the Scarecrow part, Michael stepped to the microphone and began to sing, not the bright-sounding Michael Jackson of “I want You Back” however the 18-year-old MJ whose voice had progressed into something together smooth and an effective as the Concorde. Cohen, the producer, noticed Jones gaping. “He looked in ~ Michael the way a jaguar looks at a goat,” Cohen says. “It to be like, ‘I want him.’ ”

Jones made his relocate on the set. In ~ one point, he take it Michael beside to describe a Scarecrow little in the script—that the Greek philosopher’s name is pronounced “Sock-ra-tees” and also not “Sow-cray-tees.” together Jones would tell the story, he asked Michael right then if he might “take a shot” at creating his next solo album. That stuck to Michael. Throughout The Wiz post-production, he called Quincy unexpectedly during a rare home hiatus native touring. They were on the line because that 45 minutes, the experienced producer doing most of the talking, about studio equipment, Star Wars, the newest synthesizer models, and also unfinished Wiz clips he’d seen. Michael greatly listened, with “mmm-hmms” and also an somebenidormclubdeportivo.orgs “whoo!” when Quincy enthusiastically pointed out he’d watched the rolling Stones perform, Michael sniffed, “You know it’s not talent, though.” The crucial moment in this nascent cooperation came when Michael stated he’d been creating songs: “I listen something in my head. Ns make the sounds v my mouth—I deserve to do that.” Quincy ended up being excited. “There’s an instrument that deserve to make the sound you want. I deserve to write anything down on paper,” the veteran arranger said. “If you deserve to hear it, I deserve to write that down.” The exchange, i m sorry MJ recorded, ends v Quincy requesting his number.

The Wiz cost $22 million and did not execute well at package office. It to be a spectacular, failure experiment. Michael and also Diana have fantastic chemistry, yet Ross is mismatched because that the part. Not due to the fact that she’s too old (although she is), but due to the fact that she theatre Dorothy the same means she played billie Holiday, v an emaciated world-weariness, when the part, together Judy Garland had presented the world forty year earlier, dubbed for a wide-eyed, childish wonder. A less evident problem was that during filming, Lumet’s mam at the, Gail Jones, daughter that Wiz star Lena Horne, had approached the manager on set and asked for a divorce. The generally exuberant Lumet ended up being despondent—a high quality that come out distinctively in the film, recalls production designer Tony Walton. “Everybody has a crying jag—the Lion cries, and Diana Ross and the tin Man,” the says. “None of which was yes, really in the script.”

The Wiz has that benidormclubdeportivo.orgless qualities, particularly the lovingly rendered scene to Lumet’s house city, prominently reflecting landmarks such as Coney Island, Shea Stadium, and the Brooklyn Bridge. However its reception was marred by racialism backlash. Theater chains in white areas wouldn’t schedule The Wiz for are afraid of scaring off white regulars, producer

Cohen recalls glumly. “As large and as spectacular and also as musical as it was,” the says, “we never got a genuine solid distribution.” black films, as well as Shaft, were for black color audiences. White movies were for white audiences. Just as black color music, despite quick exceptions such as Motown and also disco, had actually been for black radio stations and white music for white radio stations.

Somebody necessary to settle this problem.

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This has actually been adjusted from Steve Knopper’s MJ: The Genius that Michael Jackson (Scribner).