Noel Langley: The Royal Adaptor of Oz

Screenwriter Noel Langley (1911-1980) was one two people connected with the 1939 MGM screen version of The Wizard of Oz to have a Christmas birthday (the other was Candy Candido, who voiced one of the talking trees). There were numerous writers on the major undertaking, of course, but Langley ended up being the principle one. He wrote the last draft but two, then it was given to the team of Edgar Allen Woolf and Florence Ryerson, then it was given back to him and he undid many of their changes, so the final draft was his.

Langley had only been in Hollywood for less than two years when he was given this plum assignment, which suited his gifts. He had preciously written a children’s book called The Tale of the Land of Green Ginger, and he penned the adaptation of the musical fantasy Maytime (1937) for Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald as his first Hollywood assignment. Born and raised in South Africa, Langley had moved to London in 1934, where he wrote several novels, had plays produced on the West End, and contributed to screenplays for British films. He progressed as a writer rapidly.

Langley is said to have developed a script for the sequel to The Wizard of Oz, The Marvelous Land of Oz, and that is a thing I would like to read! Other family related classics he worked on as a writer included Scrooge (1951), Tom Brown’s School Days (1951), The Pickwick Papers (1952), a spec script for Pete’s Dragon (1957; not used); and Snow White and the Three Stooges (1961). He also worked on historical costume dramas like Ivanhoe (1952), The Prisoner of Zenda (1952) and The Knights of the Round Table (1953), and the 1954 remake of Svengali. Throughout his Hollywood years, he also continued to work in the British film industry. Some of his stage plays were made into films; these include Queer Cargo (1938), Edward My Son (1949) and Father’s Doing Fine (1952). He also continued to publish books throughout his life. One of his last projects was a TV adaptation of Ibsen’s The Master Builder, which made it to the screen posthumously in 1981.