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Jitterbug

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The "Jitterbug" musical number was cut from MGM's 1939 The Wizard of Oz.

Composer Harold Arlen and lyricist E.Y. Harburg wrote the song in May 1938; it was one of the first pieces they created for the film. The idea was that the Jitterbug is a tool of the Wicked Witch of the West — a blue and pink insect like a mosquito; its bite causes a person to break into a frenetic dance. The Witch sends the bug to attack Dorothy and her companions as they approach her castle, just before the flying monkeys swoop in to capture the heroine.

The six-minute sequence took fully five weeks to rehearse and film, at a cost of $80,000. It was cut from the movie because of a need to shorten the running time, and because studio executives feared that it would date the film. (When Harbrug wrote his lyric in 1938, the word "jitterbug" had no larger meaning: in context, it was simply a bug that gave a person the jitters. While the movie was being made, though, the jitterbug craze in popular music and dance began and spread during 1939.) The sequence was also too upbeat, perhaps, for the darker tone of the materials around it.

The film footage of the musical number was not preserved; but an Arlen home movie of some of the shoot exists, and suggests what the result must have been like. Arlen's footage shows the quartet of protagonists dancing together, then Dorothy dancing with the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman dancing with the Cowardly Lion, as the haunted forest sways around them and the trees clap their branches like hands. (It also shows one of the stagehands who moved the trees in time to the music.) The vocal track and the orchestration for the Jitterbug scene still exist; the number was included in a 1995 CD package of the film's music, and often features in modern stage productions of the musical.

A trace of the lost sequence survives in the film, when the Witch tells Nikko that she will "send a little insect on ahead to take the fight out of" her would-be assassins.

In the rhymed dialogue that begins the "Jitterbug" number, the Scarecrow speaks this quatrain:

I think I see a jijik
And he's fuzzy and he's furry.
I haven't got a brain
But I think I ought to worry.

The meaning of the term "jijik" is left to the listener's imagination.

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