The Tin Man's Toxic Metal Makeup

Buddy Ebsen was hospitalized making 'The Wizard of Oz'

Dorothy and the Scarecrow oiling the Tin man

Underwood Archives / Getty Images

Ray Bolger originally was cast to play the Tin Man in the 1939 movie "The Wizard of Oz." He traded roles with Buddy Ebsen, who had initially been cast to play the Scarecrow. Ebsen recorded all his songs, finished four weeks of rehearsal, and completed costuming before the filming of the movie.

MGM tested several types of costumes and makeup to make the Tin Man appear silvery. They tried covering Ebsen with tin, silvery paper, and silver cloth-covered cardboard. Finally, they decided to go with white face paint coated with aluminum dust.

Lung Failure and Hospitalization

Nine days into filming, Ebsen started to experience shortness of breath and cramping that sent him to the hospital. At one point his lungs failed. He remained hospitalized for two weeks during which the film's producer hired actor Jake Haley to replace him.

Haley's makeup was reformulated into a paste that was painted on. Haley missed four days of filming when the makeup caused an eye infection, but he did not suffer any permanent damage, nor did he lose his job.

Still, Ebsen may have had the last laugh: He outlived both Bolger and Haley—living to the ripe old age of 95 and dying in 2003, more than half a century after "The Wizard" was released.

Fun Fact

Ebsen's recording of "We're Off to See the Wizard" with Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion was used in the film's soundtrack.

Don't Suffer the Tin Man's Fate

While there are several toxic chemicals found in cosmetics, you won't get sick wearing metallic makeup today. Safe Tin Man makeup is available, or better yet, make your own with homemade white grease paint coated with metallic glitter or Mylar.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "The Tin Man's Toxic Metal Makeup." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2020, August 28). The Tin Man's Toxic Metal Makeup. Retrieved from Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "The Tin Man's Toxic Metal Makeup." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).