Urban Legend: Michael Jackson as Scarecrow in ‘The Wiz’

From the second Harlem native Dorothy (Diana Ross) and her dog Toto arrived in the strange world known as Oz, her only desire was to return home. Directed to Emerald City to speak with the all-knowing, all-powerful Wizard of Oz for help, she began following a yellow brick road guaranteed to lead her there.

thewizscarecrowAlong the way, Dorothy encountered a group of snarky crows bullying a soft-spoken Scarecrow (portrayed to perfection by late “King of Pop” Michael Jackson). She scared them off, helped Scarecrow down from his garden stake, and welcomed him to accompany her on her journey.

1978 film The Wiz, an adaptation of William F. Brown’s book of the same name and its 1974 Broadway musical version, is loaded with colorful, entertaining characters. An urban twist on L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Brown’s take on the Scarecrow is way cooler than the original.

Before Dorothy meets Scarecrow, he’s soulfully singing about why “You Can’t Win” with the pack of unfriendly crows. They’ve made it their business to torment him regularly, and he’s basically given up. Once freed, his wobbly, paper-stuffed, spaghetti-legged posturing steals your attention. Arguably more engaging than Scarecrow’s physical antics are the intellectual quotes he pulls from his innards. He tells Dorothy he’d like to ask the Wizard for a brain, yet with each slip of paper he reads to encourage his companions he shows thoughtfulness and genius.

Let’s not forget Scarecrow and Dorothy’s unforgettable duet, “Ease on Down the Road;” by today’s standards, it would be considered a remix of “Follow the Yellow Brick Road.” Originally performed by Stephanie Mills and Hinton Battle on Broadway, its big screen rendition was considerably more theatric. Each choreographed step made Scarecrow stand out. No doubt Battle did an amazing job with the character on stage, but Michael Jackson put his indelible mark on the role.

—Mr. Joe Walker

Mr. Joe Walker is an urban and pop culture enthusiast. Known as “The Word Heavyweight Champion”, the biographer, author, entertainment and celebrity journalist, and columnist is currently a senior writer for SoulTrain.com, staff writer for Muskegon Tribune Newspaper, and writer of weekly classic hip-hop reviews for Concrete Magazine’s Concrete615.com. Also co-creator of TheGrooveSpot.com, Walker’s acclaimed, award-winning work has been published thousands of times regionally, nationally, internationally, and online. He is also working on a book project with Liquid Arts & Entertainment. Follow him on Twitter @mrjoewalker, connect with him on Facebook, and also visit his blog ByMrJoeWalker.blogspot.com.

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