Original Director John Badham was fired when he objected to Diana Ross, then thirty-three-years-old, being cast as the fourteen-year-old Dorothy. Though in the movie, her character was changed to a twenty-four-year-old kindergarten school teacher.
Motown Productions bought the rights to the stage show with the intent of having Stephanie Mills reprise the role of Dorothy. However, Diana Ross lobbied intensely for the role. Despite the fact that everyone (including Motown head and former lover Berry Gordy) believed that she, being thirteen years older than Mills, was too old, she insisted that the role of Dorothy was ageless. She also said she would be able to guarantee Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow if she was cast.
In his book "Making Movies," Sidney Lumet admits that the filming of the Emerald City Sequence on the plaza at the World Trade Center had to be cut short because of wind and scheduling. The Port Authority would not allow more time to fix the mistakes, the red sequence had to be shortened due to a lighting error, and there was no time to re-shoot.
The first song that Michael Jackson sings, "You Can't Win," was originally written for the stage version for the Winkies to sing to Dorothy about the futility of escaping from Evillene. The song was cut from the stage version of the musical during previews, but was included in the film as the Scarecrow's song.
Simultaneously with the release of the film, Congoleum, the flooring company that designed the look of the Yellow Brick Road for the film, also marketed the same design (also called Yellow Brick Road) for home use.
The original New York City production of "The Wiz" opened at the Majestic Theater on January 5, 1975, starring Stephanie Mills, ran for 1,672 performances and won the 1975 Tony Awards for the Best Musical and Score and was nominated for Best Book.
The scene in which the Cowardly Lion emerges from one of the statues in front of the main research branch of the New York Public Library was shot on a set instead of the actual location because it was logistically impossible to film an entire scene devoid of people, save the main actors, without traffic and pedestrians getting in the way of the production.
The duet between Michael Jackson and Diana Ross on "Ease On Down the Road" was released as a single by MCA Records in September, 1978. This single just barely missed the Top 40 radio pop charts, where it stalled at number forty-one. However, "Ease On Down the Road" did reach number seventeen on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles chart that same year.
Joel Schumacher's script for The Wiz was influenced by Werner Erhard's teachings and his Erhard Seminars Training ("est") movement, as both Schumacher and Diana Ross were proponents. The speech delivered by Glinda the Good Witch at the end of the film, and the song "Believe in Yourself", are particularly laden with est-ian concepts.
Stephanie Mills who starred in the Broadway production of the Wiz was in the top running to play Dorothy in the movie before Diana Ross commandeered the role. Much has been made of Miss Ross being too old to play the part; (she was 34); but Miss Mills was also considerably older than the role. Dorothy is supposed to be 5 in the "Wizard of Oz" book; she is 12 in the 1939 "Wizard of OZ" movie; but Miss Mills herself was 21 when 1978 production of "The Wiz" came out.
The name of the wicked witches in this version are Evilene and Evermean; this was the first time they were actually named in any version until "Wicked" the novel came out; which named the witches Elphaba Thropp and Nessarose Thropp.