Bryn Mawr's flying monkey

Louise Reinhardt Francis ’21—daughter of a Delaware judge, fluent in French and Spanish and a longtime teacher at The Brearley School—played a furry, blue-faced thug with wings in a classic American film.

At 39, Francis was a Flying Monkey in The Wizard of Oz, answering a casting call for “small thin men for close-ups.” She appears in the scene when the monkeys—minions of the Wicked Witch of the West—attack the Scarecrow, Tinman and Cowardly Lion, and kidnap Dorothy and Toto. She vividly remembers “jumping around” in the pretend forest, fake leaves “flying all over the place.”

Born in 1899, Louise “Lulu” Reinhardt grew up in Wilmington. She studied French at Bryn Mawr and at 30 married actor Charles Francis. Together they traveled the country by train with a menagerie of actors for four years. “I loved touring with Charlie,” she says. “We liked to play bridge.” Eventually they settled in New York City, where she taught at The Brearley School until 1961. She wrote 18 plays for elementary students, including Abe Lincoln Goes to School. She and her husband sometimes wintered in Hollywood, and during their 1938 stay there, she shot Oz.

Her costume was “horrible,” she said: “Awfully uncomfortable. But I wouldn’t give it up for anything. I flew on wires. It was breathtaking.” Six-inch rubber monkeys were used for the distant in-flight shots, but the special effects department suspended actors on thin wires for close-ups, cushioning their occasional falls with mattresses and nets. Francis said she was the littlest monkey, at 101-1/2 pounds. Director Victor Fleming “didn’t tell us exactly what to do. I liked the freedom of it. You never knew just what was going to happen. It was fun that way.”

Often after shooting, she and her husband went for cocktails with the cast, where they “met the whole crowd…and closed several bars we stayed so long.” The actors who played the Munchkins “were lovely,” she said. She also fondly remembered Frank Morgan, who played the Wizard, and thought that Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch, was “very pleasant. Not very wicked.”

Francis resided at a nursing facility in Connecticut, where Hamilton also lived until her death in 1985. Francis recalled reconnecting with Hamilton at nursing home functions nearly 50 years after their original acquaintance on the set.

Francis died in 2002, at the age of 102.

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