In reflecting upon the many wonderful talents at the heart of The Wizard of Oz (1939), I am especially fond of Jack Haley and his portrayal of the Tin Man. He is, of course, Dorothy’s comrade who is in search of a heart. According to the Tin Man, the tinsmith who transformed him neglected to give him the organ that allows him to “register emotion, jealousy, devotion”–a heart.
Though the Tin Man likens himself to an “empty kettle” in his introductory number, he is by far the most sensitive, benevolent, and caring character in the film. While he discusses the symbolic importance of a heart and its ability to love and emote, as portrayed in the arts, the Tin Man is guided by his ability to love and be loved–a fine compass for his character. Interestingly, all the while, the Tin Man feels that his heart is absent, though he proves time and again that a heart certainly exists at the center of his being and really makes him incredibly empathetic and, overall, human.
Certainly, Haley portrayed many more characters throughout his long and successful career in the entertainment industry. While the role of the Tin Man is his most iconic, he can also be seen working alongside some of the greatest stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age–him being one of them–and appearing in many lighthearted musical and comedic roles suitable for any audience to enjoy.
Behind the scenes, Haley was a family man who was just as loving and generous as his iconic counterpart. Grounded in a respect for his profession, devotion to his religious faith, and prioritization of his family and friends, Haley was a kind individual who was beloved by many and continues to inspire and delight new generations to this day.
After publishing an article in which I interviewed Ray Bolger’s niece, I was connected with Barry Bregman, grandson of Jack Haley. Bregman is the son of Buddy Bregman and Gloria Haley Parnassus, the daughter of Jack and Flo Haley. Bregman was close to his grandfather and continues to honor his legacy today, in addition to working as a songwriter and music producer. Bregman has been in the music industry for over 45 years.
Once in contact with Bregman, I had many questions to ask him about his grandfather, who remains one of my favorite actors. My interview with Bregman is published below.
Annette: You have an interesting family connection to The Wizard of Oz (1939), as your grandfather was in the film as the Tin Man. Can you recall one of the first times you saw the film?
Barry: The first time I saw it was with my Pop. He took me to the theater in Beverly Hills.
Annette: Aside from his iconic role in The Wizard of Oz (1939), what are some of your favorite roles or on-screen moments in which your grandfather was featured?
Barry: Poor Little Rich Girl (1936) and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938). He had several movies that he was in. He screened them at his house and happened to have the first color TV in Beverly Hills. I saw several of his films there.
Annette: Did your grandfather have any performers with whom he especially enjoyed working?
Barry: He really loved most of the co-stars that he worked with. He loved Alice Faye, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, George Burns, and Gracie Allen. He gave Lucille her first job. My grandmother, Flo Haley, was a Ziegfeld girl with Lucille. They were best friends. I grew up with Desi Jr. and Dean Martin, Jr., and we’ve been best friends since we were kids. We were our own Rat Pack.
Annette: How would you describe your grandfather’s legacy today?
Barry: I really think his legacy is how he helped other people. He donated to so many charities. I think that was more important to him. He was a devout Catholic and that was more important to him than anything else. He went to mass everyday.
Annette: What is your favorite memory of your grandfather?
Barry: He was the most incredible man. He was much more like my dad. He really raised me, as my dad and mom divorced when I was 5. He left me a bunch memorabilia–lots of great photos and all his cancelled checks from the 1930s and a bunch of wisdom. Whatever good traits I have are because of my Pop.