“THE MOST POPULAR MAN IN ALL THE LAND OF OZ!”

“THE MOST POPULAR MAN IN ALL THE LAND OF OZ!”

By John Fricke

[above: The topic of this month’s Ozian appreciation is depicted here — as portrayed (in one of his typical and fearless journeys to help others) by the incomparable John R. Neill. This art served as one of twelve color plates in L. Frank Baum’s 1915 Oz book, THE SCARECROW OF OZ.]
This month’s blog comes as an homage to my favorite of all the characters in the forty Oz books. He’s the L. Frank Baum creation whose brain power (before AND after he met THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ in the story of that title) was a savior in many an adventuresome situation – and who has delighted millions of children of all ages with his humor, loyalty, devotion, affection, perspicacity, perseverance, and joyous optimism. (The last of these in spite of the occasional lighted match, waterfall dousing, river submersion, Yookoohoo enchantment, Nome King transformation, and etc.)

The picture above betrays any attempts at journalistic coyness; suffice it to say that, from my first reading of an Oz book (on my sixth birthday), I always anticipated an appearance by – and, hopefully, the ongoing plot involvement of – my buddy, the Scarecrow! Our initial encounter actually came a month earlier, when I saw his incarnation by Ray Bolger in the premier national telecast of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1939 movie musical, THE WIZARD OF OZ. I loved him then, certainly, but as that film was my preliminary meeting with ALL Things Oz, my overall reaction was a generic one: I loved everyone and everything. Well, excepting maybe the Winged Monkeys – and also acknowledging there’s no question that it was Judy Garland who made THE most extraordinary, wondrous, and life-changing impact on me on that evening of November 3, 1956.

But when I read an abridgment of Baum’s THE WIZARD OF OZ a few weeks later – and his complete text within a few months – I was happy to discover that the Winged Monkeys turned out to be “good guys” after all. (It was only the evil control manifested by the Wicked Witch of the West that compelled the simians to capture Dorothy and Toto.) And both volumes led to my instantaneous veneration of the demonstrative, loving, crinkly, crunkly, and eminently embraceable Scarecrow.

[above: This illustration by Anton Loeb provided my earliest (though post-MGM) book concept of Baum’s legendary Scarecrow; I received the 1950 Random House/Allen Chaffee condensation of THE WIZARD OF OZ for my sixth birthday. Whether it was because the Scarecrow was Dorothy’s first friend – or just because he was wondrously companionable – I took him to be my A#1 Oz chum, pal, comrade, and dreamed-of compatriot . . . ever after.]
Of course, the complete Baum text depicted all three of Dorothy’s traveling companions as outstanding, caring individuals. But the Scarecrow’s devotion somehow stood out: the manner in which he painstakingly collected nuts for her to eat when she ran out of bread-and-butter; the way he covered her with dry leaves so that she’d keep warm while sleeping outdoors in the Great Forest.  It was his thought processes that led to the means by which Dorothy & Company escaped the fearsome Kalidahs – and then crossed the river that separated the Munchkin Country from the area surrounding the Emerald City.

All of that, mind you, in just the first seven chapters of their escapades together!

In brief, that brainless (not!) individual totally won my heart. When I accessed Baum’s second book, THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ, I encountered the Scarecrow as the ruler of the entire country – wiser, funnier, and more unique than ever. Then, as a prominent presence in OZMA OF OZ (book number three), he was quite naturally a member of the rescue party that left Oz for the Dominion of the Nomes; they were off to attempt the rescue of the Queen of Ev and her children from underground captivity at the hands of the Nome King.

Two moments in OZMA OF OZ further solidified my adulation of the Scarecrow. In an emotional highlight early on, Baum saw to it that the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion were unexpectedly reunited with Dorothy for the first time since her initial visit to Oz. The author at that moment gives full satisfaction to his readers – especially, for me, in his descriptive sentence: “The first thing Dorothy did was to rush into the embrace of the Scarecrow, whose painted face beamed with delight as he pressed her form to his straw-padded bosom.” Plot-wise, it was also the Scarecrow who later on did the “poison egg” toss that soaked the face of the dreadful Nome King — just long enough for Dorothy to undo and retrieve the Magic Belt from around the Metal Monarch’s waist. (She is thus able to add that enchanted girdle, forever after, to the treasures of Oz.)

[above: John R. Neill provided “photographic” record of Dorothy’s contented – and very first — reunion with the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman in Baum’s OZMA OF OZ.]
As a result, my youthful admiration for the Scarecrow continued to grow, even though Baum only tangentially included him in the next two books, DOROTHY AND THE WIZARD IN OZ and THE ROAD TO OZ.  He doesn’t turn up until chapter twenty-five in book six – THE EMERALD CITY OF OZ — yet he is more than pivotal to the plot. Across the next nineteen pages, he manages (via his excellent brains) to come up with an idea to save Dorothy, Ozma, and the entire Ozian citizenry and landscape from enslavement and devastation by a massive army of evil.

By now, you get the idea: The Scarecrow is either a principal character, member of the supporting cast, or one of the classic, classy Ozzy background ensemble throughout the Oz series. Baum’s ninth full-length endeavor provided the strawman with his own volume, THE SCARECROW OF OZ;  true to tradition, the “most popular man in all the Land of Oz” (see below) manages to overcome every challenge as he saves three traveling Americans, defeats Blinkie the Wicked Witch, deposes the despised King Krewl from command of Jinxland, and places Princess Gloria — the rightful ruler – on the throne in his place.

[above: Throughout the book named for the Scarecrow, Neill did not merely depict the title character in black and white and color. The artist also hand-captioned this informal moment, and in that process, he ascribed to the gentleman a designation that warmed my little boy’s heart when first I read it. (That would appear to be Dorothy and the Woozy bringing up the rear.) Baum considered THE SCARECROW OF OZ one of his own finest efforts.]
The Scarecrow also takes part in further major endeavors in other Baum Oz books. He develops an immediate (and mutual) fascination – and funny flirtation — with THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ in the story of that title. He accompanies THE TIN WOODMAN OF OZ on an astounding journey into the past history of that soldered wonder. He’s once again among a hearty band of celebrities that embarks upon a rescue mission when Dorothy and Ozma suffer a watery imprisonment in a sunken city at the bottom of a lake in GLINDA OF OZ. (All of these Oz books – and many others – are still in print and instantaneously available from the All Things Oz Gift Shop and Museum. As you look ahead to birthdays, Easter, graduation, summer vacation reading – and etc.! — you can do no better for the young and young-at-heart than to supply them with Oz. 😊)

[above: My hero – and his best friend – are shown here as they deliver Oz books to Chittenango for dissemination via All Things Oz. (Well, it’s a jolly idea, anyway!) This ebullient Neill illustration graced the cover of the Spring 1965 issue of THE BAUM BUGLE, journal of The International Wizard of Oz Club. It was adapted, enlarged, and colored for that purpose by designer Dick Martin; the original art was created by Neill circa 1940 as a personal bookplate for his friends, the fervent and revered Oz fans Marie and Elgood Lufkin.]
Meanwhile! Whenever, however, and to whatever extent he appears, the Scarecrow is always the signpost of my heart as I read (and, to this day, re-read) the Oz books. He’s my Ozian Supreme; it’s that simple.

Or, to put it another way: At the moment he actively turns up — or even when he is merely referenced — I know I’m “home” . . .  befriended, safe, adored – and most definitely adoring.

 

 

OZZY HOLIDAY JOY – COURTESY BAUM, DENSLOW, AND MGM!

OZZY HOLIDAY JOY – COURTESY BAUM, DENSLOW, AND MGM!

by John Fricke

Above: A picture from DENSLOW’S NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS (published by the G. W. Dillingham Co. in 1902). William Wallace Denslow was the original illustrator of L. Frank Baum’s THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ (1900), as well as Baum’s FATHER GOOSE: HIS BOOK (1899) and DOT AND TOT OF MERRYLAND (1901). The two men parted professional company in 1902, and the artist went on to illustrate – and sometimes write — other fantasies, including a series of beautiful, well-received picture books. Oz fans will notice that, in the portrait above, a sassily-smiling Tin Woodman toy is among the offerings in the sack of a delighted Santa Claus!

With the hope that we can share some holiday cheer here, the “All Things Oz” Blog for this month happily brings you the seasonal depiction above – plus a trio of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer related “gifts,” for those who fasten on, are fascinated by, or collect material related to the studio’s 19309 motion picture adaptation of THE WIZARD OF OZ. Best of all, there’s a brief but rare seasonal poem from L. Frank Baum himself.

At this time of the year, the presence of “that jolly old elf” – via W. W. Denslow, the very first Oz illustrator – is a December given, as both Denslow and Baum celebrated Santa Claus in their output. (If you’ve never read Baum’s THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS, please seek it out; it’s perhaps the most gentle, tender, and complete back-story ever provided about that glorious patron saint of children.) Beyond the annual omnipresence of St. Nick, however, it also seemed appropriate to bring Baum and MGM together here to close out 2019. This year marked the centennial of the author’s passing in 1919, as well as the eightieth anniversary of THE WIZARD OF OZ cinema premiere in 1939.

So! As a further pictorial offering for the holiday, here are three rare clippings from the same edition – indeed, the same page! – of THE NEW YORK TIMES for Tuesday, August 15, 1939. To launch their WIZARD OF OZ movie, Metro sent the film’s star, Judy Garland, and her on-screen partner in other films, Mickey Rooney, to New York City to appear with the picture in its Broadway debut at the Capitol Theatre.  The Manhattan newspapers gave full coverage to the teens’ arrival on Monday; the press really had no choice, as the mobs that jammed Grand Central Station to welcome (or at least try to see) the juvenile stars were estimated at anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 people. The print media headlined the event in grand fashion (with, as VARIETY would put it, “a plentitude of art”), although the TIMES took a more sedate approach with their no-photographs reportage:

Please note the final sentence of the clipping above. The fact that Judy went to see the Broadway musical, YOKEL BOY, on her first night in town has its own WIZARD OF OZ-related significance. One of the stars of the production was erstwhile Tin Woodman, Buddy Ebsen, now recovered from the aluminum particle inhalation that had hospitalized him ten months earlier – and cost him his role in the film. Ever after, Ebsen recalled Judy’s backstage enthusiasm after the performance of YOKEL BOY; she’d actually already added the show’s hit song, “Comes Love,” to her radio and stage repertoire. Speaking from her own vaudeville beginnings as a “live” entertainer — and foreshadowing her eventual legendary Broadway success at The Palace Theatre (in 1951, 1956, and 1967) – Garland told Ebsen how much she hoped she could someday be doing a New York show as he was doing.

Given the fact that space is limited here, I have to direct anyone who’s interested in the complete saga of the Garland/Rooney conquest of New York City to an entire, heavily-pictured chapter in THE WIZARD OF OZ: THE OFFICIAL 50th ANNIVERSARY PICTORIAL HISTORY (Warner Books, 1989). Briefly, however: the chaos caused in and around the Capitol Theatre by the combination of OZ and its accompanying movie-stars-in-person made a whole new set of headlines, while the box office “take” was extraordinary, and attendance records were smashed on a regular basis. Meanwhile, here’s one of the “advance notice” newspaper ads for the event that wasn’t included in the OZ film history books I’ve done over the years. In it, the TIMES heralds both the motion picture and the “5 Shows Daily” to be performed by (as they called each other) “Jutes” and “Mick”:

One final, “specialty” ad was placed in the TIMES, as well. MGM’s GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS was in its fourth successful month in another major Times Square “picture palace,” just five blocks south of the Capitol on Broadway. The Metro publicity department cooked up a special caricature promotion that further plugged both the Robert Donat/Greer Garson feature, and at the same time, touted the in-person Rooney and Garland:

Finally, we segue to the man who started it all. This heartfelt seasonal greeting concludes this month’s blog, although the four lines on the holiday card below have no specific Ozzy connotation. This was, however, the 1916 greeting sent to family and friends by L. Frank Baum, the “Royal Historian of Oz” himself. You’ll notice the carved or sculpted “OZCOT” above the stained-glass window; that was the name of the home he and wife Maud Gage built in Hollywood in 1910 and from which he worked for the rest of his life. The flowers at the left of the engraving – and the illustrated garden at right — beautifully represent the grounds of their property, which included an extensive, fenced area behind the house. There, Frank raised award-winning blooms, kept an aviary and fish-pond, and did much of his latter-day writing.

This privately printed greeting card is reproduced here with the kind, specific (and gratefully received) permission of Baum’s great-grandson, Robert A. Baum. And as I most definitely could not improve on the author’s sentiments, I hope you’ll allow them to represent my own holiday and new year’s salutations to (and feelings for) the countless Oz friends I’ve so happily encountered in many, many decades of shared “fandom.”

Thank you all for reading here each month — and for the privilege of your company. And here’s to every blessing of health, peace, and joy to all of you . . . on whichever side of the rainbow you call home!

WIZARDS, WIZARDS EVERYWHERE – SINCE 1956!

WIZARDS, WIZARDS EVERYWHERE – SINCE 1956!

by John Fricke

Above: My first copies of THE [WONDERFUL] WIZARD OF OZ! I received the much-condensed picture-book version of the story, at left, just twenty-seven days after I’d been initially Ozzified by first exposure to the 1939 MGM motion picture. At right: the cover of the first full-length edition of Baum’s text I ever owned, which I purchased circa summer 1957.

This time of the year makes me especially nOZtalgic. It encompasses my birthday and Christmas — and for many of my preteen and teen years (and beyond) that meant Oz!  😊

It was November 1956 when I first saw THE WIZARD OF OZ on television, and a few weeks later when I turned six, I received the movie’s soundtrack record album and a WIZARD OF OZ storybook for my birthday. The cover of that edition is shown above at left; it had been issued in 1950 following the successful 1949 theatrical reissue of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musical. At that point in history, however, only The Bobbs-Merrill Company had publication rights to L. Frank Baum’s first Oz book, and Random House had to contract with them and Mrs. L. Frank Baum to offer “an adaptation of the beloved story, specially prepared for younger readers.” The picture book then included information on its copyright page to explain their licensing agreement. They used such a candid word as “abbreviated”; a phrase that acknowledged “a brief retelling”; and made the honest declaration that “the whole wonderful story [is] many times longer than this.”

I was an early reader, and when I put together all those statements (and had one of my parents explain the word “abridgment”), I was – by early summer 1957 — propelled out to any store that stocked books to find a complete WIZARD OF OZ. It was an easy task, for one simple reason. The copyright had expired on Baum’s original WIZARD OF OZ book in 1956. That meant that any publisher, anywhere, could reprint – complete or abridged and without licensing or paying royalties – the story of Dorothy’s first jaunt to the Emerald City. Whitman Publishing Company in nearby Racine, WI (we lived in Milwaukee) was one of the first to take advantage of this freedom; their board-bound editions of – among others — ALICE IN WONDERLAND, TREASURE ISLAND, LITTLE WOMEN, and ROBINSON CRUSOE were joined by THE WIZARD OF OZ in 1957, which was conveniently stocked by a nearby Woolworth’s. For fifty-nine cents, I could (and DID) take home, read, re-read, and re-re-read the whole thing.

It was just a year later that I discovered the entire Oz series. I’ve written about this in earlier blogs — along with the fact that, by December 1958, I began receiving five or six Oz titles every Christmas, courtesy Santa Claus, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. (For about four years, I was VERY easy to “buy for” – as long as everyone kept up with which of the thirty-nine Oz books I already had!)

  

Above: Two early paperback WIZARDs. The Scholastic Book Services edition (1957) was made available by in-class order forms in countless schoolrooms, as well as at school book fairs across the country for many years. The Crest Book (1960) boasted an introduction by the legendary James Thurber, adapted from his semi-paean to Baum that appeared in THE NEW REPUBLIC in 1934. Crest’s reprint also included a handful of W. W. Denslow’s original WIZARD OF OZ illustrations from 1900, which had been unavailable in new editions of THE WIZARD since 1944.

But, as indicated above, the floodgates were opened in 1956 for the first, most popular, most familiar, and most cherished of the Oz series. Publishers went on a rampage and there were dozens of new editions of THE WIZARD OF OZ from then onwards. (The rampant popularity of the quickly-to-become-annual telecasts of the MGM OZ — beginning in 1959 — were a further factor in the “everywhere” status of the first Oz book.) Naturally, these were MOST collectible, as well, and well into the 1960s, I continued to try to amass as many different WIZARDs as I could. Some were full-length, some were condensations of the story, but they were all Oz.

One of the major attractions of all these new publications was the fact that many featured brand-new artwork. Some of the illustrations continued in classic-line fashion. Others were more of their time: sketchy or modernized or cartoony or MGM-influenced. (The latter approach, however, was for the most part scrupulously avoided. The Judy Garland film was still – and remains to this day – under copyright. And while anyone can draw Dorothy, the Scarecrow & Company for publication, they canNOT draw Judy-Garland-as-Dorothy, Ray-Bolger-as-the-Scarecrow, and et al, without first securing a licensing agreement with Warner Bros.)

    Above left:  Dorothy (vintage contemporary!) appeared in Anna Marie Magagna’s cover art and interior pictures for the Grosset & Dunlap WIZARD in 1963. At right: A “sci-fi lite” mystique permeated this drawing by Roy Krenkel, heralding the 1965 Airmont Publishing Company paperback; their version also featured a fine appreciation of Baum by Donald Wollheim.

Between this blog’s journalism and artwork, I think any reader here – whether rabid Oz fan or casual browser – can get the idea. There have been and continue to be countless new editions of THE WIZARD OF OZ since 1956, whether in English or in scores of other languages. (The foreign treatments of Baum’s story and characters sometimes feature the most off-beat, appealing, and/or appalling visuals of them all!)  It would be easy to show another twenty different WIZARD OF OZ book covers from the early years of its public domain status; in fact, they’ve all been pulled off the shelves and are sitting here on the desk, waiting to be scanned! But I thought those selected here would be reasonably representative – and not too overwhelming. 😊

Meanwhile, one more vintage version before I go — please. It’s the edition that absolutely meant the most to me when I was nine. I forget how I found out it was going to appear, but in early 1960, Dover Publications announced that they were going to produce a paperback WIZARD OF OZ that included (for the first time since the story’s 1900 debut) ALL the original Denslow pictures, including the color plates. At that stage of fandom, I’d never seen most of those illustrations (or any early edition of the book), and I was overwhelmed with joy and anticipation; I hastily sent Dover my $1.45 and waited.

 

The cover of Dover’s WIZARD – the heart-stopper edition of ALL of my preteen copies of the story.

The book was virtually everything I could have wished. Virtually. I reveled in the pictures, I thrilled to Denslow’s full-color artistry and scores of line-drawings. I was “back there” in 1900, so far as I could tell.

Except . . . .

As you can see by the proclamation on the Dover cover, they announced the presence of “twenty-three color plates.” And even then, I knew that the first edition of OZ had included twenty-four. I even knew which one Dover had (as it turned out) unintentionally omitted; LIFE Magazine in its December 23, 1953, issue, had printed a brief retelling of THE WIZARD OF OZ, accompanied by some of Denslow’s art. They included the plate, “The two Kalidahs fell into the gulf”; seven years later, Dover did not. (It turned out that the copy of the first edition OZ they’d used as reference and source was missing that one picture.)

I wish I knew how I phrased the letter; I hope it was genteel and polite. But I immediately wrote to Dover to inform them they were minus one plate. And within a couple of weeks, I had a very kind, typewritten, business-like, adult-to-adult, on-company-stationery response from the head of the firm. He thanked me for pointing this out to them (I doubt I was the only one from whom they’d heard!) and informed me that a correction would be made in the immediately forthcoming second printing of their WIZARD. The letter concluded with words to the effect that I would be sent “a complimentary copy of the new edition.”

P.S. They did. And THAT made this nine-year-old’s day! week! month! year!

As I write this, the TBS Cable Channel on TV is repeatedly running commercials for the screenings of OZ they’ll present this Thanksgiving. Such notice is rapturously received here; it’s a throwback for me to that “most wonderful time of the year” when all of us kids of all ages could ONLY ONE TIME EVERY TWELVE MONTHS see the MGM film on CBS.
Equally (if not more) important: That was also a time when there was a heartfelt, childlike hope for a coming holiday that would be family-warm, calm and bright, healthy and blessed, and (please!) so very much full of Oz.
Here’s to all of you at the onset of the 2019 holiday season, with my gratitude to everybody who finds their way here — or to any aspect of Baum’s incomparable kingdom and work.

BEYOND “GULCHERIA” & ELPHABA: A SMALL GALLERY OF BAUM’S MEAN GIRLS!

BEYOND “GULCHERIA” & ELPHABA:  A SMALL GALLERY OF BAUM’S MEAN GIRLS!

By: John Fricke

[At left, the incomparable Margaret Hamilton at her MGM worst, 1939. At right, her present-day and softer counterpart, Idina Menzel, the original Elphaba of WICKED, 2003.]

First of all, Happy Halloween!

And second of all, did you know that – in one of the early drafts of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie script for THE WIZARD OF OZ – the Wicked Witch was supposed to have a name? It’s true; they were going to call her Gulcheria, as word-play on the appellation of her Kansas counterpart, Almira Gulch. Of course, at another point in plans for the film, Gulcheria was also to have a dimwitted son named Bulbo. She planned to put him on the Emerald City throne as the king of all Oz – after her legions of Winkie Guards killed [!] the Wizard.

But that’s another story. 😊

Much attention has been paid to the Wicked Witch of the West over the years. Although she appears in only one chapter of L. Frank Baum’s original book, THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ (1900), her liquidation remains a major component of the overall story. (Amazingly – given her comparatively few moments of screen time — Margaret Hamilton made the character even more pivotal and unforgettable in the OZ movie.) Author Gregory Maguire more recently brought new depth to his WWW, the renamed Elphaba, when he detailed her not-so-evil behavior in the gleefully dark novel, WICKED (1995). “Elfie” then became an even greater pop culture heroine in the musical renovation of Maguire’s work, Broadway’s WICKED (2003).

Thus, the Wicked Witch of the West has been given due historical homage. Her sister, the Wicked Witch of the East (or “Squash,” as Oz historian Fred M. Meyer once playfully tagged her) is famous, as well . . . if only for her feet and the madcap stockings that protruded from beneath the Kansas farmhouse after it was deposited in Munchkinland.

All of that being said, however – and in honor of this week’s horrific holiday — we’re now going to take a look-back at some of L. Frank Baum’s OTHER wicked witches.  He certainly didn’t limit himself to the evils of East and West after his first Oz story; in fact, to paraphrase a Glinda line from the movie, some of his later creations are “worse than the other” ones were!

For example . . . .

[Tip unhappily responds to Mombi’s plan — as the typeset caption underneath John R. Neill’s artwork would indicate.]
In THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ (1904) — the second book in the series — old witch Mombi is the guardian/warden of a small boy, Tip. She makes him work and slave for years and ultimately decides to turn him into a marble statue. (In reality, the boy is actually a transformation of Princess Ozma, rightful ruler of the land, and Mombi has been entrusted to keep the girl from coming to power.) Across the course of the saga, she also uses her black magic to torment the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and their friends; to perform additional “unscrupulous” transformations; and to defy Glinda the Good. By story’s end, she is stripped of her powers, although she reappears in Ruth Plumly Thompson’s THE LOST KING OF OZ (1925) to create more Ozian havoc.

[“The most popular man in all the land of Oz” powder-izes Blinkie the Witch for a second time — after she (however unwillingly) corrects all of her evil deeds.]
More than a decade later, Baum saw fit to plague Jinxland (a mini-domain in the southern quadrant of Oz) with an equally despicable character. THE SCARECROW OF OZ (1915) features witch Blinkie, a sort of walking malevolence who is employed by King Krewl – the duplicitous, false ruler of the kingdom — to freeze the heart of his niece, Princess Gloria. He is in hopes that this will end her true-love affection for Pon, the palace gardener. On Krewl’s command (and in receipt of “a quantity of money and jewels”), Blinkie entirely shuts down the girl’s emotions. She also transforms a visiting and innocent old California sailor into a grasshopper; leaves the Scarecrow helpless by divesting him of all of his straw; and attempts a magic spell that would destroy half the population of the country. Once restored to himself, the Scarecrow uses one of Glinda’s magic powders to slowly shrink Blinkie; in order to save her even-diminutized life, the crone must reverse all of her heinous charms and spells.

[The hateful Coo-ee-oh disdainfully dismisses both Dorothy and Ozma in Baum’s final Oz book, GLINDA OF OZ, published posthumously in 1920.]
Baum even created a new breed of sinister sorceress in GLINDA OF OZ (1920). Queen Coo-ee-oh announces herself as “a Krumbic Witch – the only Krumbic Witch in the world. I fear the magic of no other creature that exists.” The arrogant, defiant woman makes fast prisoners of Princess Ozma and Dorothy, who have come to her to deter a local war between Coo-ee-oh and the neighboring Flatheads. (The latter are ruled by an equally nefarious Su-dic — aka Supreme Dictator – and his witch wife, Rora.) In a preliminary skirmish, Coo-ee-oh is poisoned by the Su-dic. She becomes a Diamond Swan and forgets all the magic she ever knew. This is particularly unfortunate, as only she possessed the power that could raise her island city from the bottom of the lake in which she had immersed it when she saw the approach of the Flatheads. All of Coo-ee-oh’s subjects are thus – along with Ozma and Dorothy – underwater prisoners in a submerged city in the middle of a Gillikin Country lake.

And you thought Gulcheria was bad!

Baum’s apparently endless imagination never wavered. There are many other magic-workers in his Oz books – some good, some bad. But their powers are ever-mystifying and wondrous to readers, even one hundred or more years after the fact.

So, here’s a suggestion.  When this year’s trick-or-treat is over, curl up with any remaining candy, pick up one of the Oz books referenced above (or any Oz book at all, for that matter), and learn about some of L. Frank Baum’s other extraordinarily creative examples of wicked witchery.

I can promise you a happy ending!

(And if there are any plain M&Ms left over . . . . )

 

 

 

 

SOMETHING ABOUT WHICH TO BE GRATEFUL: THE MGM “WIZARD OF OZ” PLOTLINE WE NEVER GOT TO SEE!

SOMETHING ABOUT WHICH TO BE GRATEFUL:

THE MGM “WIZARD OF OZ” PLOTLINE WE NEVER GOT TO SEE!

By John Fricke

This two-page spread in the August 1939 issue of MOTION PICTURE was one of dozens of magazine features and/or ads that heralded the late summer release of MGM’s THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Eighty years ago this month, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s THE WIZARD OF OZ was in the midst of its initial theatrical engagements all over the United States and Canada. The film would soon open, as well, in Mexico, Central and South America, Great Britain, Australia, and other global locales. What a joy it is to realize – all these years later — that the ceaseless power and potency of OZ have made 2019 a celebratory anniversary occasion for countless world-wide fans!

There have been many opportunities since January to reflect on the magic of Metro’s OZ, and how wonderfully well all of its diverse scripting, songs, characterizations, and visual and aural effects managed to coalesce more than eight decades ago. I’ve been privileged to discuss the making of MGM’s movie more times and in more places, coast-to-coast, than ever before. Even more importantly, audience fascination never seems to fade when it comes to this topic, and the age range of listeners and inquisitors is as vast and all-encompassing as ever. (Ah, the articulate six-year-old girl in Illinois last week who wanted to reassure me that there is NOT a hanging Munchkin in the background of one scene. Of course, I don’t mean to discount the older — by decades and decades — folk in San Diego who insisted in June that this unique fabrication was fact. 😊 )

It seems that, these days, the public is actually, actively most intrigued by anecdotes concerning the plot twists and turns that a dozen writers proposed for (or actually scripted into) the OZ scenario, long before the cameras started turning. There were, of course, many different ideas for casting, costuming, and makeup, as well, but it’s the divergent storylines that garner the wildest response from auditors. Their reactions have encompassed everything from bemused chucking to awed disbelief, and they’ve especially liked the Cowardly Lion concept that almost was.

So, for any of you who might not know it – or might want to share it — here it is!

In 1938, MGM executives, advisors, and counselors bemoaned the fact that L. Frank Baum’s original book, THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, was bereft of any prominent romantic narrative. (The backstory of the Tin Woodman’s dismemberment by witch-enchanted axe – all due to the love he shared with a Munchkin girl — was comparatively minor, not to mention potentially gory. The backstory of the Winged Monkeys and their sassy treatment of handsome Quelala – to the objection of his fiancé, the sorceress/princess Gayelette — was too far afield from the major plot to consider.) So, in a concentrated attempt to eventually attract the all-important teen and young adult audiences to OZ upon its release, those who oversaw MGM studio properties devised a way to overcome the amorous shortcomings of Baum’s tale.  As the film was to be a musical, they decreed that a young, operatic Princess Betty of Munchkinland — and her intended, the Grand Duke Alan — should be written into the plot. Both would sing, as a sort of late teens’ incarnation of Metro’s successful adult vocal team, Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy — and the opening Betty/Alan “simple love” duet was tentatively scheduled for an early scene in OZ, shortly after Dorothy’s arrival. Later, the starry-eyed duo would be captured by the Wicked Witch of the West and separately encaged in her courtyard. Their cages would be reasonably adjacent, however, so that they could continue singing.  (No, I’m not kidding.)

It wasn’t until later in 1939 that “Princess Betty” Jaynes (at top, with screen and real-life partner Douglas McPhail) teamed with Judy Garland – here with Mickey Rooney – in BABES IN ARMS.

What, you might ask, has all this to do with the Cowardly Lion? Well . . . later in the film, the Grand Duke Alan was to be transformed INTO the Cowardly Lion by the Wicked Witch and sent out to prove his bravery by battling a dragon. (In later scripts, he would have fought a gorilla.) True to the tradition of singing royalty, he’d triumph over the beast, regain his human form, and he – not Dorothy – would then dispose of the Wicked Witch.

Beyond that? As the OZ scripts continued to evolve, Betty and Alan’s characters were also given Kansas counterparts and new names: Sylvia and Kenny. The girl was the niece of MRS. Almira Gulch (which is another long detour in an early OZ scenario), and Kenny was Sylvia’s beau. Once the story reached Oz — and as Dorothy’s delirium was in full swing — the niece would reappear as Princess Sylvia, and he would become Prince Florizel.  (His moniker became Kenelm or Kenelin in later drafts of their dialogue.) At the end of the film, back in Kansas, the two young people were scripted to elope. In her attempt to stop them, the furiously peddling Mrs. Gulch would topple off her bicycle into a trough of water — an ironic (if slightly obvious) finish.

OZ producer Mervyn LeRoy planned to cast teenage soprano Betty Jaynes as Betty/Sylvia, as she was already under contract to MGM. Her Alan/Florizel/Kenelm/Kenelin vis-à-vis would be played by radio and motion picture tenor Kenny Baker.  For further musical pow, Judy Garland’s Dorothy was initially scripted as a hot-swing-singing Kansas orphan — a definite counterpoint to the Princess’s classical refrains – and the two girls would team up in the Emerald City for an “Opera Vs. Jazz” challenge duet.

(How do you like it so far? 😊 )

Yes, it’s Judy and Betty Jaynes. And yes, they’re singing the Roger Edens arrangement of “Opera Vs. Jazz” (which included such contemporary pop tunes as “You Are My Lucky Star” and “Broadway Rhythm,” a swing amalgamation of music from THE BARBER OF SEVILLE, i.e., “Figaro,” and an excerpt from LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR). Fortunately, they’re performing it in a fictional living room in Seaport, Long Island, NY, in BABES IN ARMS . . . and not in the Emerald City in THE WIZARD OF OZ.

It took nine months of preproduction planning before THE WIZARD OF OZ went before the cameras; thankfully, by Month Six, the entire romantic Betty et al/Alan et al subplot had been dropped from the script. Baker went over to Universal Studios to star in THE MIKADO; Jaynes remained at MGM and was featured in Judy’s next film there, BABES IN ARMS. In that scenario, their “Opera Vs. Jazz” coupling found a more logical, contemporary, and exciting home; please see the photo above. (Or maybe you’d rather watch it? Courtesy YouTube, in two parts:  https://youtu.be/CtUwC1y8bdQ and https://youtu.be/sHBi3MTg9MY .)

Potential Cowardly Lion Kenny Baker never made it “over the rainbow.” But in THE HARVEY GIRLS (1945), he made it as far the American Old West, playing a saloon singer for those denizens who traveled, worked, or lived along the rails of “the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe” train line. These included – from left – Cyd Charisse, Judy Garland, and Angela Lansbury.

If you’ve followed all of this thus far, you might again be thinking, “But what did they do about the Cowardly Lion?” (If you’ve followed all of this thus far, you should be eligible for an Ozzy endurance medal.) According to studio promotion — and it may well have been just that: hype rather than fact — MGM’s next idea was to use their own living logo, Leo the Lion, in the role.  Varying representatives of the “king of the beasts” had been seen as the opening visual of virtually all of the studio’s releases since the mid-1920s (and as the mascot to herald “A Goldwyn Picture,” beginning in 1916). The purported plan was to elevate the current Leo to costar status in OZ, with an actor’s voice dubbed in.

Had Leo the Lion matriculated into the OZ cast in 1938, the concept of edible Munchkins might have predated a Dunkin Donuts campaign by thirty-four years.

Wiser (safer) heads prevailed. By late spring 1938, Harold Arlen and E. Y. “Yip” Harburg had begun to write the songs for THE WIZARD OF OZ. They’d twice worked on Broadway with comic actor/singer Bert Lahr – in LIFE BEGINS AT 8:40 (1934) and THE SHOW IS ON (1936) — and they rhapsodized about the sort of material they could prepare for him as an Ozian lion. MGM went into action, hired Lahr, and ultimately provided OZ with Dorothy’s quintessential cowardly companion.

            Aren’t you glad?

Thanks for reading!

EIGHTY YEARS AGO THIS MONTH, BUT . . .WHEN DO WE CELEBRATE THE ANNIVERSARY PREMIERE OF “THE WIZARD OF OZ”?!

EIGHTY YEARS AGO THIS MONTH, BUT . . .

WHEN DO WE CELEBRATE THE ANNIVERSARY OF “THE WIZARD OF OZ”?!

by John Fricke

[Above:  An August 14, 1939, trade paper ad for the Hollywood launch of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s The Wizard of Oz.]

Across the last few weeks, there have been numerous social media posts about the eightieth anniversary of the debut/premiere/release of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s THE WIZARD OF OZ. Any number of people have commemorated what they think – or have heard or have read – is the “official” date on which the film was first seen by the public . . . or is recorded (however inaccurately!) as that instance.

Some of these proclamations have come with built-in – or written-in – problems: far-from-major but nonetheless and certainly curious.  Furthermore, if one looks back eighty years, there are several specific occasions that can be termed THE official OZ anniversary; it all depends on what one is celebrating!  😊 Thus, the topic of this month’s blog pretty much suggested itself, in the hope that (just maybe) it might offer a little clarification.

Apart from those working at the movie studio in such post-production facilities as the MGM editing and scoring departments, any members of the mass public who first saw THE WIZARD OF OZ did so unexpectedly during “sneak previews” in June 1939. As far as can be ascertained, these were held at movie theaters in San Bernardino, Pomona, and San Luis Obispo, CA. (There may have been other locations; studio records for that period are fragmentary at best.) It was across these screenings that the audience reactions guided MGM in cutting OZ down from what was then considered an unmanageable two-hour length to an hour-and-forty-one minutes. I wrote about these “sneaks” and the subsequent deletions from the movie in the text for THE WIZARD OF OZ/THE OFFICIAL 50TH ANNIVERSARY PICTORIAL HISTORY, published by Warner Books in 1989. (This is “the green book,” as it came to be dubbed by fans.)

[Above: On June 17, 1939, the Pomona, CA, PROGRESS reviewed the June 16 “sneak preview” of OZ at the local Fox Theatre. Imagine, if you will, the subsequent panic of MGM executives who’d sunk three million dollars in what was intended to be musical entertainment for the whole family, for all ages – only to be directly told by one of its first respected critics that OZ “was not for children”! Careful readers will note that the film ran for 111 minutes in Pomona; by the time of the OZ release in August, another ten minutes were gone, including as much as possible of Margaret Hamilton’s performance as the Wicked Witch of the West.]

In the green book, I also wrote about what was – at that time — thought to be the first screening of the finished film in August. This was NOT a “sneak preview,” however; it was an announced and heralded engagement. Unfortunately, there were no surviving studio records whatsoever about such bookings in MGM’s OZ legal files when I vetted them in 1988-89 and again a couple of decades later. But earlier in the 1980s, my hometown daily, the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, JOURNAL, reprinted an August 11, 1939, advertisement for OZ from the Oconomowoc ENTERPRISE newspaper. (That town is about an hour west of Milwaukee.) The 1939 ad heralded “World Premier Showing!” of THE WIZARD OF OZ, opening the next day, August 12, for five days at Oconomowoc’s local Strand Theatre. That ad itself was reproduced in the 50TH ANNIVERSARY PICTORIAL and is shown here:

As can be seen, it very clearly states those dates; a couple of weeks ago, a much-viewed internet post cited the film as opening in Oconomowoc on August 11 and running through September 16!  How facts become so conflated, I don’t know. But this is the kind of social media information that always needs to be checked multiple times before it’s reiterated anywhere as incontrovertible fact. Meanwhile, the 1980s Milwaukee JOURNAL article that accompanied the ad reproduction noted that Strand Theatre owners, Harley and Ruth Huebner, were told by the local film distributor in 1939 that their venue would, indeed, host the first actual engagement played by the movie.

All of this was duly covered in the green book, along with quotations from VARIETY (the weekly show business newspaper) about a similar booking in Spirit Lake, Iowa, which began on August 17. Per VARIETY, the “Spirit Lake reaction . . . will serve as a key to OZ’s possibilities in the entire Midwest.” Like Oconomowoc, Spirit Lake was a summer vacation spot for those from surrounding major cities. Such small towns were considered likely locales from which MGM could gauge family and general audience reaction to OZ.  At that point, it was too late to further edit the movie for its looming bookings in major cities, but local reaction in the lesser venues was considered useful as a means of — if necessary — revising a movie’s ad campaign and possibly doing any other edits for the all-important and countless villages where OZ would play throughout the autumn.

Anyway, that’s the background of the Oconomowoc screening, and how it came to be regarded as the OZ “world premier” [sic]. The widespread success and visibility of the 1989 green book meant that some Oconomowoc residents jumped on the “historical” aspects of the information (and the reproduction of the 1939 ad) and, eventually, began having local, celebratory OZ “events.”  They continue to happen to this day and have grown to the extent that Oconomowoc now boasts a Yellow Brick Road and statues of the major MGM film characters.

However, very soon after publication of the 1989 book, further research turned up the fact that – despite the film exhibitor’s vow to the Huebners of the Strand Theatre — OZ actually opened in at least three OTHER resort communities the day BEFORE it opened in Oconomowoc. OZ debuted in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and in Appleton and Kenosha, Wisconsin on August 11. This was recounted in the text I wrote for the 2009 70th anniversary book, THE WIZARD OF OZ: AN ILLUSTRATED COMPANION TO THE TIMELESS MOVIE CLASSIC. Furthermore, it has since been reported that OZ opened on August 10, 11, and 13 in additional Wisconsin towns; and in at least five more locations (including Augusta, Maine) on August 13 or 14. Most of these burgs were vacation spots, and the rationale behind these advance MGM bookings followed the Spirit Lake concept referenced above.

Now, some additional significant dates, just for the record: The official “press showings” of OZ were privately held in Los Angeles and New York on August 9; critical response was, for the most part, absolutely ecstatic. The Hollywood “premiere” was held at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on August 15, and the New York City “premiere” at the Capitol Theatre on August 17. At the Capitol, audiences also saw Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney “live” onstage, performing for thirty minutes with an eighteen-piece orchestra and four back-up singers. This entertainment by the first team of teen screen superstars (seventeen and nineteen, respectively) was offered five times a day — six times on Saturdays and Sundays — in between showings of THE WIZARD OF OZ and the traditional short subjects, preview trailers, and newsreel.

[Above: Judy and Mickey “played” along with OZ in NYC for the first two weeks of its initial engagement. Then Rooney’s place in the act was taken over by a couple of other actors, whose work may be familiar to those who read here.]

Beyond all of the above, a lot of motion picture reference books and calendars give August 25, 1939, as the official release date of the film. This was, for some reason, MGM’s declaration-of-fact back in the day – even though by that point OZ already had been playing for a week or more in a dozen major United States cities.

As noted above, Oconomowoc continues to overplay its association with the film to this day (who wouldn’t!), even though they have long since been made aware of the fact that the “World Premiere Showing!” did not occur there. I guess the basic fact is that one can pay anniversary homage to OZ on several general or specific days across the months of June and August — and honestly celebrate on:

the “sneak preview” dates in June; thus far, these are thought to be San Bernardino (June 4), Pomona (June 16; this has been confirmed), and San Luis Obispo (June 27);

August 9 – the official press screening date in Los Angeles and New York;

August 10 through 14: August 10 (Green Bay, Wisconsin), August 11 (Kenosha, Appleton, and Oshkosh, Wisconsin; Cape Cod, Massachusetts), August 12 (Oconomowoc, Wisconsin). On August 13, the film popped up in at least three more Wisconsin communities — Racine, Rhinelander, and Sheboygan — as well as Escanaba, Michigan. On August 14, it opened in Augusta, Maine. There are also reports of screenings prior to August 15 in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and South Carolina;

August 15th – the Hollywood premiere;

August 17th – the Broadway/New York City premiere;

and/or

August 25th – the “official” national release day.

Or . . . ! You might research the date the film opened in your own home town and annually, Ozzily carouse on that occasion. Or honor the date that OZ premiered in London. Or the date(s) that it debuted “south of the border.” The possibilities are endless! 😊

A gentle word of warning: just be careful not to conflate whatever information you discover. One of the most unintentionally haphazard Facebook entries I came across this year on August 11 gave that date as the first sneak preview of OZ – at a two-hour length. The writer then made the astonishing claim that the extra twenty minutes was cut from the film (apparently overnight!), so that OZ could be released nationwide a couple of days later at its finished running time of 101 minutes.

Oh, well!  In the long run, all that matters is that we continue to view and enjoy and herald the classic musical based on the first Oz Book – and offer our ceaseless appreciation to L. Frank Baum, W. W. Denslow, Judy, Frank, Ray, Bert, Jack, Billie, Maggie, Charley, Clara, Pat, Terry, the Munchkins, the Winkies, the Emerald “Citizians,” the Winged Monkeys, the horse(s) of a different color, Jim the Raven, the Big Duroc, the toucan, the peacock, the sarus crane, et al  — not to mention the creative staff, technical crew, scenarists, songwriters, arrangers, orchestrators, directors, producers, publicists . . .

And etc.!

Thanks for reading. 😊

BEHIND THE SCENES AT METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER . . .MORE THAN (BUT BARELY!) EIGHTY YEARS AGO

BEHIND THE SCENES AT METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER . . .MORE THAN (BUT BARELY!) EIGHTY YEARS AGO 

by John Fricke

[Above: This is a familiar setting, to be sure, but here it’s been captured in one of its quieter moments: no green-clad townspeople, no coachman, no horse-of-any-color! Of course, one can see at least three (maybe four) stand-ins for the actors, plus a caught-in-the-act studio workman — all of them preparing to rehearse “The Merry Old Land of Oz” musical number at MGM, eighty years ago. Note the painted backdrop out the door, the bell-pull, and especially the fixtures above the set pieces. Metro had to hook up extra generators outside the OZ soundstages in order to power the scores of lights required to film in early three-strip Technicolor.]

Across the past couple of months, this blog has focused on current Oz news and events, specifically (and understandably) the anticipatory – and joyously fulfilled – excitement attendant to the 2019 OZ-Stravaganza! in Chittenango, NY.  Throughout my days and nights as emcee and presenter for that festival, however, I was confronted again and again by single-minded attendees, all of whom had ONE topic on which they wanted to happily focus.  (Truth be told, it’s been the same at every other locale in which I’ve thus far performed since January.) And the bottom line? Everybody is exhilarated at the thought — and wants to talk about the fact — that this year marks the eightieth anniversary of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s THE WIZARD OF OZ motion picture. 😊

Thus, in keeping with all the fan fascination, the blog this month looks way back to 1939, and I hope it will please the MGM adherents among its readers! I’m most certainly always delighted to share information about and material from the movie, and we’ve selected pictures of some of the extraordinary behind-the-scenes underpinnings that helped to make Metro’s OZ timeless, unique, unforgettable, and loved.

[Here’s another example of the amazing lighting equipment required to film THE WIZARD OF OZ just over eighty years ago. By actual count, there are several dozen “lamps” in play here, and this is just one corner of the set. It’s all the more remarkable when one realizes that the battlements and exteriors of the castle of the Wicked Witch of the West were among the darkest scenes in the picture.]

The photo above is reasonably self-explanatory, but in just the casual, between “takes” moment captured here, one can find plenty to examine: Winkie guards, Metro technicians, a bit of another painted backdrop – and a portion of one of the set pieces, used on-screen as an unsuccessful escape route by Dorothy and her friends.

How about an opportunity to examine the marvelous throne-room console of the Wizard himself – without the actors and their irate action (“You humbug!”) in the foreground? Surely the “old Kansas man” himself must have done some early investigation into the real-world magic of scientists, inventors, and creators like Thomas Alva Edison & Company to hook up such a wonder-working piece of equipment. If we are to believe what we see in the movie (and doesn’t everybody?), the whiz-of-a-wiz could stand right there, “behind the curtain,” and set off fire, smoke, and sound effects, image projection, and echoing voice amplification. He’s not only a very good man . . . he’s also a very good Wizard – at least when supported by the expertise of MGM’s technical and FX staff. (And here’s a shout-out to A. Arnold “Buddy” Gillespie, who oversaw the studio’s special effects department, and who personally made a lot of OZ “work,” in many ways that no one else could have done at that time. And probably since.)

Finally, we have glimpses of two Ozian sites you never saw in the finished movie. The cornfield crossroads is shown here as it looked when director Richard Thorpe began filming THE WIZARD OF OZ in October 1938. Two weeks later, he was relieved of his duties; the film’s producer, Mervyn LeRoy felt that the “rushes” of OZ thus far lacked the right touch of fantasy. He was also displeased at the fact that Thorpe seemed to be leading the actors in incorrect interpretations, especially the blonde-bewigged, overly-rouged, and “fancy/schmancy” Dorothy Gale. With Thorpe spirited away to Palm Springs (and away from inquisitions about OZ “problems” from local columnists), ace director George Cukor came in for a week of corrective suggestions. These included revisions to the appearance of Judy Garland, Ray (Scarecrow) Bolger, and Margaret (Wicked Witch) Hamilton – and even a revamping of the cornfield set. The next time you watch the movie, compare the still above to what appears on your screen. In the actual film, the legendary Yellow Brick Road is neater and curbed; the field itself is glamorized (and includes pumpkins); and the oval floorwork has been swapped out for something that actually looks like bricks – and not bathroom tiling!

Also above: Here’s another self-explanatory visual; just notice the reference board in the foreground that designates the set as the “Jitter Bug Forest.” In this space, the upbeat, jazzy, swing-sounding “Jitter Bug” production number took place, with the four leading actors forced to wildly bop around after being stung by an animated, pink-and-blue-spotted insect. The “Bug” then left them to the mercies of the ruthless trees – not to mention the men inside the trunks who manipulated them. (Hey – they were just doing their jobs!))

——————————-

I have been asked many times why I think THE WIZARD OF OZ continues its hold on so many (literally) hundreds of millions of people — from those still with us who saw it in 1939 to those who remember its theatrical reissues in 1949, 1955, or more recent years. Of course, the same fascination is felt by those who’ve only viewed it on “the small screen,” in some of its forty network telecasts between 1956 and 1998, or in its countless revivals since then on cable, or in its (literally) billions of home-video encounters  . . . whether on Beta, VHS, laser disc, DVD, or via streaming services.

WHY does it endure? Well, here’s one component: There are millions and billions of joys in its approximately 145,440 frames of film. Those frames rush by pretty quickly, of course; but the thrills are there to behold – and to try to glimpse.  Hopefully, the more static images above will offer a “happy anniversary” opportunity to more-closely examine some of the behind-the-scene wonders of the merry old land of MGM. They certainly contribute to the overall and incomparable rainbow of delight that is THE WIZARD OF OZ . . .

EIGHT DECADES LATER!

————————————

[And here’s a low bow and hat-doff to those involved in OZ set and prop design, execution, and decoration: Jack Martin Smith, Cedric Gibbons, William A. Horning, Edwin B. Willis, Jack McMaster, Hal Millar, Franklin Milton, Lorey Yzuel, Randall Duell, George Gibson, Henry Greutert . . . and any/all of their compatriots!]

 

IN THE MERRY (HAPPY, JOLLY, AND JAM-PACKED) OLD LAND OF OZ-STRAVAGANZA!

IN THE MERRY (HAPPY, JOLLY, AND JAM-PACKED) OLD LAND

OF OZ-STRAVAGANZA!

by John Fricke

 

 

Dear Oz Fans (especially any/all of you who attended OZ-Stravaganza! earlier this month):

To lift a phrase from legendary Oz book author Ruth Plumly Thompson: “How do you do? And how do you do it?!” That query is prompted here by reports of the official attendance figure for the 2019 Chittenango, NY, festival. It — once again — topped thirty-thousand people.

Thirty-thousand people.

Plus!

And all of them jubilantly gathered in the birthplace of L. Frank Baum (1856-1919), the man who “invented” Oz.

The special guests were dazzling. The diverse explorations of Oz were gleefully welcomed. The live music proved to be thrilling. The parade, contests, vendors, booths, food, rides, and all such celebratory activities were joyous. The weather (well, except for those last couple of hours on Sunday!) was beautifully cooperative.

But the happiness hallmarks were achieved by the participatory presence of the all-ages crowds who love Oz (on any level) and who turned out to have a good time. I think they got a great one.

The invited musical guests highlighted the presentations. Ruby Rakos, who’s been starring as the young Judy Garland in the tryout engagements of the new stage musical, CHASING RAINBOWS: THE ROAD TO OZ, recounted the evolution of her own Broadway career and then sang four Garland standards: “I’m Nobody’s Baby” and “I Don’t Care” in Judy’s fondly-remembered arrangements, Ruby’s singular approach to “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart,” and the CHASING RAINBOWS-crafted version of “Over the Rainbow.” The audience twice stood to applaud the ebullient entertainer, and their genuine enthusiasm was such that it would have been possible to sell scores of tickets right on the spot for the forthcoming production of the Garland show. CHASING RAINBOWS plays at the renowned Paper Mill Playhouse in Milburn, NJ, from September 26th-October 27th; don’t miss it.

Songwriter/arranger/orchestrator Steve Margoshes created further musical magic by premiering the two latest repertoire additions from his forthcoming CD, NEW SONGS FROM OZ. “The Oz Tones” quartet debuted “The Fabulous Wizard of Oz” at the Friday evening OZ-Strav! presentation and brought down the house with their harmonies, ham, and combination of sound and sight gags – all intrinsic to the Margoshes composition. Never failing to delight their listeners, “The Oz Tones” reprised the number along Saturday’s parade route and, again, after the parade on the Oz Park Main Stage. (They also recorded it under sublime professional conditions at Subcat Studios on the Thursday prior to the festival.) Saturday night at the high school, Matthew Baum potently performed the heartfelt — and how! — Margoshes ballad, “Tin Man,” scoring both a personal success and another music-and-lyric triumph for its songwriter.

Elsewhere on the bill, the local Jean Elaine School of Dance won cheers for their award-winning WIZARD OF AHHS choreography and interpretations. The preteen and teenage terpsichoreans offered ample proof of the potency of Baum’s characters and stories, especially as recreated with such élan and choreographic savvy. Author Roger Baum, great-grandson of L. Frank, was honored on the thirtieth anniversary of his first Oz book, DOROTHY OF OZ, and the fifth anniversary of its animated-feature-film incarnation, LEGENDS OF OZ: DOROTHY’S RETURN. Designer Shawn Ryan held forth at the All Things Oz Museum and Baum’s Bazaar Gift Shop, introducing visitors to his professional replications of the ruby slippers and Glinda and Wicked Witch of the West costumes, first seen in MGM’s 1939 film, THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Other splendid moments sparkled across the weekend. A reading room in the Museum was officially dedicated to (and named after) librarian/educator Clara Houck, who devised and produced the first local celebration of native son L. Frank Baum forty-two years ago. That two-hour costume-and-cake party – and Clara’s passion — evolved into the annual three-day weekend now known as OZ-Stravaganza! Additionally, two beautiful bronze plaques were unveiled in the Museum’s front window to further commemorate Baum, as well as several of the Munchkin actors from the 1939 film, who headlined the Chittenango festivities from the late 1980s until just a few years ago.

Given the fact that 2019 marks the eightieth anniversary of THE WIZARD OF OZ film, OZ-Strav! also offered a special remembrance program about those “little people.” For many seasons, it was their announced attendance that really put the annual festival on the map for hundreds of thousands of fans. So Colleen Zimmer and I described the joys of their company across the decades we knew and worked with them — and briefly brought eight of them “back” to Central New York State in video clips from the 1993 documentary, WE’RE OFF TO SEE THE MUNCHKINS.

Finally . . . . It’s no secret that those who return to Chittenango year after year have made of OZ-Stravaganza! its own special, annual family reunion. It’s equally true, as with any multi-generational gathering, that some of our original and treasured family members are no longer with us to rhapsodize and reminisce, among them Clara Houck and such “incomparables” as Munchkins Margaret Pellegrini, Fern Formica, Clarence Swensen, Karl Slover, Jerry Maren, Meinhardt Raabe, Ruth Duccini, Lewis Croft, and Mickey Carroll.

As I think this account indicates, however, the emotional presence of such “Oz celebrities” is FAR from forgotten. Their dedication and devotion; their laughter and love; their song and sass remain an intrinsic aspect of the festival’s foundation, year after year. The more than thirty-thousand 2019 visitors to Oz were – once again and certainly — privy to that ongoing spirit. More importantly, they reveled in it, as each new generation of devotees brings its own fervor and respect to Oz-past . . . and has its own favorites of Oz-present. There seems to be little doubt that they’ll create Oz-future, as well, and Chittenango will continue to herald it!

We hope you’ll plan to come and see and feel that magic for yourselves: June 5th-7th, 2020!

Thanks for reading. 😊

 

OZ-STRAV-A-GAN-ZA TIME . . . ! OZ-STRAV-A-GAN-ZA TIME . . . !

OZ-STRAV-A-GAN-ZA TIME . . . ! OZ-STRAV-A-GAN-ZA TIME . . . !

THE CHITTENANGO CREW

PLANS OZZY FUN FOR YOU!

By John Fricke

[Above: Mysterious newspaper reporter Tim, Dorothy Gale, Jinx the Mifket, and Eureka the Pink Kitten are “out of the woods . . . out of the dark . . . out of the night” – and off to OZ-Stravaganza! in Chittenango, NY, next weekend. This artwork by Dick Martin has been slightly adapted for our purposes! Read about Dorothy and these her friends in Martin’s book, THE OZMAPOLITAN OF OZ (1986).]

 

Pop culture aficionados unite — please!  And sing the headline of this month’s blog to the old-time popular melody, “Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay.” (If this will simplify the task, think of the tune instead as the theme song from the fondly-remembered HOWDY DOODY TV SHOW.)

However the song is sung, it is indeed that time once again. Countless thousands will trek into, trundle over, and travel blithely to Chittenango, NY, next weekend. Just fifteen miles east of Syracuse, it just happens to be the birthplace of a gentleman defined by Smithsonian.com as “the man behind the curtain.”  Author Chloe Schama bestowed that title a decade ago and continued: “Images and phrases from THE WIZARD OF OZ are so pervasive, so unparalleled in their ability to trigger personal memories and musings, that it’s hard to conceive of . . . OZ as the product of one man’s imagination. Reflecting on all the things that Oz introduced — the Yellow Brick Road, Winged Monkeys, Munchkins — can be like facing a list of words that Shakespeare invented. It seems incredible that one man injected all these concepts into our cultural consciousness. Wouldn’t we all be forever lost without ‘there’s no place like home,’ the mantra that turns everything right side up and returns life to normalcy?”

Schama then concluded, “But the icons and the images did originate with one man, Lyman Frank Baum.

L. [for Lyman] Frank Baum. The Man Behind the Curtain. And the man born in Chittenango, NY, on May 15, 1856. For the last four decades, scores of volunteer locals have banded together once a year to honor and celebrate their native son, and it all began on a Saturday afternoon when Ozzily-costumed kids were organized (not to say commandeered!) by the incomparable, indefatigable Clara Houck. She had them march around a Chittenango parking lot and then retire to the library for Oz stories and refreshments. Since that incident forty years ago, the party “for” Frank Baum has grown into a full weekend festival – and the largest of a dozen or more such annual Oz gatherings across the country. This year, Chittenango’s joyous springtime event is on the calendar Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, May 31st through June 2nd, and everyone is welcome to the merry old Land of Oz — transplanted for the occasion to Central New York State. It’s all about the pride manifested by the comfortably cozy village for a man whose emotional brains, intellectual heart, and happy courage coalesced into a vision both unprecedented and unsurpassed in the history of American fairy tales.

Above all the underlying and overriding recognition, however, it’s Important to remember that Frank Baum’s life-long goal was to entertain — or in his own words, “to please a child.” We can expand this to encompass, “and also to please anyone who ever was a child.” All ages, all enthusiasts, all fantasists, all collectors, all fans – and all the curious! – will find no small measure of magic in Chittenango next weekend. Please visit www.oz-stravaganza.com for the schedule and further information; there’s a lot of it — and all good! 😊

[John R. Neill was acclaimed as “The Imperial Illustrator of Oz” and drew pictures for thirty-five of the original forty Oz Books (plus six Oz short stories, THE OZ TOY BOOK, and a raft of other Ozian art). Here, from his title, THE WONDER CITY OF OZ (1940), Princess Ozma welcomes citizens of her land to a celebration in the Emerald City. Such vista is similar – at least emotionally – to the joys inherent in attending Chittenango’s annual OZ-Stravaganza! Or would you say I’m biased? Oh, well; it’s beautiful art, regardless!]

I’ve been privileged to be part of the Chittenango festival for twenty-eight of the last thirty years. I first participated in 1990, when the festivities were held in mid-May and as close as possible to Baum’s actual birthdate. Eventually, this became problematic: at that time of the year, the local weather often fluctuated between balmy spring and colder-than-chilly rain. One Sunday morning during that era, we all woke to more than two inches of snow on the ground – and it was sticking! There was a mad dash among festival volunteers to break out their children’s winterwear, which had already been packed away for the season. The garb was not, however, for their kids; it was being pressed into service to keep the MGM Munchkin cast members warm during their final day of trucking around town to meet with and autograph for the fans. (It was this “weathery day” that precipitated the date change to the first weekend of June – and understandably so.)

Some other special memories:

a) There were several years that Caren Marsh Doll – one of Judy Garland’s stand-ins for the 1939 MGM film – joined the Munchkins on the “special guest” roster. On one such occasion, she was named grand marshal of the annual parade, and as a surprise, the festival organizers flew in her son from Texas to escort her. He was “unveiled” onstage at Chittenango High School the night before the procession . . . and her delight and rapture were palpable.

b) In 2005, Warner Bros. sent a camera crew to capture the attending Munchkins, the parade, and several other Ozzy Chittenango views for a mini-documentary eventually included in one of the home video DVD releases of MGM’s OZ.

c) For several years, the Oz Parade was locally telecast “live” via Time Warner Cable, and I cohosted the show — most frequently with Ron Curtis, Jr. We got rained on one or twice, were chilled to the bone on another occasion . . . but mostly it was a blast. Up front, Ron and I were always provided with detailed, in-order notes from the expert Chittenango parade organizers, so that we could (at least semi-) intelligently comment on the passing participants. Unfortunately, the sequence of the actual parade units was sometimes unavoidably scrambled at the last minute – and en route. As Ron and I were encased in a small tent and couldn’t easily see what was approaching, we faithfully announced descriptive phrases from our notes, occasionally sometimes describing in enthusiastic detail the totally incorrect float or group of marchers. Ah, live television!

d) I mentioned the Year of the Snow. On that occasion, the Munchkins were jubilant when they were moved from their outdoor tent to a (happily heated) room over the firehouse. Much more recently, however – perhaps only five or six festivals ago – severe spring weather beset Oz Park on Sunday morning just prior to the onset of the celebrity meet-and-greets, vendor and food services, carnival rides, and other activities. Though weather experts later denied that there’d been a mini-tornado, enough locals actually witnessed some of the smaller canvas booths as they were wind-whipped off the ground, briefly rose high in the air, and circled about above the park. (THAT year, the Sunday activities concluded in the nearby American Legion Hall!)

[In a vision similar to that of Chittenango’s Oz Park at its festive best [!], John R. Neill drew this artwork of a celebrity-packed Oz luncheon party on the grounds of the castle of Glinda the Good for his book, THE SCALAWAGONS OF OZ (1941).]

Statistically speaking, however, the total number of fair-weather festivals FAR surpasses such moments of occasional inclemency – and rain or shine, next weekend is THE weekend. As noted, the link above leads you to listings of all the events of the three Ozian days. For my part (and in addition to hangin’ out in the park every afternoon to chat, sign books, or just say “hey!”), I especially look forward to emceeing the Friday and Saturday night programs. Once again, the roster is exceptional, and I’ll recap the names of our special guests right here.

On Friday at 6 p.m. at The First Presbyterian Church (adjacent to OZ-Stravaganza! Park), THE OZ-TONES Quartet debuts one of the NEW SONGS FROM OZ by Broadway composer/arranger STEVE MARGOSHES. Designer SHAWN RYAN previews his latest recreation of an iconic costume from MGM’s THE WIZARD OF OZ. COLLEEN ZIMMER and I offer MUNCHKIN MEMORIES: recollections, photos, and video of MGM’s tiny cast members on their visits to the festivals. And, as a musical finale, Broadway’s RUBY RAKOS — “Young Judy Garland” of the cast of the new stage musical, CHASING RAINBOWS: THE ROAD TO OZ – will talk about her experience with the show and sing some classic Garland Songbook selections.

On Saturday at 6 p.m. at Chittenango High School (doors open at 5:30), we salute ROGER BAUM (great-grandson of L. Frank Baum) on the thirtieth anniversary of his first book, DOROTHY OF OZ and fifth anniversary of its 2014 film adaptation, LEGENDS OF OZ: DOROTHY’S RETURN. MATTHEW BAUM introduces STEVE MARGOSHES’ “Tin Man” from the forthcoming CD, NEW SONGS FROM OZ, and a troupe from JEAN ELAINE’S SCHOOL OF DANCE will appear in their brief, award-winning presentation, WIZARD OF AHHS.

All of this is topped, of course, by a screening (for the very first time at OZ-Stravaganza!) of MGM’s THE WIZARD OF OZ in conjunction with the film’s 80th anniversary. I can sum up this attraction in one phrase: If you’ve never seen OZ on a big screen, you’ve never really seen it! And we’ll conduct a question-and-answer session after the movie for those who want to discuss Oz late into the night.

Best of all: ALL these events are open and free to the public!

There’s truly nothing else I can say, except that I hope to greet many of you “in person” next weekend — on or near the Yellow Brick Road in Chittenango.

Many thanks for reading!

IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE . . .IT’S THIRTY YEARS LATER (BUT JUST AS OZZY!)

April 2019

IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE . . .

IT’S THIRTY YEARS LATER (BUT JUST AS OZZY!)

by John Fricke

 

In the Oz books, we’re sometimes told that magic happens so quickly that the time elapsed between spell and effect is very brief, indeed. L. Frank Baum’s THE WIZARD OF OZ noted that Dorothy’s Silver Shoes “took but three steps” to transport the little girl back to her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry from Glinda’s palace in the Quadling Country. Earlier in that book, the Good Witch of the North counseled Dorothy and, when finished, “whirled around on her left heel three times and straightaway disappeared.” (The sage Baum – in a character-defining observation about his heroine from Kansas – then offered that “Dorothy, knowing her to be a witch, had expected her to disappear in just that way, and was not surprised in the least.”)

Referencing all this now grows out of a joyous sense of déjà vu, experienced (and burgeoning!) here across the few months since the onset of this special Ozzy year.  Most every fan is by now aware that 2019 marks the eightieth anniversary of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s motion picture version of THE WIZARD OF OZ. The celebratory events were launched with the film’s record-breaking return to theaters in January/February, and — with the Oz festival season almost at hand — there’s extraordinary excitement yet to come as devotees anticipate multiple gatherings, products, productions, and screenings.

In the process of preparation for much of this year, however, I’ve found my mind wafting back to the movie’s fiftieth anniversary. Although I’d then been deeply enamored of (and personally involved in) Oz for more than three decades, it wasn’t until 1989 that I suddenly, unexpectedly found myself professionally blessed, as well. And it has unquestionably seemed merely three steps, three whirls – or the blink of an eye – since all of that launched here.

Some of you will recognize the cover above; it’s the front dust jacket of a volume that became colloquially known as “the green book,” and whose text I largely researched and wrote for Warner Books thirty years ago. We were all happy with its wonderful reception – and the publishers even more so: ultimately, the book went through three hardcover printings in a matter of weeks.

But there was much more to that anniversary year. In that process of assembling the book, I also began an association with MGM/UA Home Video:

I’m sure even more of you (at least those of a certain age!) will remember this fiftieth anniversary VHS video – with its thirty-five-page booklet attached to the cover, and its fifteen minutes of rare Oz supplemental material on the tape, following the movie itself.  MGM/UA brought me on board to do the writing and co-producing tasks of that release, and when it went on sale in late summer 1989, there was much excitement among the Oz-enthused public. At last, they could hear Buddy Ebsen sing his original soundtrack recording of “If I Only Had a Heart” (accompanied by rare visuals of his performance as the Tin Woodman before illness forced his withdrawal from the production). Similarly, there was the principal cast’s rendition of “The Jitterbug,” also as first tracked for the MGM picture and presented here with home movies and stills. (We’ll skip a discussion of the general reaction to a new, Oz-related commercial for Downy Fabric Softener that “opened” the video itself . . . and we’ll just remain respectfully grateful for their corporate underwriting and five-dollar rebate!)

I mentioned “the Oz-enthused public” a moment ago. That descriptive phrase turned out to be an all-time understatement in the case of the fiftieth anniversary video. As of 1989, OZ had been available for commercial purchase for nine years and had already sold nearly two million copies. Videotape recorders were, by then, affordable for many; thus, viewers also had the option of capturing the film “off TV” during one of its annual showings. MGM/UA considered all of that before marketing the fiftieth anniversary tape but thought, realistically, they might tally another two or three hundred thousand sales.

The “enthused” proved them wrong. There’s a framed hologram of the Emerald City on the wall here, presented by MGM/UA Home Video to those of us who’d worked on the anniversary project. It commemorates the three million OZ videotapes that were sold between July 1989 and the holiday season later that year!

Additionally, the book and tape created opportunities and joys for me that I’d never imagined. Even when they were still forthcoming, those two products generated such anticipation that I was invited to make my first Oz festival appearances. I started in June in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and continued to Chesterton, Indiana, in September, and Liberal, Kansas, in October, and I’ve been fortunate to continue such participation ever since.  Each moment has proved thrilling, but there’s no question that — of many happy offshoots of these assignments — the greatest pleasures came in meeting and working (for more than twenty years) with surviving Munchkin cast members of the MGM movie.

In fact, it was “Coroner” Meinhardt Raabe who recommended me to Chittenango in early 1990. As a result, I traveled to L. Frank Baum’s hometown for the first of many visits, and what has since evolved into OZ-Stravaganza! has been my initial, festival-master-of-ceremony gig almost every year since. The photo below provides a captured moment from a decade ago or more; the area behind Chittenango’s Village Hall was dubbed “Meinhardt’s garden,” and we gathered for this portrait there. From left, in the front row: Myrna Swensen (a “Munchkin by Marriage) with her “MGM OZ soldier” husband, Clarence; flower-pot-hat dancing (and “sleepyhead”) Munchkin, Margaret Pellegrini; and Meinhardt. In the rear, Roger Baum – great-grandson of L. Frank Baum and author of more than a dozen of his own Oz books; yours truly; and a winsome local partisan! (I’m sorry I don’t know her name.)

Thanks to the MGM film, another preeminent aspect of the greater Oz legend has been “melodies and lyrics.” (Actually, this has been true ever since Baum’s story was first put on the musical stage in 1902.) Some Oz songs are unforgettable; most are at least catchy – and you may categorize them per your own personal taste as you remember them! Each, of course, has its partisans: the MGM tunes, those from THE WIZ, WICKED, and RETURN TO OZ (the 1964 TV special, not the 1985 Disney fantasy drama). And there’s no way to ignore the TALES OF THE WIZARD OF OZ cartoon theme! https://youtu.be/GfqrjkhAbqA . As a result, music also has been a popular aspect of the Oz festivals – and most particularly that in Chittenango. Perhaps it’s the proximity to Broadway, but OZ-Stravaganza! has played host in recent years to performers from the New York companies of both THE WIZ and WICKED.

As I was writing this, I came to realize that there are a couple of overriding reasons I’m correlating the fiftieth and eightieth anniversaries. The first leads us back again to Chittenango, as this year’s OZ-Stravaganza! (May 31st-June2nd) is going to present a new sampling of the eternal, great Oz spirit that has permeated these past thirty years. We’ll have Broadway talent yet again in the presence of young RUBY RAKOS, who first appeared on the Great White Way as a thirteen-year-old in BILLY ELLIOTT, and who has been triumphantly portraying the young Judy Garland in the forthcoming stage musical, CHASING RAINBOWS: THE ROAD TO OZ.

The show traces Judy’s career across the years she worked in vaudeville, was noticed – and signed — by MGM – and was cast as Dorothy in THE WIZARD OF OZ. At the festival, Ruby will recount her history with both Judy and CHASING RAINBOWS . . . and, yes, she’ll sing, too!

Broadway songwriter/arranger/orchestrator STEVE MARGOSHES also will be on hand to debut his latest Oz-related composition. There’ll be video and personal remembrances of the treasured MGM MUNCHKINS from those who knew and loved them in their Chittenango encounters. ROGER BAUM returns to autograph his own Oz legacy of books that have been delighting readers since (you guessed it) 1989 and the publication of his DOROTHY OF OZ. (That story served as the basis for the animated feature-length film, LEGENDS OF OZ: DOROTHY’S RETURN.) And, for the first time in Chittenango, a screening of the classic WIZARD OF OZ film will highlight an OZ-Stravaganza weekend – free and open to the public!

So, given all that, I guess many things have come full-circle, and it’s no wonder I’ve been inclined, of late, to reminisce. The second reason, however, is more a wondrous realization. Thirty years ago, I (probably along with many others) wondered if the enchantment, the pull, the power of Oz had peaked in its fiftieth anniversary year. Could such en masse, public passion be sustained? Would tastes change to the detriment of Baum, MGM, and all? Would there be Oz festivals past 1989?

With jovial hearts, all who love Oz — whether they’re long-term or new partisans – can look around and realize: Everything is still here: prime, premium, and potent. Thirty years may have passed; they were rich and unforgettable . . . yet, like the best magic, they now seem to have occurred in only a blink of an eye.  And in 2019, Oz remains omnipresent, in all its permutations. Fans everywhere can take exultant pride in its continuity, camaraderie, and captivating charisma!