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!