OZ-STRAV! 2019: RUBY & RAINBOWS & ROGER & METRO & MUNCHKINS & MUSIC . . . & MORE!

       OZ-STRAV! 2019: RUBY & RAINBOWS & ROGER         & METRO & MUNCHKINS & MUSIC . . .  & MORE!

by John Fricke

[Above:  Looking back to 2002 and an Ozzy ocean liner cruise, here are four of the MGM Munchkins whose annual appearance in Chittenango, NY, provided a focal point for many of the OZ-Stravaganza! festivals — from the late 1980s until just a few years ago. From left: soldier Clarence Swensen, coroner Meinhardt Raabe, first trumpeter/townsman/soldier/townswoman Karl Slover, and flower-pot dancer/sleepyhead Margaret Pellegrini. Memories of their visits, company, and friendship will be shared as an entertainment highlight of this year’s OZ-Stravaganza! activities.]

Spring is here – calendar-wise, anyway. 😊 And that means that Chittenango and its L. Frank Baum and All Things Oz Historical Foundation and Museum are gearing up for the annual OZ-Stravaganza, May 31st – June 2nd.  This is the town’s forty-second annual festival, created and continued in celebration of the man who was born there (in 1856) . . .  and whose imagination, entertainment savvy, and genius created the Land of Oz and all its citizens.

This year’s theme – THE MAGIC OF OZ – takes its title from Baum’s thirteenth book in the Oz series, published exactly one-hundred-years ago. Such a topic is singularly appropriate, as there is MAJOR magic in the air in 2019: it’s also the eightieth anniversary of the premiere of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s classic motion picture version of THE WIZARD OF OZ. To honor this best-loved, best-known, and recently dubbed “most influential” film of all time, OZ-Stravaganza! proudly presents a FREE and OPEN-TO-THE-PUBLIC screening of the movie as Saturday evening’s festival entertainment. OZ will be shown in the Chittenango High School auditorium, and as OZ-Strav! emcee, I’ll introduce the picture and then conduct a question & answer session after it’s over. (An important note: If you haven’t viewed Judy Garland & Company in THE WIZARD OF OZ on a BIG SCREEN, you really haven’t seen it at all! And if you’ve already seen in such fashion, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll still notice things you never saw before! So, mark your calendars now for Saturday evening,      June 1st.)

 

Attendees of the 2017 OZ-Strav! will fondly remember the appearance of TINA MARIE CASAMENTO, whose stage musical, CHASING RAINBOWS, was then in development after productions at the State Theatre of North Carolina at Flat Rock and Connecticut’s Goodspeed Opera House. This year, the festival proudly boasts the presence of the young star of CHASING RAINBOWS, RUBY RAKOS. Already a Broadway veteran, RUBY appeared in BILLY ELLIOTT when barely a teen, and she’s played the thirteen-to-sixteen-year-old Judy Garland to outstanding reviews and reception across the past few seasons in CHASING RAINBOWS. The show culminates in the casting of Judy as Dorothy in THE WIZARD OF OZ film, so RUBY’S presence at OZ-Strav! is a wonderful, serendipitous addition to this year’s roster. The photos above show her as herself . . . and as young Judy in CHASING RAINBOWS. By happy coincidence, the man shown with her is MICHAEL McCORRY ROSE, who’s not only appeared in the Garland stage show but on Broadway as Fiyero in WICKED. Many of you will recall MICHAEL as a most welcome guest at last year’s OZ-Strav.

And here’s one more wondrous – magical! — P.S. for everyone in the northeast: CHASING RAINBOWS has just been announced as the season opener at the legendary Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey, from September 27 – October 26th!

And the celebration continues: ROGER BAUM’S first Oz book, DOROTHY OF OZ, celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this year. The great-grandson of Frank Baum himself, ROGER’S own literary contribution to the Saga of Oz now includes more than a dozen volumes. OZ-Strav! 2019 will be honored by the return of ROGER and his wife CHARLENE – and we’ll also offer a mini-salute to LEGENDS OF OZ: DOROTHY’S RETURN, the charming and children-adored animated film which now commemorates its fifth anniversary. (LEGENDS OF OZ is based on DOROTHY OF OZ, thus tying everything together!)

Meanwhile, all of that is just the beginning of what’s planned as an enchanted weekend for Ozians. Songwriter STEVE MARGOSHES – whose original Oz melodies and lyrics were a triumph at last year’s fest – returns with the debut of at least two new Oz-related compositions: a barbershop roundelay and “Tin Man” (the latter to be performed by MATTHEW BAUM).  SHAWN RYAN dazzled 2018 attendees with his stunning recreations of Oz stage costumes from THE WIZARD OF OZ, THE WIZ, and WICKED; he’ll be back, as well, to reveal his latest work and to greet fellow enthusiasts at the All Things Oz Museum.

Of course, this is just the beginning of the OZ-Stravaganza! outlay for 2019. Additional specifics – times, locations, activities, parade and contest details, the roster for Authors & Artists’ Alley, and the like – will be forthcoming on the OZ-Stravaganza! website: www.oz-stravaganza.com

As I hope is obvious, it’s time to set that GPS for a trek down to Yellow Brick Road – and to make your plans to be part of THE MAGIC OF OZ! This once-in-a-lifetime weekend of rainbows, music, memories, celebrities, costumes, and emotional joy takes place from Friday through Sunday, May 31st – June 2nd, at OZ-Stravaganza! 2019 in Chittenango, NY. It’s the village that gave us “The Man Behind the Curtain” of some of the greatest entertainments of the twentieth AND twenty-first centuries!

 

SILENCE IS . . . OZZY!

SILENCE IS . . . OZZY!

by John Fricke

[Above:  As portrayed with a fixed and somewhat ferocious smile by Vivian Reed, the benevolent Princess Ozma served as a visual insignia and logo for L. Frank Baum’s Oz Film Manufacturing Company in 1914.]

In last month’s blog, we discussed the reappearance in theaters of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1939 classic, THE WIZARD OF OZ. These announced “eightieth anniversary” engagements were brief: three days only in some seven hundred cross-country venues. But public demand – and a record-breaking $1.2 million box office gross for just the first of those dates – saw Fathom Events expand the bookings by several additional screenings. The magical and cinematic OZ of Judy Garland & Company once again made history, while simultaneously launching its ninth decade as a pop culture icon.

At this chronological juncture, it seems doubtful that any other Oz dramatization could equal either the power, longevity, or heart and soul involvement achieved by MGM’s OZ. But its brand-new success across these past couple of months led me to remember the personal excitement I felt back in the 1960s, when I first saw what were then thought to be the earliest surviving Oz motion pictures. Produced in 1914 by L. Frank Baum — the “Royal Historian” himself — those movies celebrate their 105th anniversary this year. That makes this a good time to look back and cherish such screen appearances by Dorothy and her friends.

There’d already been brief Oz movies prior to 1914: Baum’s multi-media FAIRYLOGUE AND RADIO-PLAYS (1908) with its hand-colored film clips, and – two years later — William Selig’s three one-reel adaptations of several early Oz books. (These filmic ventures are topics for future blogs, to be sure!) But given his permanent relocation to Hollywood in 1910, Baum found his non-stop imagination increasingly intrigued by the concept of feature-length motion pictures. The movie industry was both growing up and expanding at a colossal rate all around him. With that in mind, he and several business acquaintances from the Los Angeles’ Uplifters social organization banded together in early 1914 to form The Oz Film Manufacturing Company.  Baum himself served as president, and the corporation grandiosely planned, in time, to bring all his Oz titles, stage ventures, and other children’s fantasies to the screen. The author promotionally explained that the price of his Oz books (retailing then at $1.25) often kept Baum stories from reaching a large percentage of their intended young audience. The five or ten cent charge of a nickelodeon theater would put his characters and fairy tales within affordable reach of many more youngsters.

 [Above: The highly-regarded, state-of-the-art physical “plant,” where much of the interior Oz filming was achieved. Nearby Griffith Park, the Pacific beaches, and other picturesque locations were utilized for more spacious and natural outdoor scenes.]

It was a noble – indeed, visionary – concept. Baum launched the enterprise with a five-reel adaptation of his Oz title for 1913, THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ. The scenario followed much of the book’s action, although it added a love interest for two new characters. (Such romance now seems an obvious sop to contemporary adult audiences, playing out as it did amidst the intentionally child-pleasing slapstick and cavorting of the other Ozians.) But the film is best enjoyed during its charming, if sometimes rudimentary, special effects, plus the mere sight and presence of such stalwarts as Dorothy and the Scarecrow – plus Ojo the Munchkin boy, the enigmatic Woozy, and Scraps, the redoubtable title character. The latter was played by teenage French acrobat, Pierre Couderc, whose talent made him an obvious choice when Baum (per publicity) could find no female with similar, extensive agility.

[Above: A two-page advertisement for the first motion picture release from The Oz Film Manufacturing Company.]

While editing and assemblage of PATCHWORK GIRL was still underway, an adaptation of Baum’s QUEEN ZIXI OF IX was quickly put into production. That superlative fantasy, however, was first “Ozzified” in its title (if not in content) as THE MAGIC CLOAK OF OZ. Several of the same “stock company” of PATCHWORK GIRL actors carried over into a number of principal roles, and one of the film’s delights was its recreation of the rotund Roly-Rogues, comic-villains of the original book. They’re shown below in one of Frederick Richardson’s illustrations from QUEEN ZIXI OF IX and (at right) as Baum and the pre-CGI Oz Film crew envisioned and costumed them.

Baum’s third five-reel feature, HIS MAJESTY, THE SCARECROW OF OZ, merged characters and/or plot situations from THE WIZARD OF OZ and THE ROAD TO OZ with an excellent, brand-new storyline. (The author’s fresh creations would then economically serve as the plot foundation for his 1915 Oz book, THE SCARECROW OF OZ.) The hour-long vehicle was perhaps Ozziest of all the Film Co. endeavors, as it also featured the Tin Woodman, Cowardly Lion, and Wizard.

I first and gradually saw these silent Oz movies as a preteen and teenager, beginning in 1963 when they were featured as the genuinely “special entertainments” at several International Wizard of Oz Club conventions in Indiana. (Collector extraordinaire Dick Martin and several others had accessed surviving nitrate prints from diverse sources — including members of the Baum family — and then went to the expense of having the deteriorating and highly flammable celluloid transferred to safety film.)  Even then, I was aware that the Oz Company output hadn’t “worn well” as prime entertainment, but such realistic appraisal in no way dampened my appreciation at being able to watch the fun and see the stories brought to life. So many highlights come to mind, even all these decades later: the flirtatious first meeting of the Patchwork Girl and Scarecrow; the descent from the mountains of the Roly-Rogues – in search of soup (!); the beheading of Wicked Witch Mombi by the Tin Woodman (and her picking it up and putting it back on again); the “freezing” of the heart of Princess Gloria; and the introduction of a new animal character with an unforgettably descriptive name: the awful Lonesome Zoop.

Etc.!

[Above left: When Dorothy Met Scarecrow: Violet MacMillan and Frank Moore in HIS MAJESTY, THE SCARECROW OF OZ. Right: When Vivian Reed Met Mai Wells: Princess Gloria’s heart is frozen by wicked witch Mombi in the same film.]

Despite the much-vaunted fame of the citizens of Oz, however, the high hopes of Baum and his associates for The Oz Film Manufacturing Company were quickly swamped back in 1914. There was litigation from other interests, who claimed patent on certain equipment used in the film-making process. There was ongoing lack of interest from theater distributors, who weren’t excited about product from a fledgling and minor studio. Finally, there was defeat in the (ultimate) fact that any perception of movies as a potential “amusement for the whole family” had not yet come – and was, indeed, a couple of decades in the future. Adults complained about the “children’s entertainment” level of THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ, which made it tough going for the next two projects from the studio. THE MAGIC CLOAK OF OZ took three years to find a distributor; the studio was also forced to make it alternately available by cutting it down to two separate, two-reel programs and sending it out as “filler.” In a semi- (or seemingly) desperate move, HIS MAJESTY, THE SCARECROW OF OZ was retitled THE NEW WIZARD OF OZ and blithely and falsely trumpeted as “practically a photo-visualization” of the hugely successful OZ stage musical, which had triumphantly toured the country for seven seasons between 1902-1909.

There were further efforts from the Oz Company: a few fantasy “short subjects” (as yet, these remain missing) and two feature-length dramas specifically geared to appeal to adults, THE LAST EGYPTIAN and THE GRAY NUN OF BELGIUM. The latter, a World War I drama, is not known to survive. The former was based on Baum’s 1908 novel of the same title, and only three of its five reels have thus far been recovered. Whatever the themes or intent of these offerings, however, there was no overcoming the lack of distributor OR public interest in anything disseminated by the Oz Film Company. After a year-and-a-half of decreasing activity, the enterprise was dissolved.

[Above left:  Surviving prints of Oz Film Company movies are often incomplete. When discovered in the early 1960s, the extant HIS MAJESTY, THE SCARECROW OF OZ was missing its opening title. So, Dick Martin, Oz collector and artist supreme, crafted a new one of his own design. Right: A vintage 1914 ad for the Oz Film Company’s output.]

All tribulations apart, however, the three major fantasies produced under Baum’s auspices remain good fun on a number of levels. They can be enjoyed as imaginative manifestations of the man who actually invented Oz and created its characters; as wondrous (if sometimes uneven) examples of early motion picture making; and – perhaps best of all – as an additional opportunity to spend time with beloved friends, including a number of those who make their only on-screen appearances in the artifacts of The Oz Film Manufacturing Company.

All three of the Oz movies discussed above are readily available on DVD; perhaps the best surviving and well-presented versions are those included as “extras” in the various Warner Home Video deluxe packagings of MGM’s irreplaceable 1939 musical. Wherever you track them down, however, here’s to your cheery viewing!

And here’s a heartfelt and happy 105th birthday wish to The Oz Film Company!

MGM’S “OZ” AT AGE 80: BACK ON THE BIG SCREEN!

MGM’S “OZ” AT AGE 80: BACK ON THE BIG SCREEN!

by John Fricke

If you’ve been watching the Turner Classic Movies cable channel over the past few weeks, you’ll probably have heard the happy news: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s musical masterpiece, THE WIZARD OF OZ, is going to be shown at 350 movie theaters across America for three days this weekend and next week. Such a booking, handled by Fathom Events, launches the film’s eightieth anniversary; yes, it was 1939 when audiences first heard “Over the Rainbow,” encountered Miss Gulch, were dazzled by the Munchkins, and (in general) got the entertainment delight of the season . . . and many seasons since.

If you’ve never seen OZ on “the big screen,” it IS true — as they say — that you’ve never really seen OZ! So, don’t miss this opportunity, whether on Sunday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, January 27th, 29th, or 30th. (You can research locations near you, plus performance times and ticket availability, via this link: fathomevents.com.)

Even if you’ve already watched THE WIZARD OF OZ in an actual theater, it quite honestly remains an event not to be missed – at any opportunity. Indeed, one of the most frequently-heard comments from diverse, world-wide OZ fans encompasses words like: “I look at the movie over and over . . . and every time I do, I see something I never saw before!” This eightieth birthday celebration is a great chance for everyone to spot new moments to treasure, new marvels to notice, and new wonders to share.

In keeping with that concept of sharing (segue!), this month’s blog actually has been designed to pave the way to glimpses of Ozian legend — or errata — that might be new for you, no matter when or where you next view the film.  For example:

 

[Above left: Ray, Terry, and Judy – with Dorothy’s longer braids, November 1938. Above right: Ray and Judy, the latter with slightly (but perceptibly) shorter braids, March 1939. The differential is even more apparent when one watches this sequence in the film itself.]

The scene in which Dorothy (Judy Garland) and Toto (Terry) initially meet the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) was filmed three times — first in October 1938. But on that occasion, Judy’s hair, make-up, and costume were different, Ray’s make-up was different, and the Yellow Brick Road consisted of oval “pavement-ing”; it looked like a patio in Pasadena. All of that footage was junked after director Richard Thorpe was removed from the project. When new director Victor Fleming took over in early November, the trio’s first encounter was re-photographed, and the stars and set looked as we’ve known them ever since. Judy’s braids, however, were rather long and somewhat free-form and flowing as they cascaded down the front of her jumper, and those in charge apparently decided that such a casual look needed to be neatened a bit. When Fleming & Company next moved on to the apple orchard scenes, Dorothy’s hair hung somewhat shorter and prettier. It was kept like that until being completely reconfigured for the scenes in (and, per the plotline, after) the Emerald City Wash & Brush-Up Co. segment of OZ.

Principal photography for the motion picture was finally completed in early March 1939. By then, however, it had been decided that Ray Bolger should deliver a less whispery rendition of “If I Only Had a Brain,” as well as dance a more complicated, special-effects version of the song. So, he rerecorded the vocal and returned to the cornfield with Judy and Terry for retakes – and Judy’s hair was (whether forgetfully or intentionally) configured in the less-lengthy but neater style. When film editor Blanche Sewell assembled OZ over the next few weeks, she drew her finished footage from takes done in both November 1938 and March 1939. As a result – and just watch! – Dorothy’s braids waft back-and-forth between tousled or tight (and back again!) throughout the scene.

[Above: “What a world! What a world!” I’ve always theorized that Judy – as a sixteen-year-old minor – must have been commandeered away from the set at this moment to fulfill some percentage of her required-by-law, three-hours-per-day of schooling. Of course, she’s in the movie scene itself, but she missed the opportunity to appear in a classic OZ still.]

One point that film historians often offer is the reminder that THE WIZARD OF OZ movie was created long before there was such a thing as computer-generated-imagery (CGI). Every effect, every prop, every bit of scenery and costuming had to be created “for real” in 1938-39 . . . or in at least some semblance of real. One of the most memorable of the film’s visuals involved the melting of the Wicked Witch of the West. Yet this wasn’t an especially difficult challenge for “F/X” honcho A. Arnold “Buddy” Gillespie and his staff. He later confessed that it simply involved placing Margaret Hamilton on a small elevator platform, with her skirt tacked to the floor outside the parameter of the slowly-lowered foundation on which she was standing. Dry ice was placed under the far edges of her skirt and soaked by hose with water just prior to Fleming’s cry of “Action!”; the resultant, rising steam heightened the vision of her “dissolution.” But two other inventive bits added to the graphic image of the Witch as she disappeared. Her Winkie Guards gradually lowered their spears as she was, herself, lowered – further propelling the sinking visual on-screen in the eyes of movie audiences. Even more creatively, costume designer Gilbert Adrian provided a larger hat for that moment for Hamilton; it was placed on her (also just prior to “Action!”) and gave the illusion that her head was shrinking away in the same manner as her body.

At the top of this blog, you can see Judy, Ray, and Jack Haley in a photo posed to capture the moment immediately following the Tin Man’s “If I Only Had a Heart” song-and-dance. Note the oil can in Judy’s hand; in this specific film scene, she’s shown as she takes it out of her little wicker basket and proceeds to provide some additional comfort for her still-somewhat rusty friend. But when you next view OZ, watch the end of the preceding edit: As the Tin Man almost topples over and stumbles back to sit on the tree stump, Dorothy and the Scarecrow endeavor to catch and save him. In that process, and just before the end of the cut, the oil can falls right out of Dorothy’s basket. Yet, immediately thereafter, she retrieves it from there for her use!

[The Fabulous Fivesome – with Bert Lahr as the beloved Cowardly Lion — are about to be beset by the trees of the Haunted Forest in “The Jitterbug.”]

One of the most obvious inconsistencies in THE WIZARD OF OZ “continuity” still goes unnoticed by many — until it’s actually pointed out.  So, we’ll wrap up this month’s blog with a final bit of history and trivia. In her tower room, the Wicked Witch summons her fleet of Winged Monkeys to “Bring me that girl and her dog! Do what you like with the others, but I want her alive and unharmed. They’ll give you no trouble, I promise you that. I’ve sent a little insect on ahead to take the fight out of them! Now, fly! Fly!” With that dictate, the Monkeys depart, and in the very next moment of the film, they’re seen as they swoop down into the Haunted Forest. They chase off the Cowardly Lion, disarm the Tin Man, disassemble the Scarecrow, and then fly off again, having captured Dorothy and Toto.

“Little insect”?  Well, as OZ devotees can tell you, the Witch is referencing “The Jitterbug,” an animated, pink-and-blue spotted flying pest who was to sting Dorothy and her friends, infecting them with “the jitters,” and leading them into a wild and exhausting dance in which even the trees of the Haunted Forest took part. The routine was rehearsed, prerecorded, and filmed – it took five days for the latter – but the entire, light-hearted, swingy/perky song and its orchestration were totally wrong for the movie at that moment in its arc of storytelling and terror. So “The Jitterbug” was cut from OZ after its initial sneak preview in June 1939. However, as most of Hamilton’s dialogue was integral to the preceding, special effects-fraught, one-long-take scene, it pretty much had to be kept intact in the movie as it was released two months later. It’s been there ever since, yet only seldom does anyone ask, “What little insect?!”

So! Would you like to see these moments, bigger than life – along with so many others? Why not check that Fathom link above, dispatch yourselves to OZ over these next few days, and become happily overwhelmed by the magic, music, and majesty of it all? You’ll certainly be able to spot and enjoy these little errors of continuity (there are plenty more, too!) as they sail on by . . . on The Big Screen!

(Of course, watch here and on Facebook for forthcoming details about OZ-Stravaganza! 2019, as well: May 31st-June 2nd. There may be some big-screen surprises there, too!)

 

TO WISH YOU THE OZZIEST . . . !

TO WISH YOU THE OZZIEST . . . !

by John Fricke

 

How to celebrate December in an Ozzy fashion for those who read here? (Well, there are a couple of suggestions to put forward!)

How about pictorially? The artwork above provides detail from one of Dick Martin’s ebullient illustrations for THE VISITORS FROM OZ and shows some celebrated Ozians in a friendly — but futile! — race with Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. The 1960 picture book (now a collector’s item) was adapted by Jean Kellogg from L. Frank Baum’s original 1904-05 weekly newspaper serial/comic page, “Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz.” In Kellogg’s storyline, a jubilant climax is reached when the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, Sawhorse, Woggle-Bug, and Jack Pumpkinhead visit Dorothy on Uncle Henry’s farm in Kansas – and then stop off at the North Pole to leave toy images of themselves for Santa to distribute to boys and girls world-wide. As can be seen, those Ozzy visitors traveled in the Magic Flying Gump, whom fans remember was an integral part of the saga in which “rightful ruler” Princess Ozma was brought to the throne of the Emerald City in another Baum title, THE LAND OF OZ.

 

[Above: Our old friends, The Tin Woodman, The Scarecrow, Jack Pumpkinhead, and Professor Woggle-Bug are announced upon arrival at the castle of Santa Claus in the Laughing Valley of HoHaHo. They’re carrying the self-created toys they conjured as gifts for the children of the world – although even the magical VISITORS FROM OZ couldn’t provide enough such souvenirs to answer the demand. Artwork by Dick Martin.]

Of course, there’s another way to honor the season – and for that bit of journalistic joy, we turn to Baum’s successor as “Royal Historian of Oz,” Ruth Plumly Thompson. Ms. Thompson was specifically and especially selected by publishers Reilly & Lee to carry on the Oz Book Series after Baum passed away. To his fourteen “official” Oz titles, she added nineteen of her own – one per year between 1921 and 1939. In later years, she contributed two more, published by The International Wizard of Oz Club in 1972 and 1976, which means she penned more Oz histories than any other author.

“RPT,” as she often signed herself, was a masterful, inventive, inspired story-teller – and a champion of children, imagination, and fantasy. In addition to a nonstop schedule of writing assignments, she personally answered thousands of Ozzy fan letters between 1921 and 1976. A tireless, creative advocate for the magical land and its unforgettable characters, Ms. Thompson produced timeless work that has been (and is continued to be) cherished by millions.

 

[Above: A grateful and gleeful Santa holds a toy Scarecrow and toy Tin Woodman in Dick Martin’s 1960 drawing for THE VISTORS FROM OZ. Two years later, “Royal Historian” Ruth Plumly Thompson depicted – in rhyme! – the Scarecrow’s puzzlement over a proper gift for Princess Ozma of Oz: What DOES one get for the supreme potentate of a country at Christmas time in 1962? (Please see the poem below!)]

Ruth wrote from childhood until her own passing in 1976, and several of her blithest and brightest epistles – including the 1926 novelette, THE CURIOUS CRUISE OF CAPTAIN SANTA — honored Christmas as a treasured holiday of childhood. One such piece, a poem, was fashioned for THE BAUM BUGLE (journal of the Oz Club) and appeared in its final edition for 1962. In these verses, Ms. Thompson details a shopping problem for the beloved Scarecrow. To wit:

A CHRISTMAS PRESENT FOR OZMA

The Scarecrow was thinking

His broad cotton brow

In furrows and wrinkles,

No wonder, for HOW

Was he ever to find

The right gift to delight

And please Princess Ozma

On Christmas Eve night?

A present for Ozma

Was hard to decide on

Something to wear –

Something to ride on?

Something she does not have

But what could that be?

She has everything now

Sighed the Straw Man, Oh me!

He toured the whole castle

And then sat him down

His brow still screwed up

In that deep thinker’s frown.

Then all of a sudden

He leapt in the air,

He had found what was missing:

Not a one anywhere.

That’s what I’ll give Ozma –

A fine rocking chair!

So he did, and this year

When state matters grow pressing

Like Kennedy, Ozma

Will find it a blessing!

— RUTH PLUMLY THOMPSON

Historians, “baby boomers,” and many of those of a certain age will doubtless catch the rationale behind the solution to the Scarecrow’s avowed dilemma! Those unfamiliar with United States hierarchy at that specific time may have to do a bit of research to ascertain the “home remedy” our then-President utilized to combat his chronic back problems. (They’d begun with a college football injury and were exacerbated by events during his service in World War II.)

[Above left: The incomparable Ruth Plumly Thompson, with Taffy. Above right: As a holiday greeting to all the MGM movie fans out there: here’s the most famous incarnation of the Scarecrow of Oz, as portrayed by Ray Bolger. This pose was selected, as he looks as if he might JUST have thought of providing Ozma with a rocking chair!]

So, here are season’s greetings in an Ozzy manner! I want to send my heartfelt appreciation “over the rainbow” to L. Frank Baum, Ruth Plumly Thompson, and Dick Martin for their invaluable contributions and inspirations for this month’s blog. And to any and all of you who read here — whatever your respective ages, holiday celebrations, or Ozzy preferences — may I gratefully extend the very best of healthful and happy wishes to each and every individual . . . and to all of those you love and cherish. It’s a privilege to honor Oz with you in these reminiscences and histories, and I hope our association and mutual joys will continue for a long time to come.

Many thanks for the pleasure of your company — and here’s to a blessed new year . . . and way, way beyond!

THANKSGIVING . . . IN OZ!

THANKSGIVING . . . IN OZ!

by John Fricke

     

[Above: To Oz? To Oz! . . . as we review some of the happy moments for which the remarkable residents of the land are most thankful.]

Because of the wonderful books written by the “Royal Historians of Oz,” we’ve come to know much about the extraordinary citizens of that marvelous land.  As a result, I don’t think it’s possible to overemphasize the gratitude expressed by many of them for the experiences they’ve enjoyed across the 118 years since L. Frank Baum first brought Oz to our attention. Perhaps a number of you will read here for the very first time about such happy moments; others will already know them by heart! Regardless, they’re worth citing, especially at this thanksgiving (and Thanksgiving) time of the year.

The following is, of course, just a perfunctory “primer,” drawn from countless examples of the personal joys of some favorite Ozians. But every reference is meant to honor the appreciation felt by such genuinely loved inhabitants – and to celebrate the past week’s United States holiday.

Of course, it was Dorothy Gale who introduced most of us to Oz, and it was her cyclonic journey that first carried innumerable readers (and even more moviegoers and television viewers) “over the rainbow.” But her connection to Oz didn’t end when Baum’s silver shoes took her home to Kansas. In fact, she was delighted to return to the magic kingdom via other mystical routings: when swept off a ship during a Pacific Ocean storm; by falling victim to a California earthquake; and by becoming the pawn of a magical multiplication of Kansas roads. The Midwestern girl never failed to offer thanks for such adventures, but it’s safe to say that even they were surpassed when Princess Ozma invited her – plus Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, and Toto (too!) – to permanently relocate to Oz. [For specifics of Dorothy Gale’s second, third, fourth and fifth escapades, please (respectively!) see the books OZMA OF OZ, DOROTHY AND THE WIZARD IN OZ, THE ROAD TO OZ, and THE EMERALD CITY OF OZ.

[Above: An unexpected encounter of the best kind is explained and described in the paragraph below.]

It’s likely that the famous Scarecrow (often regarded as “the most popular man in Oz”) might describe himself as most appreciative of the brains given to him by the legendary Wizard. However, the straw genius is equally notable for his own capacity to care: One of the most rapturous and riveting (if emotionally fleeting) encounters in any of the hoztories comes with his first glance of Scraps, THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ, in that volume of the series. Significantly — In Baum’s perfect world — Scraps is equally bedazzled by the Scarecrow, and although they eventually settle down to become “just good friends,” their initial meeting is (you should pardon the expression) one for the books!

The scope of the Tin Woodman’s magnificent heart is a matter of record across many Oz legends. But like all three of Dorothy’s first companions, Nick Chopper (his given name) already possessed the gift he most sought from the Wizard of Oz. When the story of the Tin Man’s first trip across Oz with Dorothy & Co. was brought to the screen by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1939, the film’s limited running time meant that many indications of Nick’s care for his fellow travelers had to be dropped from the plot. However, those who would know more about the Tin Woodman’s sensitive response-and-defense (and sometimes necessarily ruthless use of his strength and ax) will find many examples in the full-length, first Oz book, THE WIZARD OF OZ.  Read how Nick saved the Queen of the Field Mice from a ravening wildcat! Discover his skills with the trees of different Oz forests, as he creates a bridge over an impassable chasm, builds a cart to transport (and save the life of) the Cowardly Lion from the Deadly Poppy Field, and teaches a lesson to the fighting saplings who would prevent Dorothy from reaching the palace of Glinda the Good! Learn how he dispatched the howling wolves of the Wicked Witch of the West – and overcame so many other challenges to those he loved. And let it be noted that he undertook many of these actions before he ever possessed a heart; they’re all described in THE WIZARD OF OZ book!

In that same title (and in another episode that never made it into the Judy Garland musical), the Cowardly Lion rescues a forest of animals from a giant spider. In the process, the Lion also has a brief, pleasant encounter with “the biggest of the tigers” in those woods – a meeting which foreshadows a companionship that gave him much for which to be thankful across other Oz stories. When we next come across them in OZMA OF OZ, the Lion and the “Hungry Tiger” have become best of friends; they’re also Emerald City dwellers, serving as duo honor guard to Princess Ozma. Their later sojourns into the wilds of the land involve them in no little excitement and danger, especially in THE MAGIC OF OZ, when a single word of transformation turns them into a Munchkin boy and a rabbit! How the Lion and Tiger return to their original forms, save two other friends from shrinking away to nothing when they become literally ROOTED on an enchanted island, AND help to provide Princess Ozma with an amazing birthday gift . . . well, it’s nothing short of miraculous. There’s no question that such an amalgamation of events is something the Lion and Tiger were most beholden to experience together.

[Above:  Dorothy and the Wizard himself are “processioned” into the Forest of Gugu by the Cowardly Lion and the Hungry Tiger in the book, THE MAGIC OF OZ.]

Finally, what of the Wizard himself? Of course, the citizens of Oz built the Emerald City under his wise guidance (although in later years he modestly claimed he “only bossed the job”). Additionally, the Wizard most certainly gave the residents a sense of security during his rule; when he departed in his balloon, the populace was most sorry to see him go. All that being said, the Wizard’s most grateful moment is easy to pinpoint: When he unexpectedly returns to Oz in DOROTHY AND THE WIZARD IN OZ, Princess Ozma welcomes him graciously and warmly — and then offers him “a home here as long as you live. You shall be the Official Wizard of my kingdom, and be treated with every respect and consideration.” When describing this scene, L. Frank Baum notes that the Wizard had “tear-drops . . . standing in his keen old eyes. It meant a great deal to him to secure a home like this.” Even better, the former humbug thereafter goes on to study at length with Glinda the Good; in the process, he becomes a genuine, wonder-working Wizard.

[Above:  A combination of royal and fairy lineage has made Princess Ozma a supremely right and rightful ruler of Oz. Her kindnesses to her own citizens – as well as to Dorothy, the Wizard, and others from the “Great Outside World” – are copiously described in the Oz Books.]

So, as you can see, there’s always much for which to be thankful in Oz! Indeed, as noted above, these are just a very few depictions of the hundreds that could be cited. Imagine Glinda’s delight at possessing the Great Book of Records, in which every event that happens anywhere in the world – no matter how minor — is immediately noted. Conjure up the joy of Jack Pumpkinhead when he’s able to grow a pumpkin large and spacious enough to use as his home. Or consider the ebullience of Santa Claus when he takes a couple of days off from his North Pole duties to attend Ozma’s birthday party in the Emerald City.

All of these adventures are told in The Oz Books – there are forty volumes in all — and well worth the exploring by any “reading children” you might know. Or any children-to-whom-you-read. Or any people you know who used to be children — and who would welcome a reminder of the fact that some of the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true. (Chittenango’s All Things Oz Museum and Shop stocks many of the Oz Books . . . and Christmas is coming!)

Finally, and given all of the foregoing, it might be best to conclude with a slight reconsideration of the title of this month’s blog – and offer that it could just as easily be called:  THANKSGIVING . . . TO  OZ.

Here’s every heartfelt wish that your holiday was happy, fulfilling, and suffused with gratitude — Ozzy and otherwise! 😊

THE NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM . . . (SMITHSONIAN, THAT IS!)

October 2018

THE NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM . . .  (SMITHSONIAN, THAT IS!)

by John Fricke

[Above: The Smithsonian’s pair of Ruby Slippers – newly-conserved, protected, and in an environmentally-controlled casing – were revealed and celebrated for the first time at a private reception and party last Thursday night, October 18th.  The shoes were an absolute magnet for the two hundred invited guests at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. (The next morning, Judy Garland’s famed footwear went back on public display for the first time in nineteen months.)]

What words best describe last Thursday night at the Smithsonian?

These might be some:

Elegant.  Magical.  Classy.

And Oz-Permeated!

It was a beautiful, exclusive triptych of an event: the simultaneous opening of the Ray Dolby Gateway to American Culture, the Nicholas F. and Eugenia Taubman Hall of Music, and the reappearance of that unique icon of both pop culture and song . . . The Ruby Slippers.

Just two hundred guests were invited to participate in the evening; perhaps forty of us attended the ribbon-cutting that officially opened the wing at 6:30 p.m.  Another one-hundred-and-fifty arrived to attend the 7 – 10 p.m. reception, which featured a special presentation honoring the Dolby and Taubman families — plus musical programming — from 7:30 – 8:30.

I was fortunate to be present, as I’d participated — on-camera and off — in the Museum’s Kickstarter Campaign of 2016 to “Keep Them Ruby.” At that time, funds were (swiftly!) offered by the public to aid in the conservation of the 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer pumps that have long since become legend. A year later, I traveled to Washington, D.C., to join in meet-and-greet breakfasts and tours with Kickstarter contributors who’d selected such a premium in exchange for their donations; there was also a lengthy international video chat for several fans who’d opted for that experience.

Thus, last Thursday evening was the culmination of a lot of work, investigation, science, creativity, research, support, cooperation, conversation, and camaraderie on the part of many, many people. To attend the debut/launch/re-premiere of the shoes as a sort of climax to the mass effort was extraordinary for me, and my first “move” that night will come as no surprise to anyone reading here. Once the ribbon was cut, I quietly and directly walked to what we’ll call “The Oz Room.” There I enjoyed a private, first-personal-glance, few minutes with the Ruby Slippers; such an experience would be difficult to top. The suddenly silent, rest-of-the-world-gone-away fantasy of Oz once again became the particular, spiritual home it often is for countless people — and has been for me since age five.

The shoes have been [re]established in their own cool, dark, and large room, on a platform covered in glass, with maximum space around the case for simultaneous viewing by many. The walls inside and out of the gallery — even the flooring of the new wing — are “mural-ized” with OZ concepts and silhouettes: poppies, yellow bricks, Dorothy & Toto, etc. In The Oz Room itself, the walls display additional Ozian touches: motion picture dialogue quotations, scene stills, and photographs of the shoe-conservation process.  (Also on display: Ray Bolger’s own “Scarecrow” hat, gifted — with his original costume — to the Smithsonian by the actor’s wife, Gwen, after Bolger’s passing in 1987. A Glinda wand, used by Billie Burke in an off-set photo shoot but not seen in the actual OZ film, is on view, as well.)

[While only Ray Bolger’s Scarecrow hat is seen in the current Smithsonian exhibition, their archive actually boasts his complete 1939 costume. It’s shown here, cushioned in its protective wrapping and file drawer at the Museum.]

In three different areas of the Museum across the evening, there was live music. A children’s chorale of scores of voices sang Broadway show tunes in the main foyer of the building to greet arriving guests. The vocalists were rehearsing Irving Berlin’s “There’s No Business Like Show Business” – seemingly all the verses and choruses! – when I entered, which evoked an instant “no place like home” emotion here.  Both the Smithsonian’s individual chamber and jazz ensembles performed as part of the official programming in the new third floor music hall, offering selections that ranged from an excerpt of a Bach Brandenburg concerto to Duke Ellington’s melody for “I Let A Song Go Out of My Heart” and the Harold Arlen/E. Y. Harburg “Over the Rainbow.” Finally, in the spacious promenade around the third-floor west wing, a cabaret vocalist and her accompanists also shared “Rainbow,” plus “Tomorrow” and other standards. Every performer and aggregation were beyond excellent.  (Plus, the food and drink were superlative; the crowd beautifully dressed!)

Yet, despite all of that – not to mention the initial one-on-one with the shoes — the moment[s] that resonated most happily here came across the rest of the evening. Apart from two young preteen girls, all of the invited attendees were adults: a few in their twenties but otherwise older. Being in the presence of The Ruby Slippers, however, they were once again reduced (all of ’em!) to happy childhood. There was complete awe, silence, fascination, and curiosity in the manner in which they entered The Oz Room, gingerly (in some cases) approached the case, and walked around the slippers on display. There followed muted comments and marveling . . . and then, as if on cue (or as if a dam had burst), there was eager, enthusiastic conversation. Virtually everybody seemed happily compelled to share the special — and apparently unforgettable — impact that the amalgam of MGM, Judy, and L. Frank Baum’s THE WIZARD OF OZ has had on them.

Elegant.

Magical.

Unforgettable.

And a blessed privilege to be part of it these past thirty months! Thank you, Smithsonian and Warner Bros.!

[Okay, it’s not OZ! But I know full-well that we have some first-rate, first-class Garland devotees among the readers of this blog. And to be found amongst the Smithsonian’s massive holdings is her immediately identifiable waitress garb from MGM’s Academy Award-winning musical, THE HARVEY GIRLS (1945). It was donated to the Museum by the film’s director, George Sidney.]

 

[Photographs courtesy Ryan Lintelman.]

 

AMONG MY SOUVENIRS . . .

AMONG MY SOUVENIRS . . .

by John Fricke

 

Across the last sixteen months, I’ve been fortunate to spend even more than the customary amount of time in the All Things Oz Museum in Chittenango, NY.  The happy experience of being surrounded by so much “Oz collection” has led to a lot of reflection here on the wide variety of products, projects, and memorabilia launched by L. Frank Baum, when he discovered the marvelous land (and first wrote about it) in THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ book in 1900. Fortunately, much of that material has been preserved, gathered, and presented – both in the public/professional sense, as with the Chittenango holdings, and also in the private/personal sense, as is demonstrated in the many photographs that fans post or otherwise share of an “Oz room” at home.  (Of course, truth be told: sometimes it’s “Oz roomS” . . . and/or hallways and/or houses. But more power to ‘em!)

I was a fervent and Ozzy collector myself as a preteen and teen; since then, during decades of Oz and/or Judy Garland-related work, there’s been additional happy accumulation. Many of the items are treasured here because of their special association with people, places, events, and heartfelt memories; given the social-media displays of favorite acquisitions joyously exhibited by so many fellow enthusiasts, I thought I’d take the same approach for this month’s blog.

The photos up-top show the front covers of two unusual editions of THE WIZARD OF OZ.  EL MAGO DE OZ (left) was published in 1940 in Santiago, Chile; O MAGICO DE OZ (right) appeared in Brazil in late 1939 and was one of the first foreign book publications to capitalize on that year’s release of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Judy Garland musical. These publications were comparatively unfamiliar to Oz historians until they were discovered in an ancient MGM file folder during research for projects attendant to the film’s fiftieth anniversary in 1989. They’re of additional interest in that their texts follow the movie plot rather than that of Baum’s original story — and they’re illustrated with film stills (and, in the case of O MAGICO, a variety of actual film frames).

 

As a little boy, I haunted the two used book stores in downtown Milwaukee, WI, and turned up a number of treasures – some of which I still cherish. One of the loveliest of these (above left) was a 1902 first edition/second printing of Baum’s beauteous fantasy, THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS, which sold for a rip-roaring five dollars! (Well, that was a hefty price for a preteen, back in the day.) A couple of years later, in 1963, I began to attend the annual conventions of The International Wizard of Oz Club, then held in Bass Lake, IN, at Ozcot Lodge – the summer home of Baum’s only surviving son, Harry Neal. He and I had already enjoyed a brief correspondence, and he most kindly autographed my copy of SANTA CLAUS — which his father had dedicated to him some sixty-one years earlier.

 

The Oz Club was only five years old when I first became a member in 1962. Among its prime movers-and-shakers was the wonderful illustrator/writer Dick Martin. We became pen pals and then friends; a few months after our initial meeting at the 1963 OzCon, the fortieth (and final) “official” book in the Oz series was published by The Reilly & Lee Company of Chicago; Dick had pictured and designed it.  In a gesture that typified the sharing, generosity, and camaraderie of the Club’s early members and collectors, he sent me a copy of MERRY GO ROUND IN OZ as soon as it came from the press. Or, to be more specific, as soon as he’d had time to gently excise the book’s first page, inscribe it, send it off from his Chicago home to Oregon to garner and retrieve the additional autographs of the coauthors; and then carefully “tip in” the returned leaf. Over subsequent years, the McGraws – mother and daughter – befriended me and became revered companions, as well . . . but Dick holds a forever-place of his own in my gratitude and heart for being both an omnipresent compatriot and a marvel of talent.

(The explanation behind the origin of my Ozzified first name in the Martin drawing will have to wait for a future blog; it’s not a biggie!)

Finally, this little boxed set of 45rpm vinyl records was my sixth birthday present. Just twenty-seven days prior, I’d been introduced to the magic of Oz by the initial coast-to-coast telecast of THE WIZARD OF OZ movie over the CBS network. The lifelong delight, thrill, excitement (not to say glorious obsession) began that evening, and my ever-supportive and encouraging parents provided three related presents when my natal day came around. The record set was, perhaps, first among equals; there was the thrill of the color cover (I’d seen the film on a black-and-white TV); the eight black-and-while stills on the back of the box; the interior plot synopsis and production history; and the original soundtrack excerpts of song and story. Such an amalgamation went a very long way toward reinforcing my fascination with the movie I’d so recently viewed; to be sure, those records “held me” – way beyond entranced — for three years, until OZ was televised for a second time.

As I finished typing the foregoing sentence here, I found myself letting out a very happy sigh. And that was because there was the once-again realization that it’s not about the collecting or possessions – as euphorically pleasing as they can be. It’s about the recollections that come with each individual article.

So, I thank you for your possible interest in (or curiosity about) the items pictured here. But I most especially thank you for giving me the warmth of remembering people, places, events . . . and OZ.  😊

BUT HAVE YOU REALLY SEEN “THE WIZARD OF OZ” MOVIE? 😊

By John Fricke

[Here’s an Oz trivia query: Which outrageously popular song of 1905 can be heard on THE WIZARD OF OZ movie soundtrack during the sequence pictured here?]

Last month’s blog featured a discussion about The Oz Books – the famous “official” series of forty titles published between 1900 and 1963. And although it’s safe to say that I’m biased, I’ll never qualify the statement (as was put forward here in July) that there’s no better reading for youngsters, families, adults — or anyone — than the real, true Oz!

However, there’s also absolutely no question that, since the late 1950s, most people have first come to L. Frank Baum’s story via the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer motion picture version of THE WIZARD OF OZ. Highly praised at its initial release in 1939, the film is now regarded as legendary, iconic, unforgettable, classic, timeless, and magical. (One of many lovely claims that can be made for OZ is that it deserves at least all of those adjectives!) Millions saw it on theater screens in 1939-40, and additional millions attended its nationwide theatrical reissues in 1949 and 1955. Yet the total number of those who viewed OZ in movie houses was stunningly surpassed in one night. When the film first appeared on network television in 1956, it’s estimated that more than forty-five million people tuned in. The OZ audience was even larger for a second telecast in 1959; by 1960, the movie had launched its unique reign as an established, extraordinary, annual TV event that continued virtually unabated for almost forty years. Since 1980, the Judy-Garland-&-Co. musical has also been a consistent best-selling presence on home video, encompassing release on Beta tape, VHS tape, laser disc, DVD, Blu-ray DVD, and 3-D DVD.  Thus, it’s happily apparent that — by the mid-to-late twentieth century – the OZ film had become the primary “yellow brick road” introduction to Baum’s story and characters for the majority of the world.

This is just conjecture, but it’s also highly probable that most people reading here have seen THE WIZARD OF OZ multiple times. So, given all the foregoing facts, I thought it might be fun this month to leap from July’s discussion of The Oz Books to a look-back at THE Oz film and point out some entertaining moments you might have missed — or for which you can watch the NEXT time you view THE WIZARD OF OZ.  As entertainment (and, hopefully, entertaining) history, it’s a glimpse at both back-story and the film-making process: a peek “behind the curtain” at MGM-in-action across the months in 1938-39 when the movie went before their cameras.

For example . . . !

Sixteen-year-old Judy Garland was elevated to full “star status” on the MGM roster during production of THE WIZARD OF OZ. For many years between the mid-1980s and 2013, innumerable fans reveled in the story told by “flowerpot hat”/“sleepyhead” Munchkin Margaret Pellegrini, who remembered in happy detail the day on the OZ soundstage when the studio presented Judy with “her own [portable] dressing room trailer on wheels” in confirmation of the girl’s new rank. But if Judy was then officially a star, she remained legally a minor across the entire arc of OZ filming. This meant that, by law, she could only work on-set four hours each day, Monday through Saturday. Three other hours per day were committed to schoolwork; a fourth fell under the loose and nebulous designation of “recreation. Beyond that – and in addition to Judy’s limited availability of time — production honchos were increasingly, physically careful with the teenager, who appeared in all but a handful of OZ scenes. (Think about it: when is “Dorothy Gale” NOT on-screen across the one-hundred-one minutes of the movie?)

[Stafford Campbell and Bobbie Koshay “stand in” for Ray Bolger and Judy Garland during lighting tests on the Haunted Forest set. Ms. Koshay actually appears at least three times on-screen in THE WIZARD OF OZ.]

The result of all of this: there are at least three instances when Judy’s stand-in Bobbie Koshay, “takes over” – and you’re watching the “Dorothy double.” These include the moment when the Kansas girl walks the pigsty fence and topples into the pen; when the flying monkeys lift her into the air in the Haunted Forest; and when she – in brown-and-white-checked gingham – steps forward to open the door of the Kansas farmhouse to Technicolor Munchkinland . . . and then backs away, completely off-camera, to allow the “real” blue-and-white garbed Garland to exit onto the multi-hued plaza.

Among other “no-it’s-not-them” moments in OZ:  Margaret Hamilton’s double, Betty Danko stood in for the initial appearance of the Wicked Witch of the West, popping up (under cover of scarlet smoke) through the floor of the Munchkinland set. Ms. Danko (as shown above) was filmed in long-shot, with the brim of her hat covering much of her face. The studio also spared Bert Lahr a certain combination of athleticism and potential physical impairment by having a double fulfill the leaping first “entrance” of the Cowardly Lion in the forest sequence, as well as the first leaping “exit” of that character through the “glass” window of the Emerald City palace, as he runs to escape from the throne room and the Head of the Great Oz.

Lahr’s absence – as well of that of Tin Man Jack Haley and Scarecrow Ray Bolger – is again (however briefly) apparent in the sequence in which the trio climbs the mountain to access the castle of the Wicked Witch. While it’s unquestionably the real trio on-camera for the close-shot dialogue moment (“I hope my strength holds out”/“I hope your tail holds out”), the Lion/Tin Man exchange is framed by two long shots and a medium shot wherein Dorothy’s companions are played by doubles. This is especially noticeable in the reasonably ratty condition of the costume of the faux-Lion!

[Will the real Haley & Lahr please stand up – and climb the Winkie Country mountain for their two-shot and this still?]

Munchkin Margaret Pellegrini was happily referenced above. At age fifteen, she was one of the youngest, tiniest, and cutest of the “little people” performing in THE WIZARD OF OZ, as well an adept actor/reactor to the plot unfurling around her character. Because of that, she was placed in multiple scenes, sometimes up front and sometimes in the background (where the camera was primarily focused on one or more of the speaking, principal players). You can see Margaret, in her blue flowerpot hat, directly (if hazily) in the distance and right in between Glinda and Dorothy when the latter sings, “It really was no miracle . . . .” In the very next shot, Margaret’s one of the Munchkins in the foreground to whom Dorothy was singing, and thereafter, she’s omnipresent as: the little people come forward to carol, “The house began to pitch”; at the conclusion of the tracking shot as they offer, “. . . [a healthy ‘sitch’-uation for] the Wicked Witch”; as she dances with others on the plaza; and (in an especially charming double appearance) in the group around the carriage as the two Munchkin gentlemen salute Dorothy (“We thank you very sweetly . . . “). Immediately thereafter, Margaret can be seen again over Glinda’s left shoulder, as the Good Witch exclaims, “The wicked old witch at last is dead.” (There are other such moments, but you get the idea!)

One of Jerry Maren’s background moments is worth referencing as well. When Betty Danko first appears as the Wicked Witch in Munchkinland, the green-garbed, “Lollipop Guild” member Maren is barely discernible upstage, right of center, standing in a group of other little people in front of the big white pot of artificial leaves and flowers. He spreads his arms upward on one of the final “Tra-la-la-la-la-lah”s, just before the explosion heralds the WWW. Then – watch for it – Jerry scampers across the background to the left and leaps into the window of one of the Munchkin huts. There he stays, legs hanging out the window (across Heaven knows how many “takes”), until he completely retracts them at the Witch’s exit.

[A dozen or so of the most photogenic and tiny “little people” worked an extra day on OZ for stills such as this one. Margaret Pellegrini (her flowerpot hat semi-obscured by a gigantic leaf or pod) is just to the right of Judy Garland’s outstretched left hand. Jerry Maren’s “Lollipop Guild” head seems to be growing out of the poufy right shoulder of Glinda the Good! Side note: For early Oz Festival attendees, the fondly-recalled and cherished Fern Formica is the Munchkin Maiden on the extreme right of this still.]

For OZ audiologists and musicologists, there are several soundtrack cues wherein the brilliant composer/conductor/arranger Herbert Stothart interpolated — or oversaw the interpolation of — various bits of famous and/or familiar classical and popular melodies in the film’s underscoring. (Stothart won an Oscar for OZ, and given his talent and musical perspicacity, it’s no wonder.) The vintage, well-known Payne/Bishop “Home Sweet Home” is heard several times in OZ.  Schumann’s “The Happy Farmer” accompanies Judy and Terry in the very first scene, as Dorothy and Toto run home and commiserate on the feared advent of Miss Gulch. Pryor’s “Whistler and the Dog” – better known as “Where, oh where, has my little dog gone” – pops up as the Kansas girl and her companion run away from home; later on, the Van Alstyne/Williams hit of 1905, “In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree,” is very recognizable during the orchard sequence, just prior to the first appearance of the Tin Man. When Toto breaks away from the castle of the Wicked Witch, he’s accompanied by Mendelssohn’s “Opus 16, #2.” Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” – two years later an integral music cue in Walt Disney’s FANTASIA – was utilized (in part) for the Fab Five’s attempted escape from the Witch and Winkies. Finally, the traditional graduation-exercise theme, “Gaudeamus Igitur,” comes into play during a portion of the “presentation” sequence, where wonderful and wizardly Frank Morgan bestows a diploma to the Scarecrow.

Of course, there’s MUCH more minutiae that can be discussed regarding THE WIZARD OF OZ. Yet its overall potency as entertainment has always meant that – examine it frame-by-frame (as some have done) – even microscopic scrutiny can’t take away from the mirth, melody, emotion, and glory it purveys.

Such a special status and level of fame and familiarity  may never again be equaled by any other motion picture!

“FOR MORE FUN . . . MORE ADVENTURE . . . READ AN OZ BOOK!”

FOR MORE FUN . . .MORE ADVENTURE…READ AN OZ BOOK!

by John Fricke

The images above show the title page of — and an advertisement for the sixth Oz story in — a 1965 publisher’s brochure about The Oz Books. Meanwhile, the headline of this month’s blog quotes a decades-old promotional slogan put forward by that same publisher, The Reilly & Lee Company of Chicago, back in the day when all forty books of the “official” Oz series were in print and accessible.

That’s right: Forty!

I know some of you reading here are already aware that there was more than one Oz book. Given the success of THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ in 1900, the wondrous L. Frank Baum (soon to be heralded as “Royal Historian of Oz”) penned thirteen full-length sequels, issued between 1904 and 1920. Others of you might treasure memories of some — or all — of the twenty-six additional titles, written by six other storytellers after Baum’s passing; these appeared between 1921 and 1963. But most of those who today seek diversions for their children or grandchildren, nieces or nephews, or younger brothers or sisters bypass even the sole Oz book of which they’re aware: Baum’s original WIZARD. In fact, they often completely bypass books in general, opting instead to supply or permit electronic entertainment: television, video games, phone apps, and the like.

Well, times change; I understand that. And pending the merit of the specific “product” in question, there’s a level of worth in all of it. But the joys to be found in reading the Oz books — or reading them aloud to children — are well worth exploring and reviving.

That’s a fact that — I have to admit — I’ve never forgotten. But it was powerfully brought to the forefront of my mind a few weeks ago with the passing of the extraordinary Harlan Ellison. He was a man of strong and sometimes controversial opinion, yet primarily and gloriously a writer of immense imagination, ingenuity, and accomplishment. He was also a champion when it came to encouraging perusal and consumption of the written word — specifically (on one memorable occasion) when discussing the Oz books. Take a look; this video lasts less than three minutes, but Harlan is Most Definitely a Man With a Mission! https://youtu.be/4hH6Gs0ncT8

That video was produced as one of Ellison’s “Watching” segments, originally telecast over the Sci-Fi (now SyFy) cable channel on their show, BUZZ, just twenty-five years ago next month. Agree or disagree with all he said, one can’t deny that Harlan’s passion for Oz is extremely well-founded.  (For those who might wonder, the theme park he references – and a design for which is shown again above — unfortunately never came to be: the result of local Kansas politics shortly after Ellison taped his commentary.)

I’d planned this month’s blog as an homage to The Oz Book series. Then, when Harlan passed on June 28th, it seemed like some sort of magical benediction and opportunity to let someone of his informed and intelligent words speak FOR me – at least to a certain extent. Beyond his directives, however, I’d like to add just a few personal recollections.

Every Oz fan out there — and most of the world’s human beings! — have their own, individual touchstone and connection to Baum’s original story and creations. Mostly, I think, the introduction has been supplied by teleshowings or home video viewings of the 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Judy Garland musical movie. But others did, indeed, first discover Oz via editions of the books. Or through other dramatizations: THE WIZ, RETURN TO OZ, JOURNEY BACK TO OZ, OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, WICKED . . . or maybe now the new and current DOROTHY AND THE WIZARD OF OZ cartoon, courtesy Warner Bros. and Boomerang.

Yet there is SO much more to be found in the fundamental, vintage AND timeless (dare I say pure?) Oz. I admit – delightedly, freely, and proudly – that Judy & Co. provided my launch when I was five years old. But by age six, I’d graduated to Baum’s full text. (There were SO many more characters and countries! Or, to recap the headline above: More fun! More adventure!) Then, at seven, while browsing through the children’s section of Gimbel’s Book Department in downtown Milwaukee, I found this on one of the shelves:

Some of you have heard me tell this story before. But it was, for sure, a major and pivotal moment in my life. An accident? No – a gift from God. I first saw the spine of the book: THE ROAD TO OZ/Baum; those five words, and those two magic letters: O-Z. And when I pulled the volume from the shelf, I pretty much levitated, at least emotionally. You can see the book cover, just above. In the preceding twenty months, the four characters pictured there had become my best friends. To see them again, so beautifully and glowingly drawn by John R. Neill, and to realize they’d had more adventures (and More Fun!) provided a thrill that I recapture every time I remember that summer afternoon of shopping. Awed, I leafed through the book – but what next took precedence over my thought processes was the first glimpse of the back flap of the dust jacket. Three words topped off a long list: The Oz Books – and the roster showed thirty-eight additional titles . . . all of which ended in “. . . OF OZ” or “. . . IN OZ.”

There’s so much more to tell, but I’ll be succinct. I welcomed THE ROAD TO OZ for my eighth birthday. A few weeks later, for Christmas, I received five more titles; I believe they were TIK-TOK OF OZ, RINKITINK IN OZ, KABUMPO IN OZ, JACK PUMPKINHEAD OF OZ, and THE WONDER CITY OF OZ. It didn’t matter that these five books were written by three different authors. At that juncture, it didn’t even matter that I wasn’t reading the stories in chronological order. All that mattered was the opportunity at hand: to pick up each hardcover volume, turn to page one of chapter one, and then — more than anything or anywhere else — I went where I wanted to go.

It was history. It was hoztory.

It was home.

      

There’s an obvious message to this meandering, of course. Harlan Ellison DECLAIMS it, from his heart, in the video. I’ll be a bit gentler: Read the Oz Books. For your own pleasure. For your own brief, joyous escape. For their innocence. For a reminder that “the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.” For whatever reasons are personal and your own.

Most of the forty – and all fourteen of Baum’s – have been reprinted in one format or another. Many are currently available. The Chittenango “All Things Oz” Gift Shop and Museum has a goodly supply, including some no longer easily found elsewhere.

So, read ‘em aloud to youngsters. Read ‘em to adults. Enjoy the humor, the heart, the openminded embrace of diversity, the power of devotion and commitment to others – and to their individual worth.

Enjoy the Fun; the Adventure — and the Magic. Oz has it all . . . for everyone.

 

IF EVER – OH, EVER! – A “STRAV!” THERE WOZ, “OZ-STRAV!” OF ’18 IS ONE, BECOZ . . . .

June 2018

IF EVER – OH, EVER! – A “STRAV!” THERE WOZ,

“OZ-STRAV!” OF ’18 IS ONE, BECOZ . . . .

by John Fricke
[Above:  Two of Broadway’s brightest and best: Tiffany Haas and Michael McCorry Rose, who count among their credits a costarring stint in WICKED as Glinda and Fiyero. They’re shown here on the Oneida Nation’s OZ-Stravaganza! float in the 2018 Oz Parade.]

 

I’d wanted to visit Chittenango from the time I was seven or eight years old – ever since I knew it was the birthplace of L. Frank Baum, the “Royal Historian of Oz.” Decades later, in May 1990, I finally made it, as an invited guest of the annual Oz Festival.

Their celebration had actually begun very informally a dozen years earlier, when librarian/ historian (and visionary!) Clara Houck encouraged local children to dress up as Oz characters and parade around the local library parking lot. After their Ozzy march — in May 1978 — the kids moved inside for cake and a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday to You”; the month marked Baum’s 122nd birthday anniversary. Over the next decade, Clara’s event expanded to a full Saturday morning and afternoon and featured a much larger “main street” parade; meanwhile, her own research led to ever-more-excellent exhibitions of Oz and Baum material at the library.

When I was first approached to participate in 1990, I suggested adding an evening program about Chittenango’s native son and his extraordinary magical characters and land – to take place in the high school auditorium the night before the parade. The organizers agreed to this, and gradually (given the ongoing and world-wide passion for Oz), the festival grew into a full weekend event by the late 1990s. It’s now the longest-running and biggest WIZARD OF OZ-related fête anywhere and has brought to Chittenango as special guests (among many others) numerous members of Baum’s family; a selection of those who participated in the 1939 MGM WIZARD OF OZ movie, Broadway’s THE WIZ and WICKED, Disney’s RETURN TO OZ and OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL; and other OZ-associated entertainers and entertainments.

Such attractions have meant that the crowds (for what is now officially titled “OZ-Stravaganza!”) have commensurately grown, as well. But the heights hit earlier this month were INDEED a new peak of activity, attraction, and attendance — and what a thrill! But, as Jack Webb used to put it on the police-detective TV series, DRAGNET: “Just the facts . . . just the facts”:

*  An estimated twelve thousand people lined this year’s parade route – applauding, cheering, and enthusing over the more than eighty units that rolled by. At the emotional center of the procession: Grand Marshal DR. GITA DOROTHY MORENA, great-granddaughter of L. Frank Baum, and AUSTIN MANTELE, his great-great-grandson.

*  Total attendance for OZ-Stravaganza! 2018 was set at more than thirty thousand people by local media.

*  Well over one thousand people toured the All Things Oz Museum & Gift Shop across the Friday through Sunday arc of the festival – with revenue topping that of every preceding year.

*  Nearly four hundred people swarmed into the Chittenango High School auditorium for Saturday evening’s two-hour-plus presentation — more than had ever before attended any past Oz programming (even when the guest list was highlighted by a number of the original Munchkin actors from MGM’s THE WIZARD OF OZ film). This year, the audience of all ages reveled in the 2018 festival theme, “BROADWAY COMES TO OZ,” and heard onstage interviews with multiple Oscar and Grammy Award-winning songwriter STEPHEN SCHWARTZ and two of the Broadway stars of his musical, WICKED: TIFFANY HAAS (Glinda) and MICHAEL McCORRY ROSE (Fiyero). STEPHEN was greeted by a prolonged standing ovation, an audience response repeated at the end of his extraordinarily generous performance. It was his suggestion that he, TIFFANY, and MICHAEL not only speak but entertain as well. As a result, STEPHEN sang portions of two songs he wrote for a specific sequence in WICKED, both of which were dropped in favor of “The Wizard and I” — which he then offered in its entirety. TIFFANY and MICHAEL sang their brief Glinda/Fiyero duet from the production and then did individual, SCHWARTZ-arranged medleys that blended numbers from WICKED and two Harold Arlen/E. Y. “Yip” Harburg standards from the MGM OZ film. After STEPHEN concluded the evening with a heartfelt rendition of the WICKED theme, “For Good,” there was no containing the joy in the theater, and the three stars had to slip out a back entrance to avoid being mobbed.

 

[Above:  Stephen Schwartz’s credits include – among others — the songs (music and lyrics) for WICKED, GODSPELL, PIPPIN, THE MAGIC SHOW, and THE BAKER’S WIFE; lyrics for the Leonard Bernstein MASS, as well as RAGS, POCAHONTAS, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, and ENCHANTED; three Oscars, three Grammys, a special Tony, and four Drama Desk awards. His appearance at OZ-Stravaganza! 2018 outdrew all previous special guests in terms of audience attendance. Shown here with emcee/interviewer John Fricke, Stephen entertained by telling a score of anecdotes about the creation of WICKED and then went on to sing, play, and accompany Ms. Haas and Mr. Rose in selections from that score and the 1939 MGM WIZARD OF OZ.]

 

However, neither STEPHEN, TIFFANY, or MICHAEL neglected one-on-one time with festgoers. The two Broadway performers did meet-and-greet events in Oz Park on Friday and Saturday afternoons, autographing and selling photos, on request, to scores of fans. (In what I believe was an unprecedented move, the actors then donated the proceeds of their sales and sessions to the All Things Oz Museum.) On Sunday morning, STEPHEN offered a ninety-minute meet-and-greet at the Museum itself, and more than one-hundred-fifty people began lining up before 8 a.m. for his 10 a.m. autographing appearance.

 

*  The other special guests on this year’s roster were equally munificent with their time and talents. Commissioned by All Things Oz to recreate for their collection the Dorothy dress worn by Stephanie Mills in the original 1975 Broadway production of THE WIZ, designer SHAWN RYAN not only fulfilled that contract but then donated two more of his “recreations” to the museum: one of the Dorothy costumes as sported by actress Anna Laughlin in the first New York stage presentation of THE WIZARD OF OZ (1903) and a “magically” reversible Dorothy blouse and jumper from the recent Andrew Lloyd Webber WIZARD. (The latter instantly morphs from blue-and-white-checks to green-and-white-checks – a transition effected in the Emerald City “Wash & Brush-Up Co.” sequence of the musical.)

 

*  Broadway’s STEVE MARGOSHES brought a special magic to Friday night’s OZ-Stravaganza! programming by recounting his diverse careers as theatrical composer, lyricist, orchestrator, and arranger. Special emphasis was placed on his recent Oz-related songs; he demonstrated one, “Lovely, Lovely Oz,” in a format that welcomed (at STEVE’S request) interjections from the emcee – me! – and the audience, as we called out the names of many Oz Book characters and locations referenced by the MARGOSHES lyric. Topping that, STEVE welcomed to the stage an octet of students from Fayetteville-Manlius High School, who (with barely one day’s rehearsal) performed his latest composition, “The Emerald” – inspired by the Princess Ozma and L. Frank Baum declaration in Baum’s TIK-TOK OF OZ (1914) that “Our Land of Oz is a Land of Love.” The singers did both musical and dramatic justice to melody and theme; they included

MATTHEW BAUM, ILIANNA COHEN, SARAH DUNTLEY, IRELAND FERNANDEZ-COSGROVE, NICHOLAS HOALCRAFT, EMERY SCHRAMM, SAMANTHA SIBERT, and KATIE TONGUE. 

*  Concluding Friday’s presentation was a panel discussion rich in the reason(s) for it all: an illustrated recollection in anecdote and art of Frank Baum from DR. DOROTHY GITA MORENA. Her years as a transpersonal psychotherapist, lecturer, and author enabled her to link – in a warmly personal manner — the history and worlds of her great-grandfather with the basic and “everyman” human condition. She was aided in this by contributing comments from her nephew, AUSTIN MANTELE, a first-time OZ-Strav! attendee, who later admitted to being delighted and dazzled by the love and excitement generated by his great-great-grandfather’s innovations. Further underscoring the ongoing appeal and power of Baum’s world, GABRIEL GALE discussed the just-published, Simon & Schuster second volume, A DARK DESCENT, of his “Ages of Oz” Trilogy, firmly founded on the original Ozian philosophies and concepts of entertainment story-telling.

All of this . . . plus the award-winners of the Writing, Coloring, Costume, and EMERALD CITY IDOL competitions; the presence and participation of the Authors & Artists’ Alley contributors; the vendors; the food servers; the carnival-ride operators; and the tens of thousands of Oz fans.

By now, you get the idea: It was a record-breaking, nonstop, and jubilant pinnacle in OZ-Stravaganza! history. For those who attended, I hope this accounting brings back joyous memories. For those who weren’t able to be there, please look ahead and mark your calendars for Friday-Sunday, May 31st-June 2nd, 2019. Right now, there’s no telling what surprises will be in store. But next year DOES mark the eightieth anniversary of the MGM WIZARD OF OZ film; the centennial of L. Frank Baum’s book, THE MAGIC OF OZ (and Baum’s own passing) . . . and the anniversaries of the first “Oz dolls,” the JELL-O/NBC Oz radio show, the long-in-print Evelyn Copelman-illustrated edition of THE WIZARD OF OZ, the most happily-acclaimed early Oz puppet/marionette production – and so much more.

Please join us!

Meanwhile: Here’s a majestic gratitude to all who created, participated in, volunteered for, and (especially!) “underwrote” and/or attended OZ-Stravaganza! 2018. You made an all-time sensation of the weekend – and that’s a “Land of Oz/Land of Love” achievement, to be sure!

 

Many thanks for reading!