by John Fricke
GREETINGS FROM THE BIRTHPLACE OF “THE MAN WHO INVENTED OZ”!
Happy and heartfelt salutations to any and all Oz enthusiasts – everywhere!
The joyous smiles you see above were provided courtesy the Chittenango, NY, OZ-Stravaganza! festival in a photograph taken a few years back. The woman on the right is Margaret Pellegrini, the unforgettable “flowerpot” Munchkin from the 1939 MGM motion picture, THE WIZARD OF OZ. The gentleman on the left is Clarence Swensen, one of the Munchkin soldiers from that film. And the overwhelmed and grateful fan in the middle is yours truly. Margaret and Clarence are no longer with us, but they’re never far from the memories and emotions of any who met them — or any who saw them in the movie — or, for that matter, any who have been touched by the limitless and enduring magic of Oz.
I thought it would be appropriate to show you this “scene” to launch the blog, as The International L. Frank Baum & All Things Oz Historical Foundation of Chittenango provided the invitation that makes it possible for me to write and greet you here. This will be the first of a monthly series commemorating Oz and Baum history, plus the Ozzy activities of the upstate New York village “where Oz all began”: L. Frank Baum was, indeed, born in Chittenango in 1856. I could also formally state that it’s an honor and privilege to be associated with the Foundation in this manner – and such a declaration would be true, too, as far as it goes. But to paraphrase E. Y. “Yip” Harburg’s lyric from “Over the Rainbow,” this is basically “a dream I never even dared to dream…come true.”
Like many of you who might be reading this, I’ve been a fan (okay, a “resident”!) of Oz since childhood. I was five years old when I first saw the Judy Garland movie on television, and it was a life-altering moment. Within a couple of years, I was relentlessly searching the Milwaukee Public Library System, finding out everything I could about the Oz books. There were then thirty-nine of them, written between 1900 and 1951 by five different authors. L. Frank Baum, however, was the first of these, and the title of this month’s blog reflects that. In a 1939 newspaper article touting the premiere of the MGM film, Baum was headlined as “the man who invented Oz.” It’s undeniably true; his wondrous imagination gave us Dorothy and Toto, the trio of the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion, Glinda, the Wizard, the Yellow Brick Road, the Poppy Field, the Emerald City, the Munchkins – and countless other characters and locales in his initial fourteen Oz books.
I wanted to know everything about him.
This meant that, as a preteen, I’d already read about Chittenango as his birthplace. (I then found it on a map!) My own “all things Oz and Baum” investigation continued from there and eventually led to professional work on behalf of Oz, Baum, Judy, and other related topics. What’s most important in terms of this blog, however, is that some thirty years after my childhood discovery, I was invited to visit Chittenango. In 1990, I actually became part of what was then an annual Saturday morning/afternoon Oz festival, honoring their native son. I’ve pretty much been active in it ever since, and we’ve all strived together until the event now fills the complete first weekend in June – Friday, Saturday, and Sunday — every year. Over the decades, the festival’s special guests have included members of the Baum family (including great-grandson, Oz author Roger Baum); performers and “creatives” from the major Oz movies and stage shows (including THE WIZARD OF OZ, THE WIZ, RETURN TO OZ, and OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL); the writers of such books as WICKED and the “AGES OF OZ” trilogy . . . and so many, many more.
This year’s OZ-Stravaganza! (on June 1st, 2nd, and 3rd) will be no exception, with a roster of honored guests, many of them new to Chittenango. Watch the Foundation’s site and the various Oz and Judy Garland social media groups for details which will — magically! — appear any day now.
And please join me here on the last Friday of every month to share Oz news, Oz memories, and a general Oz and L. Frank Baum celebration. He’s The Man, to be sure! And it’s the power and scope of his inspirations that started all the Ozian sharing: the laughter, glee, affection, loving tears, friendships, camaraderie, festivals . . . and a few irreplaceable nightmares. (One of these days, we’ll talk about THAT Witch and THOSE Monkeys!)
Finally, whichever observance or holiday you might be honoring this weekend, here’s another Ozzy piece of art to book-end the blog. Did you KNOW that the Easter Bunny lives – and works – in a majestic and monumental burrow, somewhere under the Munchkin Country? Authors Eloise Jarvis McGraw and Lauren Lynn McGraw gave us that news in the fortieth book of the official “Oz Series,” MERRY GO ROUND IN OZ (1963). And artist extraordinaire Dick Martin captured the moment when Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion met E. Bunny himself, as they placed an order for eggs for an Emerald City Easter egg hunt.
Many thanks for reading – and here’s to a blessed spring to all. See you next month!