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!

DECADES OF ENTERTAINMENT . . . & COUNTLESS MAGICAL GUESTS

May 2018

OZ-STRAVAGANZA!

DECADES OF ENTERTAINMENT . . . & COUNTLESS MAGICAL GUESTS

by John Fricke

A week from today, on Friday, June 1, Chittenango launches its forty-first annual celebration of native son, L. Frank Baum — the genius (yes, that’s right!) who created the wonderful world of Oz, its inhabitants, its geography, and its legends. When local librarian Clara Houck launched all of this more than four decades ago, the “festival” consisted of a children’s costume parade around a parking lot — with ice cream to follow. Now, OZ-Stravaganza! (as it’s come to be known) offers a full three-day weekend for tens of thousands of fans, and with international celebrities as its honored attendees.

Certainly, this year’s special-guest roster is an unprecedented amalgam of extraordinary talents, ceremoniously topped by Stephen Schwartz, the Oscar and Grammy Award-winning stage and screen songwriter. His Oz-themed musical, WICKED, achieves its fifteenth anniversary on Broadway in 2018. Appearing both separately and with Mr. Schwartz will be two of the New York stars of that show, Tiffany Haas, who played Glinda, and Michael McCorry Rose, who played Fiyero. (Tiffany is shown above, with one of her Elphabas, Anne Brumel.)  Additionally, Baum’s great-granddaughter, Dr. Gita Dorothy Morena and her nephew Austin Mantele, will recall their famous ancestor and his accomplishments. Steve Margoshes, another musical luminary, will discuss his burgeoning list of Oz compositions and introduce a new one, aided by students from Manlius High School. Gabriel Gale, the new “Royal Historian,” debuts the second volume of his AGES OF OZ book trilogy, published by Simon & Schuster, and costume designer Shawn Ryan offers recreations of famous wardrobe as first seen in Oz stage musicals from 1903 to the present day.

There’s more information about OZ-Stravaganza!  and its 2018 participants in last month’s blog and at the fest website:  Oz-stravaganza

But, in a reminiscent mood, I think this is also a perfect opportunity to point out that the star power of the festival harks back to the late 1980s, when Chittenango first played host to the one-and-only “Munchkin Coroner” of the famous 1939 WIZARD OF OZ movie, Meinhardt Raabe. So much did he enjoy Frank Baum’s birthplace that Meinhardt paved the (yellow brick . . .) way for local organizers to invite the participation of such other MGM Munchkins as Jerry Maren, center member of the “Lollipop Guild” trio, and Margaret Pellegrini, the “Flowerpot Hat” Dancer and “Sleepyhead.” Shown below are (foreground, from left:) Jerry and his wife, Elizabeth; Margaret; and Meinhardt and his wife, Marie. Oz collector Michael Mikicel (left) and I “stand guard”; this photo was taken circa 1991.

Numerous additional Munchkins made their way to Chittenango across the 1990s and into the new millennium: dancing townswomen Fern Formica and Ruth Duccini, soldiers Clarence Swensen (with wife Myrna) and Lewis Croft (with wife Eva), first trumpeter Karl Slover, and fiddler Mickey Carroll. Caren Marsh Doll, a notable Hollywood dancer in screen musicals of the 1930s and 1940s, was also a regular for several years. Caren served as one of Judy Garland’s OZ stand-ins on the MGM movie set while lights were focused, camera angles adjusted, and wind machines tested. Christiana Rickard, niece of MGM Scarecrow, Ray Bolger, shared memories of her beloved relative on a couple of occasions, and just last year, OZ-Stravaganza! saluted Jane Lahr, whose legendary father, Bert Lahr, played the Cowardly Lion in the OZ film. (As an Ozzy treat, here’s a photo of Jane at Bonhams in New York City; her father’s original costume was auctioned there for more than three million dollars in 2014.)

Of course, THE WIZARD OF OZ was a world-renowned book almost four decades before MGM transferred it to the screen, and in addition to Dr. Morena, many of Frank Baum’s other family members have come to Chittenango to honor their magical forebearer. His niece, Cynthia Tassini, was a happy participant; Baum’s classic 1910 book, THE EMERALD CITY OF OZ, was dedicated to her. Granddaughters Ozma Baum Mantele (dedicatee and namesake of 1917’s THE LOST PRINCESS OF OZ) and Janet Baum Donaldson both attended, as did great-grandsons Robert Baum (with wife Clare) and Roger Baum (with wife Charlene).  In addition to their festival work, Bob and Clare traveled to area schools and service organizations to depict Frank and his wife, Maud, in charming playlets. Roger — for almost forty years — has followed in the storytelling footsteps of his great-grandfather, enchanting children with his own new Oz books and movies.

From more recent OZ motion pictures, Chittenango has hosted actors and creative team members from OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL and AFTER THE WIZARD. Bringing OZ-Stravaganza! full circle, there were also past occasions when this year’s theme, BROADWAY COMES TO OZ, was implemented in other ways. Perhaps Bronson Pinchot will always be best remembered as “Balki” on the hit television sitcom, PERFECT STRANGERS. But to theatergoers, he’s also a Broadway musical star – besides being a lifelong Oz fan. For fest-goers, Bronson looked back at an Ozzy passion that began when he was a child. Felicia Ricci, a national touring Elphaba from WICKED, sang here one year, and author Gregory Maguire, author of the WICKED book series, thrilled a festival audience with a look-back at his triumphant writing career.

The list goes on and on; certainly not everyone can be re-celebrated in one blog. But the final nod for now must be given to two cast members from THE WIZ. That phenomenal 1970s Broadway smash was remembered here by one of its Cowardly Lion replacement actors, Ken Page (whose later credits include the voicing of Mr. Oogie-Boogie for Tim Burton’s animated triumph, THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS). Very memorably, no less than THE WIZ himself also graced the festival stage: Andre De Shields, the originator of the musical’s title role. (Below, Andre poses with International L. Frank Baum and All Things Oz Historical Foundation trustee Marc Baum and his wife, Jennifer.)

I think it’s safe to say that that Chittenango has long since proved to be a wondrous, enchanting “Land of Oz” all on its own – a statement underscored by the many exceptional people who have joyously accepted invitations to visit and celebrate L. Frank Baum. To be sure, he’s the mystically-powered originator who put both OZ-Stravaganza! and the Emerald City on the map!

 

The Upcoming Oz-stravaganza Festival

April 2018 

OZ ON BROADWAY!  (STARS OF WICKED!) 

OZ IN SONG!  OZ IN “COZTUME”!                                                                                        …AND OZ & BAUM IN BOOKS!

by John Fricke

 

A few days ago, the International L. Frank Baum and All Things Oz Historical Foundation announced their special guest roster for OZ-Stravaganza! 2018, and it’s a dazzling list of multi-talents — several making their debuts on “the Oz Circuit.” Each of them also ties-in with either this year’s theme, BROADWAY COMES TO OZ, or with the general love of Oz and its creator that characterize the annual Chittenango, NY, festival. A small village just east of Syracuse, Chittenango is the birthplace of author L. Frank Baum . . . and what would this world have been without him — and his stories, characters, and mystical lands that define THE WIZARD OF OZ and Oz Books?

Now in its forty-first consecutive year, OZ-Strav! 2018 takes place from Friday afternoon, June 1 through Sunday afternoon, June 3. The festivities include the traditional, lavish Oz parade, evening presentations by the honored guest stars, costumed characters, diverse contests, Ozzy displays and auctions, live music, vendors, craft booths, carnival rides, Authors & Artists Alley, a wide array of food – and much more.

“Topping the bill” are two first-timers for the festival, though they’re certainly not newcomers to Oz itself. TIFFANY HAAS and MICHAEL McCORRY ROSE have starred on Broadway in the legendary stage musical, WICKED: she as Glinda, and he as Fiyero. In addition to participating in OZ-Strav! autograph sessions, photo ops, and meet-and-greets on Friday and Saturday, they’ll take stage on Saturday evening to share fascinating, funny stories about their personal pathways to Oz. It’s happy history that the yellow brick road ultimately led both of them to New York’s Gershwin Theatre and their iconic roles in WICKED, the phenomenally successful Stephen Schwartz musical. That production celebrates its fifteenth anniversary on Broadway this year, and “Glinda” and “Fiyero” are the OZ-Strav! exemplifications of this joyous milestone. (Please note: Due to prior professional commitments, Ms. Haas and Mr. Rose will appear at the festival on Friday and Saturday only.)

Broadway composer, orchestrator, and symphonic arranger STEVE MARGOSHES wrote the songs for FAME – THE MUSICAL, which commemorates its thirtieth anniversary this year. The show has been performed world-wide since first produced in 1988; it’s been recorded on some twenty original cast albums and remains a supreme favorite of both audiences and entertainers. In recent years, Steve has brought his new (and often Oz-related) compositions to debut at OZ-Strav! and it’s a privilege to spotlight him in 2018.

In keeping with the festival’s theatrical theme, designer/newcomer SHAWN RYAN will premiere his OZ costume recreations at June’s OZ-Strav!, heralding WICKED, THE WIZ, the original 1902-1903 WIZARD OF OZ stage musical, and the more recent Lloyd-Webber incarnation of L. Frank Baum’s story. One of Shawn’s costumes will thereafter become part of the permanent collection of the Foundation’s All Things Oz Museum in Chittenango.

It’s always good and important to underscore the fact that all of this (and so much more) grew from the imagination and creativity of L. Frank Baum. In keeping with that, OZ-Strav! is proud to welcome back – for the first time in many years – Baum’s great-granddaughter, GITA DOROTHY MORENA.  A transpersonal psychotherapist, author, and lecturer, Dr. Morena practices in San Diego, CA, where she often draws upon Baum’s fairy tales and characters in her teachings and sessions. Much of her own philosophy and dedication is discussed in her book, THE WISDOM OF OZ.

Returning this year as well is GABRIEL GALE, conceptualizer and coauthor of the new book trilogy for children and young adults, AGES OF OZ. Simon & Schuster published its first volume, A FIERY FRIENDSHIP, in May 2017, and Gabe has selected OZ-Strav! as the ideal launching spot for volume two, A DARK DESCENT, which will be officially published on May 15 – the birthday anniversary of L. Frank Baum.

All of these special guests – and perhaps some surprise guests as well – will appear on either Friday or Saturday evening in their own presentations adjacent to Oz Park. They’ll also be available in the park itself during the afternoon hours throughout the weekend. As we draw closer to the magic, please continue to check the All Things Oz or OZ-Stravaganza! sites for more specific information (and more biographical details about these celebrities): Oz-stravaganza Special Guests

I’m delighted to say that I’ll once again serve as OZ-Stravaganza! emcee this year — and pretty much be around all Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons. Please come over and say “hello” – and take the opportunity to let us know what you’re enjoying; what you’d like to see as a part of future Oz events; and, in general, join in the conversation about the topic we love!

Many thanks for reading; I hope to see many of you in June . . . in OZ!

 

 

All Things Oz & Baum by John Fricke

March 2018

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!