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.]

 

“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!