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.

 

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!