CORRESPONDENCE, REFLECTIONS, RESPONSES, AND INSCRIPTIONS FROM (AND TO) “THE ROYAL HISTORIAN OF OZ” – PART ONE

By John Fricke

Above: All eight of the books on display in this poster were either recently or newly in print in 1901. More remarkably, all were authored by L. Frank Baum across the preceding five years. (Two additional, full-length Baum fantasies, A NEW WONDERLAND and THE MASTER KEY, were published — respectively in 1900 and 1901 — but they’re not represented in this art, as they weren’t put forward by the here-ubiquitous Geo. M. Hill (Publishing) Company.) It’s a remarkable output, to be sure, but beyond the ten titles referenced in this caption and in the poster, Baum also pursued further writing outlets in the same 1896-1901 time period. He was working as editor-in-chief and principal journalist of his own monthly magazine, THE SHOW WINDOW. He placed nearly a dozen of his short stories in print in contemporary magazines. He self-published a small book of his own poetry, BY THE CANDELABRA’S GLARE. He drafted the first version of THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ for production on the musical stage and penned various scripts and song lyrics for at least two other potential theatrical entertainments.

There is a major, inherent fact about Chittenango’s native son, L. Frank Baum, in the illustration above, so I’d like to start this month’s blog by encouraging you to please take a moment to take a good look at the art – and to read its caption, if you haven’t already done so 😊. 

What’s represented here Is the incontrovertible proof that Frank – in his early-to-mid-forties across the years under discussion – had at last found his life’s calling. In the preceding decades, he’d attempted a dozen other careers, among them actor, playwright/songwriter, storekeeper, newspaper editor, and traveling salesman. There’s no question that the man was blessed with energy, ambition, intelligence, wit, charm, presence, diverse and (I’ll say it) magnificent creative talents and inventive genius. Yet while traversing the just-mentioned professional byways, he’d been thwarted again and again by fate and had achieved only sporadic (and then invariably skidding) financial stability for himself, his wife, and his four sons.

However! Baum began to write children’s books in 1896 and 1897, putting on paper the fantasies, fairy tales, and nonsense rhymes with which he’d verbally entertained his boys and scores of other children for years. The poster makes as clear as Bungle, the Glass Cat (see picture below) that he’d finally discovered his own rewarding niche. Thereafter, children and those who rabidly enjoyed his children’s literature would never again be the same, or want for magic and fun in their reading, or miss an opportunity for imperishable memories and meanings, or lack transportation to unique and unforgettable realms.

Above: To elaborate on the in-passing comparison just prior to the artwork: Bungle, the Glass Cat, was discovered by Baum during the Ozian escapades he recorded in his seventh Oz book, THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ (1913). The animal was “made of glass, so sheer and transparent that you could see right through it as easily as through a window. In the top of its head, however, was a mass of delicate pink balls which looked like jewels, and it had a heart made of a blood-red ruby. The eyes were two large emeralds, but aside from these colors, all the rest of the animal was clear glass . . ..” Beauty is as beauty does, of course, and while one assuredly could see through Bungle – and she was a creature who would helpfully function in several Oz explorations across the years — the Glass Cat more often expended its energies on mirror-gazing and self-admiration: “[I’m]. . .very pretty, indeed – and I love to watch my pink brains roll around when they’re working, and to see my precious red heart beat.”

For all of Baum’s prodigious productivity, it is Oz — its characters, countries, and settings – that remains the foundation, cornerstone, and skyscraper of the man’s imagination and achievement. The books he wrote about that “over the rainbow” destination have spurred the emotions of uncountable billions, especially children, and one of Baum’s special qualities was his ability to bond with his readers on every printed page — enthusiastically, expressively, and happily.

Moreover, for many of us, such correlation and connection existed not solely on the story-telling pages of those books.

And I’ll explain!

When I discovered the Oz series in 1958, I was seven years old. The tales in Baum’s fourteen titles (and after Baum’s passing, the twenty-six “official” books by six other authors) changed and charged my life and heart. Yet there was, indeed, another aspect of each bound volume that intrigued me on a completely other level — and beyond each full saga itself: the up-front, usually one-or-two-pages of Baum’s various, personal greetings to his readers. He’d provided such a message in THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ (1900), although his “Introduction” there was geared more to the adults who might read that book to their children and not to the youngsters themselves. Baum therein philosophized about the need to step away from “the old-time fairy tale” and embrace “a series of newer ‘wonder tales’ in which the stereotyped genie, dwarf, and fairy are eliminated, together with all the horrible and blood-curdling incidents devised. . .to point a fearsome moral to each tale.” Though that statement was true to his intent, Baum — having made his point — then quietly, tenderly offered his personal and professional hope: “[This] story. . .aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained, and the heartaches and nightmares are left out. [It] was written solely to pleasure the children of today . . ..”

How well he succeeded! To give it the simplified title of the wildly successful stage musical of 1902-1909 – the four words the book itself would then carry into seeming eternity — THE WIZARD OF OZ was part of that 1896-1901 tidal wave of text that set up and established Baum’s future career. Across the next eighteen years into 1919, he would write dozens of other books, as well as stage shows, film scenarios, and short stories. The Land of Oz, however (initially and completely unintentionally on his part), “just growed” into the pinnacle of his attainment and his supreme gift to the world.

Let’s get, back, however, to the prefatory messages to those who read his Oz books and a very important, not-at-all-random fact: Baum never intended THE WIZARD OF OZ to have a sequel, never mind thirteen of them (plus thirty shorter Oz adventures he devised between 1904 and 1913). Dorothy’s story was, as far as he was initially concerned, all of a piece and concluded with its twenty-fourth chapter in 1900, “Home Again.” Yet two years later, the aforementioned stage musical (though massively different from his book text) began to and eventually introduced to millions of people of all ages the “live” characters of Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and (even in an admittedly tangential role) the Cowardly Lion. That show, from its initial season or so on the boards (and for six following years with multiple casts), impacted tens of thousands of children, who fell in love with Oz and its citizenry.

Ever a theatrical at heart, Baum eventually leapt at the chance to try to equal that theatrical experience by penning the book, THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ (1904), with the candid goal of seeing it segue to the musical stage, as well. The subsequent production, titled THE WOGGLE-BUG (1905), was actually one of the signal theatrical “flops” of the age; fortunately, THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ story stood on its own as a victory. It was in that book that his “Author’s Note” began to be a more personal message to his young Oz fans. He referenced the fact that, after publication of THE WIZARD, he “began to receive letters from children,” who told them of their pleasure, “and asking me to write something more about the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman. . ..  The letters continued to come during succeeding months and even years. Finally, I promised one little girl. . .that when a thousand little girls had written me a thousand little letters. . .I would write the book. Either [the girl] was a fairy in disguise, and waved her magic wand, or the success of the stage production of THE WIZARD OF OZ made new friends for the story. For the thousand letters reached their destination long since – and many more followed them.”

Above: Baum dedicated an unexpected second Oz book to David C. Montgomery and Fred A. Stone, former vaudevillians who found superstardom on a 1902 level when they starred in (and then toured for four seasons with) the first stage musical version of THE WIZARD OF OZ. The author wrote this second Oz story in hopes that it, too, could be dramatized and here – on the dedication page of that book – he seems to be lobbying for Montgomery & Stone to continue their same roles in the new venture. The working and initial title of the new Oz book was actually THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF THE SCARECROW AND THE TIN WOODMAN.

L. Frank Baum possessed all the necessary hallmarks of a premier entertainer; whether the foregoing numerical statement was truth, or a necessary exaggeration/invention, doesn’t really matter. (He also offers that the “one little girl” referenced above was named Dorothy!) As a book, however, THE LAND OF OZ – to give it its own eventually shortened title – made a sales success that, on publication, initially surpassed that of THE WIZARD OF OZ.  Thus, there’s no question that Baum regularly received a continual and ever-growing tidal wave of enthusiastic correspondence from his child readers. He wrote other fantasies for youngsters between 1901 and 1907, but by the latter year, he’d agreed by contract with his primary publishers (The Reilly & Britton Co. of Chicago) to write several more Oz stories.

In keeping with this, his “Author’s Note” for OZMA OF OZ (1907) is ever more informal and confiding, and he credits “my friends the children” as “responsible for this new ‘OZ BOOK.’” (These last six capital letters are my addition, but I wanted to indicate that this might be the first public usage of what quite quickly became a publishing and concept phrase in widespread use.) Baum continues, “Their sweet letters plead to know ‘more about Dorothy’ and ‘what became of the Cowardly Lion?’. . . and some of them suggest plots to me . . . ‘Why don’t you make Ozma and Dorothy meet and have a good time together?’” Baum’s preamble also adds the word “Ozzy” to the English language, ascribing it to “a little friend who read this story before it was published.” The child used the nomenclature to categorize Baum’s new discoveries: “Billina [the Yellow Hen] is REAL OZZY, Mr. Baum, and so are Tik-Tok and the Hungry Tiger.”

[This “stamped” cloth front cover was used across the first four printings of OZMA OF OZ (from 1907 to 1918-19) and offered a stunning, colorful image of the newly discovered, rightful ruler of the country; the little girl from Kansas; and Billina, the Yellow Hen.]

The author then notes that “if. . .the little folks find this story ‘real Ozzy,’ I shall be glad I wrote it,” and he offers hope that he should “get more of those very welcome letters from my readers.” In such fashion, he threw down the gauntlet, until the “personal” Baum letter was basic to the many of his published works and an intrinsic opening to the Oz titles.

With three Oz books in eight years, Baum’s happy stronghold on readers became ever more pervasive, and he himself became ever more direct and conversational when writing to his audience at the onset of the next titles. Indeed, by the time of “book four,” DOROTHY AND THE WIZARD IN OZ (1908), Baum [semi?-] mock-protested  at the onset of “To My Readers”: “It’s no use; no use at all. The children won’t let me stop telling tales of. . .Oz. I know lots of other stories. . .but just now my loving tyrants. . .cry: ‘Oz – Oz! more about Oz, Mr. Baum!’ and what can I do but obey their commands?”

He goes on to acknowledge that, “This is Our Book – mine and the children’s. For they have flooded me with thousands of suggestions. . .and I have honestly tried to adopt as many. . .as could be fitted into one story.” Among his gestures of acceptance: the youngsters’ heroine returned without question: “It is evident that Dorothy has become a firm fixture. . .and as one of my small friends aptly states, ‘It isn’t a real Oz story without her’.” So, too, reappeared the title character of the first Oz book, the Wizard himself: “The jolly old fellow made hosts of friends. . .in spite of the fact that he frankly acknowledged himself ‘a humbug.’” The author quite sincerely continued, “I believe, my dears, I am the proudest storyteller that ever lived. Many a time tears of pride and joy have stood in my eyes while I read the tender, loving, appealing letters that have come to me in almost every mail from my little readers. . . . You have helped me fulfill my life’s ambition, and I am more grateful than I can express in words.”

Above: John R. Neill illustrated all of Baum’s Oz books but the very first. His cover painting for DOROTHY AND THE WIZARD IN OZ prominently features those two characters, along with the Nine Tiny Piglets that the humbug used in his carnival and sideshow acts across the length and breadth of the United States in his pre-Oz and post-first-visit engagements. At the conclusion of this book, however, Dorothy again returned to the heart of the great and western wilderness; Oz the Great & Powerful remained in the Emerald City, as did the nine little porkers!

No matter what he titled his preface, Baum’s salutation pagewas by now established as an Oz book norm, much as a very special holiday greeting card for his partisans. It’s an apt comparison, as many children of the first two-thirds (and beyond) of the twentieth century remember getting the new Oz book — or an Oz book — as a December holiday gift. (Sometimes there were several; my most major Christmas came the year I got six!) In the foreword to THE ROAD TO OZ (1909), he wrote, “TO MY READERS:

“Well, my dears, here is what you have asked for: another ‘Oz Book. . ..’” (Again, it’s clear by his own capitalization of these last two words that Baum’s now five-volume series had taken on its own classification in terms of contemporary juvenile literature.) “Toto is in this story, because you wanted him to be there” — his first appearance since THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ in 1900 – “and many other characters which you will recognize. . ..”  Perhaps as a sop against potential disappointment to children who (in his own words) “fairly deluged” him with ideas and imaginings of their own, the thoughtful and careful Baum added, “If the story is not exactly as you would have written it yourselves, you must remember that a story has to be a story before it is written down, and the writer cannot change it much without spoiling it.”

The sentimental, savvy, and doubtless sincere author went on to say that he was “anxious to have you write and tell me how you like. . .the new characters in this book,” adding his hope that “they ought to win your love.”

[Above: Neill made this sterling painting for the dust jacket of the fifth Oz book — the book I discovered by accident at Gimbel’s Department Store in downtown Milwaukee in summer 1958. I’ve phrased it like this in the past, but there’s no better way to express my emotions at what turned out to be a lifetime Moment of Truth. Via THE WIZARD OF OZ – which at that point meant to me one book and one televiewing of the Judy Garland film musical — the four characters shown by Neill above had become my close, close friends in the preceding twenty-one months, and to find that they’d had further (and accessible) adventures was as divine a revelation as this child had experienced.]

Another brief personal note here (and as somewhat indicated by the immediately preceding caption): THE WIZARD OF OZ was my first Oz book; THE ROAD TO OZ was my second. Baum’s warm and direct language as quoted above – and at greater length in the tome itself – somehow became a personal pipeline to my soul on what was my eighth birthday. The fact that he off-handedly but clearly and seriously presented Oz as “actual” and – to quote the 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer THE WIZARD OF OZ movie script – “a real truly live place” was right up my daydreaming street. If that seems foolish, I’ll pretty much gently concede but also counter that it was really all about naivete, as well as typical of the era. “Childlike” was a much more predominant trait at age eight in 1958 than it has long since become, and there’s no question that the youngest and/or most unsophisticated and faithful of the Baum audience believed that there was, indeed, a Land of Oz – and a number of ways to get there!

Baum, however, also provided a cliffhanger ending to his THE ROAD TO OZ opening remarks and cautioned that he had received “some very remarkable news from the Land of Oz, which has greatly astonished me. I believe it will astonish you, my dears, when you hear it. But it is such a long and exciting story that it must be saved for another book – and perhaps that will be the last story that will ever be told about the Land of Oz.”

That didn’t scare me, however. The rear dust jacket flap of my copy of THE ROAD TO OZ listed thirty-four following titles! Yet what Baum wrote in 1909 was true and to some extent panicked the children and critics alike back in the day. Prior to that year’s publication of THE ROAD TO OZ, he and publishers Frank K. Reilly and Sumner S. Britton had agreed to end the Oz series after book six in 1910; THE EMERALD CITY OF OZ was conceptualized to conclusively and (purportedly) irrevocably end Baum’s communication with Dorothy and her friends. In brief, this was accomplished by moving Dorothy, Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, and Toto to Oz as permanent residents. Glinda the Good thereafter made the entire country invisible to all outside it, thus sparing the magic land from invasion by either tourists or heinous spirits. (A major coup by a whole flock of such evildoers had been narrowly averted in the EMERALD CITY book.)

Dorothy explained all this in a note to Baum, which he printed in what was intended as the final chapter of the final Oz book: “How The Story of Oz Came to An End.” The girl wrote to him “on a broad white feather from a stork’s wing” and said: “You will never hear anything more about Oz, because we are now cut off forever from all the rest of the world. But Toto and I will always love you and all the other children who love us. ‘DOROTHY GALE.’”

Of course, Oz never went away, and next month’s blog will detail just how Baum explained his necessary circumvention of Glinda’s Barrier of Invisibility and continued to commune with Ozites on behalf of his readers. There’ll also be excerpts from some of the letters he received, some bits of interfamily correspondence, and a remembrance of what is perhaps the most personal and important inscription in one of his books.

For now, though, we’ll close for the moment with just a touch of some of that. These two final quotes ably demonstrate just what kind of impact Baum’s Oz books had on the children who were reading them in his lifetime. Some eight years after Baum’s passing in 1919, a twenty-year-old Baum/Oz fan, Jack Snow began an at-first very sporadic but eventually increasing correspondence with Baum’s widow, Maud Gage Baum. By the mid-1940s, Snow had hopes of writing the first Baum biography, and Maud – then in her early eighties – patiently responded to the lengthy interview “questionnaires” he mailed to her. She then independently provided information about which Snow wouldn’t have known to ask, and she wrote:

“One of the most beautiful letters Mr. Baum ever received was from a mother whose only child had fallen in the water and nearly drowned. [Then] complications set in . . . All he asked was to have the Oz books read to him. The mother said they bought or borrowed all the Oz books that were in the town and read to him night and day – the father, mother, and nurse . . .. The child only lived two days. His last words were ‘Princess of Oz.’”

Above: Mr. and Mrs. L. Frank Baum and their four sons: Frank, Harry, Robert, and (seated) Kenneth. The world owes the Baum boys – and their legions of young friends – a certain percentage of gratitude for Oz; it was their implorations (especially in Dakota Territory and Chicago) that spurred Baum onwards to invent stories for their entertainment. Likewise, credit is due to Baum’s mother-in-law, the redoubtable Matilda Joslyn Gage, who had heard much of her son-in-law’s oral recounting and – in effect and ultimately (if perhaps somewhat apocryphally in terms of language) told Frank he was “a damn fool if” he didn’t “write those stories down and get them published!” Finally — across more recent decades and into and beyond the present day — we owe the Baum grandkids, great-grandkids, and great-great-grandkids for their endorsement and support of (and participation in) Chittenango and the All Things Oz Museum, OZ-Stravaganza! and its attendant activities.

As mentioned, there are a number of surviving children’s letters to Frank Baum to be presented here next month. We’ll end for now with one of the most succinct, direct, and heartfelt communications he received:

“I am going to write you a letter. You wrote a nice book. It’s called THE WIZARD OF OZ. I couldn’t write a book like that. I think I love you.”

The final sentence says it all. What could be more appropriate for those who read here? Or for this life-long admirer who monthly writes here? Baum was most definitively transcribing the words of Princess Ozma herself when he quotes her in his eighth Oz book, TIK-TOK OF OZ:

“The Land of Oz is love.”

—-

Many thanks for perusing all of that verbiage above! To-be-continued next month! 😊

A look Back-The Very First All Things Oz Blog

By John Fricke

This week the museum was thrilled to get new ornaments designed by renown slipware pottery artist, Irma Starr. They represent Clarence and Maragaret (shown below with John Fricke), and we though that the best way to celebrate them, was to re-share the very first All Things Oz Blog!

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! Happy Halloween and fall season to all!

THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE L. FRANK BAUM’S HOMETOWN! 22,000 GREET THE RETURN OF OZ-STRAVAGANZA! (AND “MUNCHKID”/NEWBIE BETTY ANN BRUNO) DESPITE THREE-YEAR “INTERMISSION”

By: John Fricke

[Above: Betty Ann Bruno — a “MunchKid” from the original cast of the 1939 MGM motion picture, THE WIZARD OF OZ – made her first visit to Chittenango in June. Her indefatigable zoom, her amazingly diverse career, and her eternal embrace of life made her an instant favorite of all ages. She was Grand Marshal of the 2022 OZ-Stravaganza! parade, and the crowds figuratively embraced her . . . until they could, later on in the weekend, meet her socially, one-on-one – which was best of all!]

With jubilant multitudes at every turn – and Ozzy, family, and festival enthusiasm throughout all three days of activities and merriment – the annual OZ-Stravaganza! roared to its latest success from June 3-5, in Chittenango, NY. Birthplace of Oz discoverer/chronicler (and first “Royal Historian”) L. Frank Baum, the quiet village of less than 5,000 citizens played host to more than four times that many people during festival weekend 2022. And the joy of fellowship, Oz-founded and otherwise, never abated; it was easy to see that the enforced three year hiatus caused by Covid didn’t dampen spirits or energies. Rather, they’d been pent up and building up since June 2019.

Due to unforeseen circumstances, June’s blog (honoring supreme Ozian illustrator Dick Martin) appeared just a couple of weeks back, but it was actually written a week or so after OZ-Stravaganza! I’d planned the July entry as a personal recap of some fest highlights, and though now not as topical as such a report might have been closer to the event, these intervening weeks have given me more time to mull the magic. Not surprisingly, and as palpable as the excitement was at the time, it’s only compounded in my memory since!

(Above: Year after year, the costumed characters are an absolute favorite “draw” at OZ-Strav!, and in their glorious Shawn Ryan costumes, the 2022 troupe surpassed all expectations. They somehow managed to be everywhere – and a three-dimensional enchantment for all ages.]

This isn’t intended as a moment-by-moment description of the weekend. First of all, that would run for thousands of words – and second, I missed a lot of it because of being “on duty” and at work myself. Some very good friends, however – among them Lindsay Arnold-Morgan and Katie Kearns – managed to capture photographs of a number of special moments, and I’m grateful to be able to share them here. (You’ll find even more on the “Oz-Stravaganza in Chittenango, NY” Facebook page!)

At the top of this blog, you saw a picture of (and read a little bit about) Betty Ann Bruno, but there’s no question that her first-time appearance this year provided immeasurable happiness. First of all, there are today only a handful of surviving cast members from MGM’s THE WIZARD OF OZ, which was filmed more than eighty-three years ago. Thus, Betty Ann’s presence was the tiptop thrill of the event for countless adherents, and her limitless glee and genuine personality never stopped shining – whether our ninety-year-old “MunchKid” was riding in the parade, signing copies of her new autobiography in the “Celebrity Tent,” reminiscing in an on-stage interview, or dynamically demonstrating and teaching the hula.

[Above top: A Sunday highlight of the 2022 OZ-Stravaganza! was Betty Ann’s hula demonstration and class. Scores of people lined up in front of the stage, and she encouraged, praised, and joking cajoled them into an activity that was both new and fulfilling. (Scores more watched from the bleachers in the background.)
Above bottom: Reading Betty Ann’s book was one of the most joyous “preps” I’d ever had in some thirty-three years of Oz festival work, and as you can see here, she was just as entertaining off the page as on it.]

An amazing woman, Betty Ann has enjoyed a major career in investigative journalism, television, and broadcasting; worked for the CIA; founded her own dance company . . . and she continues to dance and teach today. Her new memoir — THE MUNCHKIN DIARY: MY PERSONAL YELLOW BRICK ROAD– sold out of the many copies she brought to Chittenango, but it can be ordered on amazon.com and wholeheartedly recommended to anyone who wants to “travel along” through a rich, rewarding, and challenging life story.

Among other emcee and presentation duties, I also got to “take stage” one evening with Oz conceptualizer/author/producer Gabriel Gale. This year’s Chittenango event marked a special occasion for the two of us: It was exactly fifteen years to the weekend that he’d first come to Chittenango to “check me out”! He’d taken it upon himself to see if I was a complete Oz historian (i.e., involved in Frank Baum, the books, the other authors, the illustrators, the “Borderland of Oz” stories, etc.) or ONLY a fan of the MGM movie. 😊 Well, we’ve been pals ever since and most recently have begun to work together on a number of Oz-specific projects. Last season’s book, THE ART OF OZ, was one such Gale/Fricke presentation, and onstage at the festival, we touted that, our past and shared Ozzy madness, and some thoughts for the future. The photo below is among the least attractive ever taken of either of us, but I selected to show here as it demonstrates the irreverence, kidding, and laughter it’s been a privilege to share with Gabe for a decade and a half.

Definitely a euphoric, surprise moment came on the first evening of OZ-Strav! when I glanced into the audience and saw Ruby Rakos, who’d come up for NYC for the pure pleasure of the weekend. Any who attended the June 2019 OZ-Strav! (or who have seen Ruby in regional theaters as the young Judy Garland in the glorious stage musical, CHASING RAINBOWS: THE ROAD TO OZ) knows that her onstage dynamism and one-of-a-kind singing voice are unforgettable and unique. She provided great, good support and camaraderie throughout the fest; her mom, Katie Kearns, grabbed this shot on the Oz Park Grounds a few moments after Betty Ann and I had come offstage. (I had just been bombarded by dozens of audience members’ voices: “Ruby’s here!” “Did you see Ruby?!” “This is so great!” I think my equal elation is reasonably apparent in this image!)

SO much else to tell: The writing contest and the coloring contest. Seeing all the youngsters come out once again for the cOZtume contest – and garbed as everything from MGM Munchkins to Baum’s heroine of his seventh Oz book, Scraps, THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ. The food, the rides, the parade route with thousands waving and cheering on either side of Genesee Street. The newly refurbished, redesigned, reconfigured All Things Oz Museum and Gift Shop, telling the history of countless Oz book, art, film, stage, and musical achievements, projects, and products. (Where many smaller-town museums throughout New York State were regrettably forced to permanently close their doors during the pandemic, All Things Oz was not only refreshed but has already played host to eleven thousand visitors during the past calendar year. And as bus tours are only now revving up again, that total was primarily realized by individual patrons, drawn by the singular and ongoing magic of Oz.)

[Above: Many spanking new and protective cases are a happy feature throughout the All Things Oz Museum; a couple of them celebrate the record-breaking success of the stage musical, WICKED. That show reaches the nineteenth anniversary of its Broadway opening this October.]

I’d be amiss if I didn’t reference – in awe and gratitude – the shock I received at Sunday evening’s “wrap party” when Chittenango Mayor Elizabeth Bough Martin asked me to step to the front of the hall and receive “the key to the Village.” I was completely unaware (which was, I’m sure, the intention) but also nonplussed; in fact, I’ve been hesitant about watching the video, as I have NO idea if I made any sense – or was able to convey the honor I felt and emotional depth at hand. Please let me say here, then, that I fell in love with Chittenango, NY, when I was seven years old, some thirty-two years before I ever saw the town “for real.” It was, however, the birthplace of one of the five or six most influential and inspiring people in my life; that was more than enough to know. And I now accept “the key” in homage to L. Frank Baum – and all that he accomplished – and in esteem of the masses of local citizens I’ve been blessed to meet since my first visit in 1990. God keep you all; Godspeed all your efforts on his behalf. Your “companioning” with him is forever cherished in my heart.

I’ll leave you with the final image above. It was taken some time after the 2022 Oz Parade, looking into Oz Park. You’ll see people who have hunkered down early to get optimum seats in front of the outdoor stage where nonstop musical and other entertainments are annually presented — free. You’ll see contented costumed kids. You’ll see the tops of dozens of vendor tents and craft tents and souvenir and food tents. Out of view is the large Celebrity Tent, where the Oz-specific authors, illustrators, merchandisers, and special guests do meet-and-greet autograph and photo sessions across all three festival afternoons – and where there are three different MASTERFUL silent auctions of rarities and goodies and antiques and collectibles: one each day.

What else can I say? Thank God for glorious weather – and for all the devotees of Oz and Chittenango who found their way (whether for the first or forty-“somethingth” time) to OZ-Stravaganza! We hope that on the first weekend in June 2023, they’ll all be back – and that you’ll be inspired to join them. It becomes a family reunion, even for those who are making their initial visit!

In other words, you’re all cordially and delightedly invited to become a member of The Oz Family. 😊

Many thanks for reading!

REMEMBERING DICK MARTIN: HE WAS POST-DENSLOW & NEILL; HE WAS PRE-GABRIEL GALE — AND HE WAS BOTH COMPATRIOT AND OZ ILLUSTRATOR EXTRAORDINARE!

by John Fricke

[Above (from left): These are the rear and front panels of Dick Martin’s splendid dust jacket for L. Frank Baum’s THE VISITORS FROM OZ. Adapted in 1960 by (an uncredited) Jean Kellogg, the ten short stories selected for this “new” Oz book had originally been written by Baum more than fifty years earlier as a continuing series for the comic sections of Sunday newspaper supplements. Dick Martin discovered them by chance circa 1957 and brought their existence to the attention of The Reilly & Lee Company, Oz publishers, as a proposed story book. When R&L decided to go ahead with the project a couple of years later, Dick received his first professional “Oz job” as the book’s illustrator and designer.]

Gabriel Gale and I recently finished another round of promotional work on behalf of the new book, THE ART OF OZ, which — of course — is built around his exciting, colorful, and glorious depictions of many of L. Frank Baum’s original characters. That Rizzoli volume also honors the first two preeminent illustrators of Oz: William Wallace Denslow, who did the pictures and design for Baum’s initial Oz book, THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ (1900), and John Rea Neill, who started in with Baum’s THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ (1904) and continued through 1942 and thirty-four additional titles. (He wrote the last three of these, as well.) Neill also did the art for Baum’s six LITTLE WIZARD OF OZ short stories, several of Baum’s “Borderland of Oz” fantasy volumes, and his own OZ TOY BOOK.

If you’ve been reading here for the last year or two, you’ll know that I was recently privileged to conduct lengthy interviews with Dorothy, Toto, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion, the Wizard, Glinda, and Professor Woggle-Bug — from which I thereafter wrote the text for THE ART OF OZ.  I also selected the quotes from Baum’s books to accompany much of Gabe’s work therein, and I chose the Neill and Denslow art that demonstrates the portraiture they created of the Ozian citizenry. All of this was a pleasure, of course, because beginning at age five, I was ever more steeped in Baum’s creation and was then, across the next two years, introduced to Denslow and Neill’s work, as well. Those artisans spectacularly informed my preteen years as to “what Oz REALLY looked like.” 😊

They had, however, a most worthy overall successor, who began creating his own professional Oz artwork circa 1959 and thrived throughout the next decade — and beyond. He was openly joyous in his Oz illustrations and also became a great, good professional associate and wonderful friend. As I now reflect on and review THE ART OF OZ and its pictures in my grateful mind, I find my heart unhesitatingly strays to memories of the gentle, genial, dry, wry, funny, caring, sharing, passionate, compassionate, and comprehending Dick Martin.

I think I first became aware of Dick in 1960, when The Reilly & Lee Company — publishers of the then-thirty-nine books in the Oz series — announced they would issue that autumn a “new” Baum Oz book, THE VISITORS FROM OZ, as “Pictured by Dick Martin.” In my nine-year-old enthusiasm, I wrote to them in Chicago for more information, and someone from Reilly & Lee sent me four, full-color page “proofs” of Dick’s VISITORS work in acknowledgement and as a preview. His drawings were bright and glowing and crisp and modern — not in the Neill or Denslow styles, but respectful of their traditions, and in a Martinesque approach that seemed rightfully and righteously appropriate for Oz in 1960. 

I was, to put it mildly, immediately and happily dazzled.

Over the next couple of years later, I saw Dick’s name associated with Oz in such periodicals as HOBBIES Magazine; as one of the first credited as “a notable” collector in the Reilly & Lee 1961 Baum biography, TO PLEASE A CHILD; and as the illustrator of picture-book abridgments of Baum’s first four Oz titles. I joined The International Wizard of Oz Club, Inc. (ozclub.org) in July 1962, at which time Club secretary Fred M. Meyer sent me a raft of present and past issues of their periodical, THE BAUM BUGLE. A number of these, dating back to 1959, featured more Martin Oz drawings or adaptations on their covers.

[Above: Three of Dick Martin’s first Oz illustrations provided cover art for early editions of THE BAUM BUGLE. The drawing for the “Anniversary Issue 1959” (the Club was then three years old) shows Denslow’s concepts of the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman as they wonderingly consider a crowd of their namesakes — albeit drafted by diverse artists for other editions of (or promotional matters regarding) THE WIZARD OF OZ. Especially across the preceding three years, newly-drawn Oz pictures had proliferated in children’s books, as Baum’s original text had gone into public domain in 1956; Dick’s semi-jokey (and typical) approach to the situation is referenced in the dialog caption. (“Hippocampus,” incidentally, refers to original OZ illustrator Denslow himself, who frequently “signed” his work with a sketch of a seahorse.) The cover for the next issue, August 1959, offers Dick’s early approach to Dorothy Gale, as she and two boon companions frame a drawing of Baum himself. Finally, the August 1961 cover displays a much refined Martin style while simultaneously heralding the first Oz Club convention — to be held that September at the Bass Lake, Indiana, summer home and lodge run by Baum’s son, Harry Neal, and his wife, Brenda. Onboard the balloon (in front): the Woggle-Bug, the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion, Princess Ozma, Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Wizard, and (in the rear) the Patchwork Girl, Glinda, and Jack Pumpkinhead.]

When I joined the Oz Club, I asked Fred if he thought it would be all right for me to write to Dick. I was immediately encouraged to do so and provided with his address. That launched a sporadic correspondence that continued until just a few months before Dick’s premature passing on February 14, 1990.

Far better, Dick and I also became “in person” friends, commencing at the June 1963 Oz Club Convention in Indiana. His kindness and warmth to someone twelve years old — and thus more than two decades younger than he himself — was, I learned, typical of the Martin acceptance and encouragement of sincere Oz enthusiasts. Our meetings then continued on a virtually annual basis across many conventions, as well as on my own periodic visits to Chicago and during a five-year tenure in suburban Evanston while I was in college.

In short, we started as Oz-fan friends, but became genial, comfortable pals. Dick was a quiet and extremely private individual, but his particular reserve never kept him from being a delightful companion. We periodically worked together over the next twenty-five years on Club matters, including THE BAUM BUGLE; yet well beyond the organization and its activities, he never stopped encouraging me personally or professionally. (He even journeyed to Milwaukee with fellow Club members Jack Van Camp and Jim Haff to attend a one-man concert I did at The Pabst Theatre there in 1977.) Dick’s last written communication — in August 1989 – contained his jubilant congratulations on the publication, just weeks earlier, of my own first book, THE WIZARD OF OZ: THE OFFICIAL 50th ANNIVERSARY PICTORIAL HISTORY. 

So . . .! Having delved into Denslow and Neill across 2020 and 2021 for THE ART OF OZ, my attention and affection have now been drawn to their immediate and official Oz book successor. Above, you’ll see Dick’s front cover design for Reilly & Lee’s fortieth book in the Oz series: MERRY GO ROUND IN OZ (1963). Merry is the scarlet horse being ridden by the book’s protagonist, a young orphan boy, Robin Brown; their saga was the work of preeminent juvenile scribe Eloise Jarvis McGraw, with an assist from her daughter, Lauren Lynn – now Inanna — McGraw. (Dick’s art also shows Dorothy astride the Cowardly Lion, and Halidom court page Fess astride the Unicorn.)

In succeeding years, the Oz Club itself published two further Oz books by eminently notable and nifty historian Ruth Plumly Thompson (YANKEE IN OZ in 1972 and THE ENCHANTED ISLAND OF OZ in 1976) and another by Eloise and Lynn (THE FORBIDDEN FOUNTAIN OF OZ, 1980). Dick was the logical and desired artist for such projects, and his cover designs for two of those titles are shown here:

Dick continued to work for the Oz Club, whether as BUGLE editor, color-cover “separator,” or convention auctioneer. He fulfilled several score assignments from Reilly & Lee, the latter including new or revised dust jackets, editions of the promotional OZMAPOLITAN newspaper, bookmarks, and posters – all of these were Oz-related – and the pictures for several of their non-Oz children’s books. There was his own freelance work at times as well, but he later admitted that he couldn’t escape Oz. As early as 1958, Dick coauthored (with Alla T. Ford) and designed the book, THE MUSICAL FANTASIES OF L. FRANK BAUM. In 1969, he illustrated the first book assemblage of L. Frank Baum’s ANIMAL FAIRY TALES, published by the Oz Club; eight years later, he and David L. Greene co-authored THE OZ SCRAPBOOK (Random House, 1977). Among many other innovations, Dick crafted three “activity” projects for Dover Publications: CUT & ASSEMBLE THE EMERALD CITY OF OZ (1980), CUT AND MAKE “WIZARD OF OZ” MASKS IN FULL COLOR (1982), and CUT & ASSEMBLE “THE WIZARD OF OZ” TOY THEATER (1985). He drew the oversize and glorious THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF OZ PANORAMA poster/map for Books of Wonder (1988), art folios for the Oz Club (AN OZ PICTURE GALLERY in 1984 and AN OZ SKETCHBOOK in 1988), postcards, greeting cards, and even created Oz mini-games.

[Above: A 1987 Martin portrait shows Princess Ozma of Oz as framed by her loyal subjects, (clockwise from bottom left) the Sawhorse, Jack Pumpkinhead, the Tin Woodman, the Glass Cat, Eureka the Pink Kitten, the Scarecrow, the Patchwork Girl, and the Woozy.]

Certainly one of the capstones of the Martin Oz career/association came when he accepted Fred Meyer’s invitation to illustrate AND write an Oz book of his own. THE OZMAPOLITAN OF OZ (1986) was the result: a perky yet resonantly meaningful account of Dorothy and Eureka’s journey as they accompanied the junior editor of the official Oz paper on a news-seeking expedition. As Dick later admitted, writing the book “was NOT the realization of a life-long dream. I never had any intention – or even the slightest desire – to write an Oz book! I felt very complimented [to be asked] (though very unenthusiastic) and said I’d ‘think about it.’ Word got around among my friends, and my thinking-about-it was interpreted as working-on-it. Then I felt I really DID have to give it a try. . .. The book was no ‘labor of love’ when I began it – but it WAS by the time I finished it!”

The final product was (and has ever since been) lauded by Oz fans, and Dick’s primary cast of characters who embark on “the OZMAPOLITAN EXPEDITION” are shown below in his cover art. Dorothy and Eureka are joined in the newspaper office by Tim (“a young Gillikin boy with a rather mysterious past, who lands a job on the paper”), and Jinx, a “printer’s devil” Mifket and an ornery character whom Martin adapted from Baum’s “Borderland of Oz” book, JOHN DOUGH AND THE CHERUB:

There’s no question that the nine illustrations with this month’s blog can’t begin to do justice to the scope of Dick Martin’s ability, creativity, or imagination. I urge any and all of you who venerate Oz (especially in its pictorial aspects) to seek out his work; it’s drawn, literally and figuratively, for YOUR own enjoyment out of HIS own enjoyment for – and his veneration of — Baum, Ruth Thompson, Eloise and Lynn McGraw, Neill, Denslow, and many others.

I feel blessed to have known him and to have had him as my preteen and teenage pictorial “bridge” to countless Oz illustrators to come. There were already innumerable Ozian worlds and landscapes to explore by the 1960s – and there have been innumerable INNUMERABLE more ever since. (Preceding duplication intentional!) But there’s no mistaking a Dick Martin picture.

And if you knew the man, there was no mistaking his tender heart, Ozzy and otherwise. Thanks for reading and remembering him with me.

😊 OZ-STRAVAGANZA! RETURNS LIVE & “IN PERSON” – ON ITS 45TH ANNIVERSARY! CELEBRATE AN MGM OZ MOVIE “MUNCHKIN” IN HER CHITTENANGO DEBUT –PLUS THE 10th ANNIVERSARY OF THE “ALL THINGS OZ” MUSEUM!

By: John Fricke

Above: Meet the five special guests whose talents and professional contributions will bring them to Chittenango, NY, from Friday, June 3 through Sunday, June 5th. OZ-Stravaganza! — the longest-running Oz festival in the world — swings happily back into action with its famous parade, diverse programming, AND the appearance (in her first visit here) of an original cast member of MGM’s classic 1939 film version of THE WIZARD OF OZ! Read all about ALL of it below, and plan to join us in the birthplace village of author L. Frank Baum: he’s the one who wrote THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ and started the whole thing. 😊

We’re back! for the (almost annual) forty-fifth time!  Yes, we had to slow down for a couple of years, but it took a world-wide pandemic to do it. And now, for the first go-round since 2019, we’re once again “Off to See the Wizard” — and everyone else. (Toto, too!)

Meanwhile, you can hear the Ozian shouts of joy all the way from Munchkinland to the Emerald City – AND as they ricochet off the Yellow Brick Road that actually exists alongside Genesee Street in Chittenango, NY. OZ-STRAVAGANZA! — the world’s longest-running WIZARD OF OZ Festival — kicks off on Friday, June 3rd and runs through Sunday, June 5th. Their illustrious parade begins at 2 p.m. on Saturday; all three days offer amusement rides, food, vendors, crafts, auctions, displays, all kinds of contests, Oz celebrities, Oz artists and authors, Oz collectibles and treasures, and Oz souvenirs. The full schedule for the weekend and further details may be found at: Oz-Stravaganza 2022 Schedule! And it’s a guaranteed “over the rainbow” adventure for everyone, especially for children — and for any who used to be children.

There are two particularly exciting aspects to OZ-Stravaganza! 2022. This year marks the tenth anniversary of Chittenango’s All Things Oz Museum, in which the 122 year history of Oz books, movies, musicals, TV shows, toys, dolls, games – and all – are celebrated in several thousand items on rotating view. Freshly-refurbished and with new “specialty” cases that categorize and pay homage to all things Oz, the Museum will be open throughout the weekend; please see further information and photos below!

The second extraordinary attraction for 2022 and its festival is a brand new and honored special guest. Betty Ann Bruno, pictured just above, was a little girl dance student back in 1938, and already so proficient at age seven that she was selected with several other children to appear in the “Munchkinland” sequence of the now-long-legendary MGM movie, THE WIZARD OF OZ. All the stars and principal players from that cast have passed on, as have all the “little people” (as they preferred to be called) who comprised 124 of the Munchkin performers. Of the few surviving child dancers, however – affectionately known as “MunchKids” – ninety-year-old Betty Ann Bruno this year makes her first visit to Chittenango. She’ll serve as the Grand Marshal of the OZ-Stravaganza! parade; she’ll autograph her new autobiography (THE MUNCHKIN DIARY: MY PERSONAL YELLOW BRICK ROAD) and be interviewed onstage about her career; and she’ll give a dance demonstration and class — which totally befits the founder of Hula Mai, an acclaimed Hawaiian dance company in California!

Above: Judy Garland – in her Dorothy Gale garb – chats on THE WIZARD OF OZ set with six of the movie’s Munchkins. Three of these are “little people”: Janette Fern (later Fern Formica; extreme left), Jerry Maren (of “The Lollipop Guild” trio; crouching center), and Olga Nardone (extreme right). With them are three of the “MunchKids” (as they’ve since been termed): Raynelle Lasky and Priscilla Montgomery (second and third from the left) and Betty Ann Cain (now Bruno), who’s peeking up over Judy’s right arm!

Here’s complete information about all of this year’s special guests and their onstage presentations. All four of these programs take place in the First Presbyterian Church, 118 Arch Street, immediately adjacent to OZ Park.

On Friday, June 3rd:

6:00 pm: STEVE MARGOSHES and his NEW SONGS FROM OZ — The cherished Broadway and pop composer/orchestrator (THE WHO’S TOMMY, FAME, BIG RIVER, AIDA) talks about his project, NEW SONGS FROM OZ. He’ll share excerpts from the numbers he’s thus far written; these and more have been (or will be) recorded for the forthcoming CD/digital download project he’s producing in cooperation with Chittenango’s International L. Frank Baum & All Things Oz Historical Foundation. (STEVE is pictured at the top of this month’s blog.)

6:45 pm; An Evening With BETTY ANN BRUNO – As is noted above, this year marks the very first Chittenango appearance of the child dancer whose talent led her to participate as one of the Munchkins in MGM’s THE WIZARD OF OZ movie in 1938. An amazing woman — and author of the new memoir, THE MUNCHKIN DIARY: MY PERSONAL YELLOW BRICK ROAD – BETTY ANN has enjoyed a major career in investigative journalism, television and broadcasting, worked for the CIA, founded her own dance company, and continues to dance and teach today!

On Saturday, June 4th:

6:00 pm: GABE AND JOHN! GABRIEL GALE and OZ-Stravaganza!’s long-time master-of-ceremonies JOHN FRICKE are, respectively, the artist and the author of the acclaimed new book, THE ART OF OZ (pictured above).They’ll discuss this deluxe coffee-table book, their collaboration process, their love for all things Baum, and their future projects and hopes — including the highly anticipated third title in GABE’s AGES OF OZ fantasy series for young readers. (The Ozzy duo is shown below during GABE’s very first presentational visit to an Oz Festival — right here! — in 2017.)

7:00 pm: JUDY: SO MUCH MORE THAN DOROTHY! — Next month (June 10, 2022) marks the 100th birthday anniversary of someone who was initially heralded as “the Little Girl With the Great Big Voice,” proceeded to a reputation as “Miss Show Business,” and was eventually simply defined as “the World’s Greatest Entertainer.” Emmy Award-winning producer and biographer JOHN FRICKE is considered the preeminent Judy Garland and Oz historian, which makes him the ideal person to salute the centennial of the singer/dancer/actress and her work in films and on television. He’ll also talk of her role as Dorothy in THE WIZARD OF OZ; tell about attending three of her concerts in the 1960s; and remember meeting her after one of those shows, when he was sixteen.

But . . .  THERE’S MORE!

On the OZ-Stravaganza! Main Stage (also in OZ Park) on Sunday, June 5th at 1 pm, BETTY ANN BRUNO returns for a special hour-long dance exhibition and class for all of those interested in her renowned Hula Mai Hawaiian Dance Company and the work they delight in sharing.

AND . . .  ALL WEEKEND at the All Things OZ Museum, 219 Genesee Street: the superlative costume designer and wardrobe “constructionist” SHAWN RYAN displays and chats about his latest recreations of some of the most famous movie and stage costumes in Oz, Hollywood, or Broadway history! His special collection this year has been given the sobriquet BEAUTIFUL WICKEDNESS; don’t miss this unique and wondrously inspired collection and its artisan! (SHAWN is pictured up top as well.)

Now, since we’re discussing the All Things Oz Museum, here’s a sneak peek at just a small percentage of the redecoration work that’s been done there to honor their first full decade of Oz retrospectives. Even past visitors will discover that many new cases have been created or added to pay specific tribute to different aspects of the greater Oz legend.

THE WIZ, of course, gets its own case (above). Broadway’s all-black-cast and pop music-retelling of Baum’s classic text was the surprise, multi-Tony Award-winning smash hit of the 1975 season and ran in New York City for four years. The dress shown here is a recreation (by Shawn Ryan) of that worn by Stephanie Mills, the Dorothy of the show’s original cast. The op-art Emerald City glasses also date from the premiere Broadway engagement – a gift to the Museum from the show’s premier “WIZ” himself, André de Shields. (The red “tee” is André’s original cast shirt, as well.) THE WIZ case also features a baseball cap that dates from the production’s first national tour; a record album signed by André and the show’s composer/lyricist Charlie Smalls; and an original playbill signed by Ken Page – one of the Cowardly Lions in the long-run cast. Both André and Ken are great, good friends of All Things Oz and have entertained at past OZ-Stravaganza! events.

Above, the All Things Oz Museum happily (and in perpetuity) remembers two of the original MGM movie Munchkins. “Soldier” Clarence Swensen and “flowerpot hat” dancer Margaret Pellegrini were unquestionably among the most beloved and stalwart of the little people who toured to commemorate Oz from the 1980s well into the 2000s. They were so much in demand that both worked through several recreations of their original movie garb over the years; when these two costumes were replaced by fresher models, Margaret and Clarence donated them to Chittenango’s Museum for permanent exhibition.

Each of the most famous WIZARD OF OZ characters has a case of his or her own in the All Things Oz Museum – with biographical information about the actor who played the role in MGM’s film. Margaret Hamilton is venerated in such fashion here, along with stills, magazines, and various WWW products that acknowledge HER unforgettable and “beautiful wickedness.”

Broadway’s latest “Oz Sensation Supreme” focuses on the WWW, too – and that, of course, is WICKED. It opened in NYC in 2003 and continues to delight millions, nationally and internationally. The All Things Oz Museum boasts a cast-signed poster, an autographed print signed by Stephen Schwartz (masterful composer/lyricist of all the WICKED songs), and – in a second case — the WICKED book and others signed by author Gregory Maguire. Both Mr. Schwartz and Mr. Maguire have supported and made onstage appearances at OZ-Stravaganza! in the recent past.

Finally, we come back to the literal AND figurative reason for Chittenango’s OZ-Stravaganza! It’s here that L. Frank Baum was born; it’s here that his glorious imagination, creative genius, communicative power, and immeasurable heart and humor originated. Of course, the Museum proudly recognizes this, again and again. In the case pictured above, one sees Baum’s widow, Maud, as photographed at their Hollywood home by MGM in 1939 as publicity for (what we’re this year calling!) the JUDY GARLAND/BETTY ANN BRUNO movie. She’s reading the very first edition of THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ – and just next to her photo in the case is another early edition of Baum’s immortal tale.

Well . . . what more can be said? Frank, Judy, Betty Ann – and many others cited in the full schedule for the weekend of June 3rd – June 5th – are integral, intrinsic representatives of the magical kingdom that is quintessentially American. In that tradition, it means as well that Oz is all-embracing. To echo what was said above, we’re back – hey, everyone! — and we welcome the world with open arms and countless HUZZ-OZ!

Thank you for reading! We hope to see you next month – or any other time you’re in central New York and want to visit All Things Oz.

Where “the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.”

😊

WHAT MIGHT FRANK HAVE THOUGHT? – PART THREE

by John Fricke

This considerably oversized Oz “prop” was the focal point of a series of publicity photographs taken at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film studios in Culver City, CA, in late February 1939. The five members of THE WIZARD OF OZ principal cast – and sometimes Toto, too – were alternately grouped in front of the book, standing on the book, or sitting on the spine of the book. (In the latter case, Frank Morgan posed alone as the Wizard as well as with Judy Garland as Dorothy. The two of them were then joined by Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow, while Jack Haley as the Tin Man and Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion seemingly stood on a platform behind the binding.) The illustration on the book’s cover itself is unique and lovely, and to this day, people ask if there ever was an actual edition of THE WIZARD OF OZ that utilized that art. Regrettably . . . no. There is a happier aspect to these publicity photos, however: at least some of the time, some of the name of author L. Frank Baum is visible, too! This was and is a courtesy not often extended to writers — a statement with which many past and present Hollywood scribes would concur.

Welcome! to the third and final installment of blogs that ponder the question, “What might L. Frank Baum have thought about the classic Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musical movie made from his first Oz book?” – a film that wasn’t completed or released until twenty years after he himself had passed away. Baum, of course, is the man who discovered Oz and chronicled its earliest histories; it’s certainly fair to wonder if he would have enjoyed all the many aspects of his work that Hollywood brought to glorious, Technicolored life. Beyond that, though: What about those episodes or whole chapters that Metro remodeled, reconfigured, eliminated, or expanded — and the characters who were added, amalgamated, or simply subtracted?

Devotees of both THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ book and the MGM film are already aware of Hollywood’s variations on the Baum text. There were, to be sure, many alterations, but it’s also true that THE WIZARD OF OZ screenwriters — Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allan Woolf (and the uncredited Arthur Freed and John Lee Mahin) — were also adroit at sticking close to Baum when and where they could. One of the realizations that evolved across the assemblage of this three-part series was the fact that Frank Baum might well have been legitimately pleased that his template had been so regularly followed so much of the time.

There is, indeed, a definite, omnipresent, and genuine Baum spirit that permeates much of MGM’s version of THE WIZARD OF OZ. The blogs here for February and March discussed many of those facets of the film and included comments — in sometimes arbitrary order — about the 1939 Los Angeles and New York City movie premieres, the OZ songs, and the picture’s casting. There were, as well, details about scenes in, on, or involving Kansas, the tornado, Glinda, the ruby slippers, Munchkinland, the Yellow Brick Road, the apple trees, the Deadly Poppy Field, and the first visit to the Emerald City. (For any who might want to catch up on those initial installments, please scroll down past this entry for parts one and two below.) This month, we pick up the story in the castle of the Wicked Witch of the West and continue to the film finale, chronologically recounting a number of distinctive Baum narrative features and their treatment by MGM.

Dorothy’s melting of the Wicked Witch of the West in the film was certainly a direct carry-over from the OZ book. In the latter, however, the WWW isn’t even encountered “in person” until chapter twelve (of twenty-four), and she’s dispatched by the end of it. To add drama and tension to their plot, however, MGM’s adaptation made known the Witch’s threatening presence — and her desire for the magic slippers — almost as soon as Dorothy arrived in Oz. Additionally, the Witch became such a source of evil throughout the movie that the audience was rooting for her to be eliminated, and Metro improved on her departure, as well. In the book, the WWW arranges for Dorothy to trip over an invisible iron bar in the middle of the kitchen floor of her castle; the little girl loses one of her silver shoes in the process, and the Witch gleefully grabs it. As Frank Baum described the situation, “This made Dorothy so very angry that she picked up the bucket of water that stood near and dashed it over the Witch, wetting her from head to foot.”

Above: OZ director extraordinaire Victor Fleming hoses down the dry ice under the skirt of Margaret Hamilton so that it will steam up and add to the illusion of her on-camera “melting.” From left: Haley, Garland, and Bolger look on.

We all know what happened next. For that movie moment, however, the screenwriters gave Dorothy a much more noble and heroic reason for seizing the pail. The Witch set fire to the Scarecrow, and the girl tossed the contents of the bucket to save him – simultaneously and fortunately hitting the villainess, as well.  In this change of narrative, the menace of the Witch was heightened one final time, and Dorothy had an honorable rationale for her action, rather than that of a little girl’s anger at being deprived of her (however-magical) shoe.

Once the WWW was liquidated, our five famed travelers returned to the Emerald City throne room in both book and movie. They were at first nonplussed, however, and then furious when “the Great and Powerful Oz” refused to immediately grant their requests. Given such circumstances, Baum wrote that “The Lion thought it might be as well to frighten the Wizard, so he gave a large, loud roar, which was so fierce and dreadful that Toto jumped away from him in alarm and tipped over the screen that stood in a corner. As it fell with a crash, they looked that way, and the next moment all of them were filled with wonder. For they saw, standing in just the spot the screen had hidden, a little old man . . . who seemed to be as much surprised as they were.”

In 1938-1939, Cairn Terrier Terry/Toto was already an intrepid little film actress, but it was probably beyond her heft to knock over a reasonably large screen. Thus, at Metro, the Lion didn’t get to roar at the Wizard, but Dorothy did continue to berate him: “If you were really Great and Powerful, you’d keep your promises!”  Meanwhile, the diminutive dog moved upstage right and pulled aside a light-weight curtain to reveal “a very good man . . .

a very bad Wizard.”  This was a happy cinematic echo of Baum’s saga, although if you watch the scene closely, you’ll observe that Terry had the hem of the curtain attached to her collar before the director called “Action!” In this manner, she was only called upon to walk in the direction of her off-camera trainer to effect “the reveal.”

A side note: It’s safe to say that Baum would have been fascinated by the Wizard’s electronic gadgetry as supplied by 1939’s Hollywood. In the original OZ book – published thirty-nine years earlier – all of the humbug’s tricks were “magicked up” out of the more prosaic elements or stunts of the time:  ventriloquism, oversize puppets, thick paper, wires, oil, animal skins, a costume, a mask, and a huge ball of cotton,.

The ensuing MGM “presentation sequence” — in which the Wizard grants the desires of Dorothy’s three friends — is, once again, a reasonable approximation of Baum’s approach, although the writers seemed to be subliminally following a dictate of the legendary George M. Cohan. The celebrated author/songwriter/performer once gave an actor in one of his plays the directorial suggestion: “Whatever you do, kid . . . serve it with a little dressing.” (The performer in question, incidentally, was Spencer Tracy.) The OZ scripters took Baum’s basic gifts to the trio – a mixture of bran, needles and pins; a sawdust-stuffed, satin heart; and a bowl of mysterious liquid – and transmogrified them into a diploma; a ticking timepiece (albeit in the correct shape); and a prideful medal. Philosophically, these gifts transmitted the same, basic tenets as did those in the book – they were just glamourized a bit for Technicolor.

For the conclusion of the presentation dialogue, Noel Langley wrote a line that has, in recent years, often been attributed to Baum. It actually never appeared in the Oz book texts, yet it certainly resounds as an unforgettably Ozzy theme of human and humane commonality: “A heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.”

Back to Baum! The Wizard’s subsequent explanations to his new friends and his “premier balloonist” departure play out in much the same style as that employed by the author. In the film, Frank Morgan describes himself as “an old Kansas man myself, born and bred in the heart of the Western wilderness.” Meanwhile, the little man in the book admits to Dorothy, “I was born in Omaha” (which is pretty much next door). MGM made specific use of that Baumian information by giving the onscreen Wizard a hot air balloon grandiosely gilded with the three words: STATE FAIR/OMAHA. (As a side note: This segment in the film has given rise to a trivia inquiry that falls in and out of favor and familiarity: “What is painted on the other side of the Emerald City balloon?” The next time it comes around — and if someone asks you — just be aware that it’s a trick question; ain’t nuthin’ back there! The only actual three-dimensional balloon “set pieces” utilized in the movie are the wicker basket and its sandbags, the reinforced ropes that connect the basket to (and then extend slightly above) the ring-like cable “attachment block,” and the very narrow “mouth” or “throat” of the balloon itself. Everything else — the majority of the balloon (and its ornate lettering), the treetops and towering walls and turrets of the Emerald City, the distant countryside – is a matte crayon drawing, photographed separately and then “married” to the film of the live action scene.

At this point, the screenwriters did some further “marrying” of their own and again merged themselves with Baum’s book. Therein, the Wizard implores, “Come, Dorothy! . . . hurry up, or the balloon will fly away.” “I can’t find Toto anywhere,” she replies, and of course, she “did not wish to leave her little dog behind.” However, “Toto had run into the crowd to bark at a kitten, and Dorothy at last found him. She picked him up and ran toward the balloon.” Of course, it was just then that the Wizard’s tethering ropes snapped, and he sailed away without her. The film most naturally follows this same track, although cinematically it provides a beauteously rouged Emerald Citizen to hold the distracting feline:

The OZ motion picture then wraps up rather speedily with the arrival of Glinda and the poignant moments of our friends’ farewells. Alternatively, the Oz book places Glinda in her castle “Away to the South,” which creates another adventuresome trek for Dorothy & Co. (In the process, they move through five extra chapters and encounter fighting trees, a giant spider, the Dainty China Country, and the Hammer-Heads.) Once they arrive at Glinda’s “very beautiful” home, however, the story plays out in the same fashion as the film. Glinda knows the secret of the silver shoes: “They can carry you to any place in the world in three steps . . .. All you have to do is knock the heels together three times and command the shoes to carry you wherever you wish to go.”

Naturally, Dorothy decides to depart “at once.” In the author’s words, “She threw her arms around the Lion’s neck and kissed him, patting his big head tenderly. Then she kissed the Tin Woodman, who was weeping in a way most dangerous to his joints. But she hugged the soft, stuffed body of the Scarecrow in her arms instead of kissing his painted face, and found she was crying herself at this sorrowful parting from her loving comrades.”

Hollywood offered its own most-affecting visualization of this, and even the hardcore contemporary newspaper and magazine reporters were quick to admit it. Seventy-five members of the international press were invited to MGM for a first glimpse of OZ on August 9, 1939, and as James Francis Crow wrote the next day in the HOLLYWOOD CITIZEN-NEWS: “When the lights went up after the projection-room showing, many of the critics still had the tears in their eyes. They had been crying with . . . Judy Garland, at her farewell to the wonderful people of Oz.” He declared, “OZ is a great motion picture. It is not only a magnificent, history-making technical achievement; it is a warmly human, deeply emotional photoplay, too.”

In addition to the scripting and performances, those good-byes of the five principals were further and immeasurably enhanced — as was much of THE WIZARD OF OZ movie — by its ultimately Academy Award-winning musical score. Herbert Stothart was justifiably honored with the Oscar for OZ on February 29, 1940; a perfect example of his genius at musical composition and arrangement may be found in the music cue for the partings. “I Hereby Decree” wove the melodies of Harold Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow” and “If I Only Had a Brain” with that of the nineteenth century classic, “Home Sweet Home” by Henry Rowley Bishop.   

The Baum book swiftly concludes when Dorothy finds herself “sitting on the broad Kansas prairie.” Just ahead, she sees “the new farmhouse Uncle Henry built after the cyclone had carried away the old one. Uncle Henry was milking the cows in the barnyard . . . and Aunt Em had just come out of the house to water the cabbages.” The sober-faced, never-smiling, thin, gaunt, and gray woman of Baum’s chapter one is now nowhere in view. Instead, Em cries, “My darling child!” and folds Dorothy in her arms, repeatedly kissing her.

The movie more than duplicates this joy at Dorothy’s “return.” In the film, of course, she’s in her room, coming out of the delirium caused by a tornado-induced head injury. The too-busy Em of the earlier Kansas scenes is here replaced by an aunt who lovingly tends to the little girl in bed, applying and removing a cold compress, holding and clasping her hand, calming and reassuring her. Dorothy’s formerly preoccupied Uncle Henry stands nearby, leaning forward and concerned, but when the girl awakens, looks around, and begins to speak, he slowly stands straight and discreetly exhales in relief.

Excepting MGM’s “You’ve just had a bad dream” copout, it doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to think that Frank Baum would have joined the 1939 critics: He would have been emotionally touched, as well, by these Emerald City goodbyes and the Kansas welcome-homes; they were, as can be seen here – and however elaborated – very much extensions of his own writing.

Moving past the advance press screening on August 9 to August 15, 1939, Baum certainly would have loved the manner in which his wife, Maud Gage Baum, was honored at the actual OZ premiere in Hollywood. Frank Whitbeck served as MGM’s master of ceremonies on that occasion, and when he brought Maud up to the KMTR radio microphone in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, he declared, “Tonight, Mrs. Baum, we of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer are proud to have you here . . . to dedicate this premiere to your husband and the books he wrote – and to the happiness he brought to millions of children . . . .”

Maud was indeed thrilled, but she relished an additional joy on that occasion, and it was a reunion that Frank would have savored with her. In the Grauman’s forecourt, she encountered two long-time friends with whom she’d shared an earlier extraordinary experience: the Chicago opening night of THE WIZARD OF OZ stage musical in June 1902. One of the gentlemen was Ashton Stevens, long regarded as the dean of American drama critics. The other was Fred A. Stone, who – in the role of the Scarecrow – had been at the forefront of the magic at Chicago’s Grand Opera House, thirty-seven years in the past. (Ella Wickersham, covering the MGM premiere for the LOS ANGELES HERALD-EXAMINER, eavesdropped on the trio and wrote the next day, “It was positively heartwarming to hear [them] discussing those exciting days.”)

Above: Reunion! Maud Gage Baum and Fred Stone pose together at the Hollywood OZ premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Stone’s name and fame came up again twelve days later when journalist Burns Mantle — a preeminent and veteran drama critic — wrote an extensive piece about the August 17, 1939, Broadway debut of THE WIZARD OF OZ for the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. Much of Mantle’s piece also reflected on the overwhelming success of the 1902 stage musical in Chicago, as he was employed there at that time and experienced the excitement. The respected historian recalled that it was the team of David C. Montgomery and Fred A. Stone (as the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow) “who created the sensation of those early performances,” and he added that “Stone was especially favored” by both audience and critics. In that vein, Mantle went on to muse about MGM’s movie: “It seems to me it would have been a good business move to have given Fred Stone a chance at his old part of the Scarecrow. He can still negotiate the dances, his experience these last twenty years has made him a good actor and a resourceful comedian, and he still has a considerable following among older playgoers. But I suppose [MGM] thought the picture should be kept in the tempo of the present . . ..” Stone would have been sixty-five at the time OZ was filmed, so it’s not certain which of Mantle’s viewpoints he might have endorsed.

As was noted in the first blog of this series, Mrs. L. Frank Baum publicly stated that she was well-satisfied with MGM’s film. She wrote to OZ producer Mervyn LeRoy within a day or so of her “big night” at Grauman’s to express her gratitude; her letter appears to be lost to time, but his response is worth quoting:

“Words fail me to tell you how happy your wonderful letter made me feel. Really, from the bottom of my heart, the picture’s success is complete knowing you loved it as I do, and that you especially liked Judy, and the Tin Man and the Lion and the Scarecrow as well. But most of all, as you stated it, we were able to retain Mr. Baum’s ‘kindly philosophy’ . . . and we in turn are grateful for Mr. Baum’s wonderful and remarkable imagination which made the picture possible . . ..”

This may be a solely personal conclusion, but after getting the idea for what turned out to be these three blogs (and then assembling them over the past eight or nine weeks), I don’t think we really have to guess what Frank might have thought about the MGM movie, back then or since. More than any of the many other Ozzy components of the last one-hundred-twenty-two or eighty-three years, the Oz book series and MGM’s THE WIZARD OF OZ have doubled, tripled, quadrupled – and then multi-multiplied — their success at conveying the happiness Frank Whitbeck referenced above. By now, and whether separately or together, L. Frank Baum and Judy Garland & Company have proudly entertained and enraptured billions of children.

Uncountable billions of children.

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Among the sources consulted for this month’s blog:

Baum, L. Frank: THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ. Chicago & New York: The Geo. M. Hill Co., 1900

Kanin, Garson:  TRACY AND HEPBURN: AN INTIMATE MEMOIR. New York: Viking Press, 1971

Mantle, Burns: “Ballyhoo and Judy Garland Lure Crowds to WIZARD OF OZ; Movie Recalls 1902 Version in Chicago Theater.” THE CHICAGO SUNDAY TRIBUNE, August 27, 1939

WHAT MIGHT FRANK HAVE THOUGHT? – PART TWO

By John Fricke

[Above: One of the original Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer poster designs, created to herald the initial release of their $3.7 million production of THE WIZARD OF OZ in 1939.]

Last month’s blog was conceived as a (pretty much unarguable) celebration of the two most important factors in the world’s continuing love affair with All Things Oz. These are, of course, the original story, characters, and concepts created by L. Frank Baum for his 1900 book, THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, and the Technicolor motion picture musical of Baum’s basic tale, produced by the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studio some thirty-nine years later. When that film premiered, Baum already had been dead for two decades; in February, we used this space to imagine what his reactions might have been to MGM’s efforts. There were so many points to consider and illustrate that we now continue with those thoughts — both formulated and predicated as much as is possible on fact!

(For those who might like to peruse Part One of this purely personal fancy, please scroll down to the blog immediately below this one.)

Baum himself was a life-long “theatrical,” so it’s not at all difficult to suppose he would have appreciated many of MGM’s touches, whether they were original to the studio, derived from his book, or (legally) “lifted” from his 1902 THE WIZARD OF OZ musical play. Baum’s own show business career spanned four decades, and during that time, he oversaw or produced numerous stage shows and silent movies. These efforts were — both respectively and in the extreme — dazzlingly colorful and special effects-wonderful. In fact, Baum’s first Oz films were created for his FAIRYLOGUE & RADIO PLAYS tour, and though photographed in black and white, the footage was then colorized, frame-by-frame — by hand. As a result, even it was multi-hued . . . in 1908.

(Above: Per MGM, OZ went off the silver standard in 1938-39, and Baum’s sparkling gray shoes were replaced by ruby slippers.)

The three-strip Technicolor filming process was only a few years old when MGM innovatively decided to use it for OZ. Perhaps the most imaginative aspect of their approach came with the idea of opening and closing the movie in black-and-white (bathed in warming tones of sepia in the final printing process), so as to counter those moments with the glories of full-tint as Dorothy stepped into Munchkinland. Second only to that was the studio’s resolve to change Baum’s magical silver shoes to equally mysterious ruby slippers. Red — contrasted with the blue of Judy Garland’s socks and the blue-and-while of her dress – would especially “pop” on the screen against the Yellow Brick Road; silver (or, so to speak, black-and-white) shoes would have never made the same impression. This was a plus that Baum would have immediately grasped.

The author would have marveled, as well, at Metro’s realization of his Winged Monkeys and their extraordinary recreation of a Kansas tornado. Both innovations grew out of teamwork on the part of multiple studio departments, designers, and crews. Their labors included aspects of special effects (a division masterminded by A. Arnold Gillespie), unique costuming, trick photography and process photography, and the creation of elaborate inventions, set pieces, and props in wide-ranging dimensions. Among other “assemblages,” there were battery-packed actors wearing wings, jockeys and other diminutive men garbed as primates and suspended by piano wire from soundstage rafters, wind machines, dust machines, yards of muslin wrapped around a thirty-five-foot-long concoction of chicken wire. . . and on and on. (Baum “flew” several characters in his silent OZ films and made excellent use of trick camera work, as well, but such efforts were both far superior and infinitely more complicated in color in 1938-39.)

[Above: “It’s a twister! It’s a twister!” The cyclone cellar door was just about to close as a rear-projected – and astoundingly realistic-to-this-day – funnel cloud advanced on the Gale farm. Baum didn’t specifically describe the tornado visual in the first Oz book, but he indicated the conditions that prevailed as the storm loomed and engulfed the Gales’ one-room house. In one particular phrase, he provided a template on which MGM could build: “Aunt Em dropped her work and came to the door. One glance told her of the danger close at hand.”]

As noted, these were one and all Baum inventions. Yet as the monkeys, slippers, and “cyclone” continue to overwhelm all ages today – one-hundred-twenty-two years after the original book and eighty-three years after the movie – it’s fair to assume that Baum, too, would have been impressed by what had been wrought from his imagination and words on a printed page.

MGM also made “original” visual contributions to the OZ story, including the skywriting of the Wicked Witch of the West and based on early “aeroplane” maneuvers first practiced toward the end of Baum’s own lifetime. My feeling is that he would have relished that but drawn even more pleasure from another of the studio’s contrivances: the genial and strikingly versatile mammal enjoyed by Dorothy and her friends when they first arrived at the Emerald City:

Beyond all this, there were countless other Baum-based touches that Metro incorporated into their OZ – whether the particular elements were directly drawn from the author’s ingenuity or adapted from his apparently limitless inspirations. The on-screen realization of so many of his ideas, whether major or minor, surely would have resonated in his heart and pride had he seen MGM’s adaptation.

For example, we’re told in the first pages of Baum’s primary text that Aunt Em “never smiled” and Uncle Henry “never laughed.” They, in effect, “worked hard from morning until night and did not know what joy was.” Although slightly leavened for their MGM incarnations and initial on-screen moments, Clara Blandick and Charley Grapewin were also anxiously preoccupied with farm worries when Dorothy arrived home “in a fret”; their busyness with the “old incubator. . . gone bad” found them distracted, unable to sympathize with the girl, and hard at work to save their chicks:

When the screenwriters set up the sequence, however, there was a further serendipity that MGM couldn’t have realized: Baum himself had experienced a glowing and prime reputation as a knowledgeable chicken breeder! According to preeminent Baum historian Michael Patrick Hearn, the author-to-be (while in his early twenties) began his exploration in “the care and management of fancy,” exotic, and ultimately prize-winning fowl. He “ambitiously founded his own commercial journal, THE POULTRY RECORD, in March 1880”; his five-part series on the Hamburg strain of chickens in 1882 was later brought together and published in 1886 as THE BOOK OF THE HAMBURGS. Per Hearn, this was “the first [volume] to ever carry on its title page the line ‘by L. Frank Baum.’”

Moving on: As most Oz fans are aware, THE WIZARD OF OZ book features two Good Witches. One is a lovely elderly woman known only as the Good Witch of the North; it is she who first welcomes Dorothy on her arrival in Oz. The other is a young and beautiful redhead, who sends Dorothy back to Kansas at the end of the story: Glinda, the Good Witch of the South. MGM, of course, conflated the two characters, casting the red-haired, fifty-four-year-old Billie Burke as Glinda and titling her the Good Witch of the North. With that change of the character’s directional and her own advanced years, Ms. Burke has seldom (across all the decades) been embraced as the ideal Glinda by strict Oz book devotees. Looking back at 1939, however, she — in her own way – lived up to the reaction the sorceress inspired in Dorothy and her friends when they first met her in Baum’s text. As he writes, Glinda “was both beautiful and young to their eyes.”

This is borne out by comments in some of the very first press reviews garnered by THE WIZARD OF OZ, and they certainly concurred with Baum’s descriptive line above. The Los Angeles TIMES found Miss Burke “indeed skillful casting. [She] might have stepped out of Baum’s literary make-believe. She appears almost like a being eternally young.” Louella O. Parsons in the Los Angeles EXAMINER was even more fulsome in her gush: “[She] looks like a twenty-year-old . . . a delight to the eye.”

Ms. Burke was recalled in an even closer, more personal contact by Karl Slover, who took multiple roles in the Munchkinland sequence of OZ. (By his own accounting, Karl’s assignments included appearances as the first trumpeter — preceding the entrance of the Mayor — as well as work as a Munchkin soldier, townsman, and townswoman!) Some fifty-five years after filming OZ, Karl remembered the on- and off-camera contrast in Billie Burke’s appearance: “She came in like an old woman, with a cane. I thought, ‘My gosh, she must be one-hundred-years old – or close to it.’ But when I saw her all dressed up [and] made up, she looked like she was about thirty-five! She looked beautiful – I mean BEAUTIFUL!”

Attendant to this same portion of THE WIZARD OF OZ story, Baum reported that only the Good Witch of the North and three Munchkin gentlemen actually appeared as Dorothy’s meet-and-greet committee when the girl first stepped out of her farmhouse. The motion picture, of course, turned the event into a musical extravaganza involving more than one-hundred-twenty on-camera participants. Yet the latter tactic was also Baum-founded. At the end of her first day in Oz — after Dorothy and Toto departed down the Yellow Brick Road for the Emerald City – Baum wrote that she “began to wonder where she should pass the night, [until] she came to a house rather larger than the” other Munchkin dwellings she had thus far seen en route. “On the green lawn before it, many men and women were dancing. Five little fiddlers played as loudly as possible, and the people were laughing and singing . . . to celebrate their freedom from the bondage of the [W]icked [W]itch [of the East].” Recognizing Dorothy as their national heroine, they invited her to join them to eat and spend the night, as “this was the home of one of the richest Munchkins in the land” – a gentleman who then personally waited on the girl himself. (Baum gave his name as “Boq,” a factoid sure to stir any WICKED book or musical aficionados who might be reading here.)

In their own manner, then, MGM compressed Baum’s description of Dorothy’s first day in Oz — from arrival into the evening — yet duly incorporated all of it into the first production number of their movie. Crowds of Munchkins danced and sang in celebration of their freedom from slavery – and even the five little fiddlers eventually led a musical procession:

Returning again to Baum: The next morning, a few hours (or a few paragraphs) later, as Dorothy continued her walk, she came to “a great cornfield,” and met the Scarecrow. Although MGM’s set decoration was merely a movie plot point and probably not meant as an identifiable Baum homage, there was a physical crossroads created for this scene, where Judy Garland’s character discovered a second yellow brick lane. Baum’s later Oz books, particularly THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ (1913), offered proof of an additional such paved pathway in the Munchkin Country, although we’re not told (nor do the official maps of Oz indicate) that the two byways ever coincide. Yet such alignment in the film enabled the girl and Scarecrow to – in best movie fashion – “meet cute,” as he is the one who is able to ultimately point out the correct route to the capital.

Earlier in this entry, there was a brief discussion of Baum’s early days of chicken breeding. This personal hobby continued and evolved across the years, as “Ozcot” — his final home in Hollywood — boasted an enormous rear garden, where he bred not only fowl but champion flowers, as well. Per TO PLEASE A CHILD, the first Baum biography, the Baum backyard also included “a circular aviary almost twelve feet in diameter and containing a constantly running fountain.” Therein, “Baum kept several hundred songbirds and brilliantly colored members of the feathered kingdom. These were the companions of his hours while he sat in the summer house, penning a new story.” One might then imagine the author’s quiet bemusement at the birds of MGM’s OZ: not just the hypothetical, odd-looking (and oddly-shrieking and cawing) denizens of the Haunted Forest, but especially the more brightly-hued live toucan on the tree branch and the live peacock behind the fence as Dorothy and the Scarecrow sauntered into view of the apple orchard.

(Pay no attention to that witch behind the tree trunk . . ..)

A side note: Contemporary MGM publicity proclaimed that the studio “rented” the toucan, peacock, and others from the financially strapped Zoo Park in Los Angeles. It purportedly fell to OZ director Victor Fleming to select an appropriate few (from among some three hundred birds) to appear as background atmosphere amidst the trees of the orchard. Another of Fleming’s apparent choices, an oversize Sarus crane, is later seen further upstage at the end of this segment of the film; it’s the wing-flapping of that crane that has evolved into the preposterous saga of a visible, “hanging Munchkin” on a WIZARD OF OZ set.

The apple trees in MGM’s orchard offer another instance of the studio’s “Baum utilization.” Late in THE WIZARD OF OZ saga, Baum depicts a grove of fighting trees, one of whose branches “bent down and twined around [the Scarecrow], and the next minute, he was raised from the ground and flung headlong among his fellow travelers.” The straw man then approached a second tree, with the same result. Metro placed combative trees earlier on in their cinematic version of Baum’s tale, and those in the movie were a trifle more sedentary. Their unexpected conversation, selfish fruit fixation, and expert apple tossing, however, certainly provided active hostility to challenge both the Scarecrow AND Dorothy. (They also inadvertently and conveniently led the girl to discover the rusted Tin Woodman.)

A brief you-are-there! moment to conclude this month’s blog: Little Karl Slover had his own unsettling encounter with one of MGM’s apple trees. During a rehearsal break for the Munchkinland sequence of the OZ movie, he and several fellow actors were taken to an adjoining soundstage to see the orchard set. Slover never forgot his astonishment at the sight, especially as he was compelled to exclaim to a companion, “That durn tree just made a face at me!” The friend was doubtful and dismissive: “There’s no such of a thing as that,” but Slover maintained, “I know what I saw!” A moment later, the friend wonderingly apologized: “That durn tree just made a face at ME, too!” The Metro technician acting as their guide then laughingly explained to the little people that “There’s a man in each tree, and they’re practicing” for their upcoming scene with Judy’s Dorothy and Ray Bolger’s Scarecrow.

There’s – also — still a lot to discuss, and my space is just about “up” for March. I hope you’ll welcome a third (and, I promise, concluding) episode of “What Might Frank Have Thought?” next month.

And, as ever, we appreciate the fact that you’re here — whether you’re looking at the artwork or reading the text or both! 😊

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Sources referenced above:

Baum, Frank Joslyn and Russell P. MacFall: TO PLEASE A CHILD (Chicago: Reilly & Lee Co., 1961)

Baum, L[yman]. Frank: THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ (Chicago: The George M. Hill Co., 1900)

Hearn, Michael Patrick: “L. Frank Baum: Chicken Fancier,” THE BAUM BUGLE, Autumn 1986 (Volume 30, Number 2), pps. 23-25. Journal of The International Wizard of Oz Club, Inc.: ozclub.org

Slover, Karl: Interview conducted by John Fricke for the home video documentary, WE’RE OFF TO SEE THE MUNCHKINS. Portage, IN: September 1993

WHAT MIGHT FRANK HAVE THOUGHT? – PART ONE

BY: John Fricke

Above: One of several brilliantly colored posters created for the initial release of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939). Based on L. Frank Baum’s best-selling children’s novel of 1900 (and ever after), the motion picture garnered huzzahs from the vast majority of critics, broke attendance records at theaters all over the country, placed on both the “ten best” and “top ten money-making” movie lists for the year, and won an Academy Award nomination as “Best Picture.

We’ve had a number of multiple-topic blogs here across the last six months, so for the next two entries, I thought it might be a good (and hopefully entertaining) idea to “get back to basics.” As a result, our February and March discussions will concentrate on an alignment of the two fundamental and “Mt. Everest”-high peaks of Oz. Perched at the pinnacle of the first of these, of course, is L. Frank Baum, who started it all. Topping the second? Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s film of his THE WIZARD OF OZ, which has carried the Baum characters and stories past fame — and legend and icon status – to the point that they’ve long since become a phenomenon of popular culture, virtually all around the world.

When MGM released THE WIZARD OF OZ in 1939, Frank Baum had already been dead for twenty years. His widow, Maud Gage Baum, was only very tangentially involved in the film’s production (recent fictional allusions to the contrary), but across several months that year, she attended the Hollywood premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre; was a special guest on the national RIPLEY’S “BELIEVE IT OR NOT” radio program; and gave press interviews in several cities. In the course of some of these events, she was sometimes asked her opinion of the movie, as well as what she thought Frank himself might have thought of it. Though she had one qualification, Maud’s response was definitely favorable; as reported in the FARGO (North Dakota) FORUM on October 29, 1939:

“. . . She said she was well satisfied with [the movie], except that she wished there had been more music in it, and that there had been no witch. ‘You see, Frank wouldn’t have liked the witch part . . .. He never wrote anything that might frighten children.’”

Whether one defines him as the “Royal Historian of Oz,” “the WIZARD OF OZ Man,” or “the REAL Wizard of Oz,” L. Frank Baum was a diverse and masterful storyteller and entertainer. Eight-year-old actress Romola Remus appeared as Dorothy in the first Oz motion pictures in 1908 and, as a result, directly worked — and later appeared — with Baum. Seventy-six years after the fact, she had no difficulty in recalling Baum’s “wonderful rapport with [an] audience. When he came onstage, you could feel that magnetic rapport.

While Maud Baum was correct that Frank didn’t “dwell on the dark” in his children’s stories, it’s also true that he laced them – including the Oz books — with exciting and fearsome encounters and challenges. That they seldom interminably haunted or traumatized readers or listeners is no surprise. He was a maestro at setting up and then swiftly handling such situations; they were overcome, generally in matter-of-fact sort of way, and in no more than a chapter or two. (Sometimes he’d manage it in a few paragraphs!)

While recently pondering all of this, I started to wonder just what Frank MIGHT have thought about MGM’s OZ. I pretend absolutely no omniscience as to the workings of the mastermind he was (or the master mind he possessed). Yet I’ve loved and researched the man and his work for so many decades, I realized it might be fun to contemplate the possibilities of his general or specific reactions to Judy & Company.

Thus the blogs for this month and next!

One of MGM’s trade advertisements for THE WIZARD OF OZ touted its outstanding initial success with both critics and movie patrons in August 1939. Such reactions then enabled the studio to honestly promote OZ, as here, to further glory and engagements.

Those who know both the original THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ book and its MGM adaptation are aware of major differences between the two. Most notably, there are the film’s added citizens of Kansas: Miss Gulch, Professor Marvel, and the three farmhands (Hunk Andrews, Hickory Twicker, and “Zeke”) – each of them in place to set up the psychological aspects of Dorothy’s dream. All this grew directly from Metro’s fear that adult audiences of the day would reject (i.e., not buy tickets to) a genuine fantasy story; thus, the studio deemed it essential to present Dorothy’s adventures as a wind-and-window-induced delirium.  

Even with such tampering – plus the elimination of a score of episodes from the book and the conflating of the Good Witch of the North with Glinda, the Good Witch of the South — much more of Baum’s tale turned up in MGM’s motion picture than in any other major adaptation to that time. This is one of many levels on which I think Baum would have been delighted with the movie. After all, he himself eventually endorsed the wildly remote story utilized by the 1902 stage production of THE WIZARD OF OZ, and it went infinitely further off track than did Metro’s treatment. (It should also be noted that the smash hit status of that very first musical OZ definitely helped assuage Baum’s initial objections. During the seven seasons it toured, the show rang up a financial bonanza for many, including the equivalent of roughly twenty-five million dollars in today’s money for the OZ author.)

No one knew it when the cameras turned eighty-three years ago this past week, but at that moment, both Judy Garland and the song “Over the Rainbow” were taking their first steps to early and eternal immortality. Let’s freely assume that Baum — who loved music and entertainment — would have been pleased, too.

As for his heroine, Baum never even approximates Dorothy’s age in any of the Oz books, although she seems no more than a child of seven in the first of these. Would he have objected to sixteen-year-old Judy Garland in the role? It’s somehow doubtful, given the heart and soul she manifested and the impact she pretty much instantaneously made. Beyond that, it’s equally important to cite the four noteworthy Oz “theatricals” mounted between 1902 and 1914, as Baum was strongly involved in at least three of them. Their Dorothys ran the age gamut: eighteen-year-old Anna Laughlin in the aforementioned 1902 stage musical of THE WIZARD OF OZ; eight-year-old Romola Remus in the silent film and slide portions of Baum’s 1908 multi-media production, the FAIRYLOGUE AND RADIO-PLAYS; nine-year-old Bebe Daniels in Colonel William Selig’s three short Oz films of 1910 (including THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ); and twenty-seven-year-old Violet MacMillan — billed as “the daintiest darling of them all” — in Baum’s own Oz Film Manufacturing Company escapade, HIS MAJESTY, THE SCARECROW OF OZ, in 1914.

So . . . no; Judy’s age probably wouldn’t have bothered him!

What, though, about MGM’s 1939 musical score? According to many reports, Baum possessed a genuine affinity for music and the popular songs prior to and across his lifetime era (1856-1919).  He sang happily and well, played both piano and guitar, and often enjoyed family “musicale” evenings with his wife and four sons, all of whom had light proficiency on various instruments. Such activity for L. Frank Baum, however, was a natural offshoot of greater ability – and ambition. On his twenty-sixth birthday (May 15, 1882), he premiered THE MAID OF ARRAN, a five-act “Irish Idyll” for which he wrote script, songs (both music and lyrics), and served as leading man. The production successfully toured -– mostly with Baum – to over one hundred cities and towns, including New York. It marked the onset of some thirty-five years of additional script and lyric writing for Frank, and he tallied more than thirty shows in all. Most never made it into production or even completion, but there were dramas, comedies, and especially musicals among his output.

The new Pumpernickel Pickle edition of THE MAID OF ARRAN, brings L. Frank Baum’s earliest stage success (1882) to deluxe publication and availability. In company with Baum’s script, designer/publisher Marcus Mébes provides the sheet music for six of the songs for which the indefatigable Frank wrote both music and lyrics. (He also starred in the show!) The lavish 269-page volume offers playbills, lobby cards, many previously unpublished photographs, newspaper reviews, and even contemporary accounts of hitherto unknown drama and scandal. The eight analysts and historians who make additional contributions to this long-awaited edition include two of Baum’s great-grandchildren, Robert A. Baum and Gita Dorothy Morena, plus Éamon S. Green, Ryan Bunch, Angelica Shirley Carpenter, Andrew Scott Hutchins, Colin R. Ayres, and yours truly. (For further information: https://www.lulu.com/spotlight/baringer , and click on the blue Show More to scroll down.) The cover art pictured above was adapted by Alejandro Garcia (alexgarciaart.blogspot.com) from the original 1882 souvenir song folio for the show.

As referenced above, THE WIZARD OF OZ stage musical played from 1902-1909, and although the show included some Baum plotlines, characters, scripting, and lyrics, there were contributions by many others. The show, however, achieved multiple Broadway engagements and was far and away Baum’s greatest theatrical conquest. He tried writing script and lyrics again for an adaptation of his book, THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ, but the resultant THE WOGGLE-BUG (1905) was a quick failure. He similarly and more wisely constructed a mostly original Oz musical for a subsequent endeavor, THE TIK-TOK MAN OF OZ (1913). It enjoyed a reasonably successful outing, toured almost exactly a year after opening on the West Coast, and played as far east as the Midwest.

All this comes by way of saying that L. Frank Baum’s love of song and popular entertainment might naturally have led to his endorsement of MGM’s OZ melodies by Harold Arlen and lyrics by E. Y. “Yip” Harburg. They were contemporary/modern in a late 1930s musical sound and style, yet timeless as such expert words and music have proved to be. Furthermore, the score was “integrated” and didn’t exist just for the sake of sheer diversion. It helped as well to propel the OZ storyline and/or define its characters. Consider “If I Only Had a Brain/a Heart/the Nerve,” “Ding-Dong! the Witch is Dead,” “You’re/We’re Off to See the Wizard” — and then factor in Dorothy’s “I want” song; “Over the Rainbow” expressed emotions that were far more wondrous when sung than they might have been if spoken in dialogue. This was an approach Baum himself attempted early on, as there are several semi-integrated lyrics that survive from his decades of stage writing. For example, his initial contributions to the 1902 WIZARD included “The Scarecrow” (“Alas, for the Man Without Brains”), “Just a Simple Girl from the Prairie,” “When We Get What’s A’Comin’ to Us” (a Dorothy/Scarecrow/Tin Woodman trio), and ‘The Guardian of the Gate”; their titles alone — or at least — convey the author’s intentions.

Another of Baum’s joys – indeed, a personal passion — dates back even earlier, to the boyhood years he lived at Roselawn, the family estate at Mattydale, NY. His rampant, youthful zeal for flowers and gardening was rekindled across the last years of his life in the large backyard he cultivated at Ozcot, the home he and Maud built in 1910, just north of Los Angeles. (They chose to settle in a quiet, uncomplicated little village called Hollywood . . ..) Such was Baum’s expertise that he became quickly known as the champion amateur horticulturist of Southern California, winning more than twenty cups in local flower shows, and garnering special recognition for his chrysanthemums and dahlias. The early Baum biography, TO PLEASE A CHILD (Chicago: Reilly & Lee Co., 1961) – coauthored by eldest son, Frank Joslyn Baum and Russell P. MacFall — discusses Frank’s intense study, cultivation of, and care for his garden, including a prized and secret fertilizer formula of personal devising. Some of the blooms he produced “were as much as a foot across.”

Along those lines, it’s nice to imagine his reaction to the purposely grandiose and glowing flowers with which MGM bedecked the fanciful Munchkinland for the first Technicolor scenes in THE WIZARD OF OZ film!

Of course, Baum’s surprise at seeing his poppy field brought to life on a Culver City soundstage might have topped everything else. The MGM publicity department was in rampant and full swing at that time and noted — without a trace of hyperbole – that it took twenty men a full week to implant the forty thousand artificial flowers into the floor of the set on Stage 29. Whatever the veracity of such a claim, the impact of the workmen’s cumulative effort made a happy impression on twenty-two-year-old Munchkin townswoman Betty Tanner. She remembered for decades to come her surreptitious sneak peek into that huge hanger-like structure and was wide-eyed and dumbstruck by what she saw. Fifty-five years later, she marveled, “Oh, that was BEAUTIFUL. That set was just absolutely BEAUTIFUL!” It’s a safe bet Baum would have concurred:

Although . . .! He might have demonstrated even greater glee at MGM’s denouement for the poppy field scene. His THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ book included a similar sequence wherein Dorothy, Toto, and the Cowardly Lion fell prey to the heavy scent of the poppies, descended into deep slumber, and threatened to “sleep on and on forever.” Baum solved their problem both easily and imaginatively (thus eliminating any nightmares for youngsters). First, he had the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman make a chair of their arms so as to lift Dorothy up out of the flowers – with Toto in her lap – and carry her away from the poppies to safety. To rescue the Lion, the Woodman built a four-wheeled cart, which was then quickly pulled into the poppies by thousands of the subjects of a newly met friend, the Queen of the Field Mice. Her citizens were harnessed together by pieces of string, and once the Scarecrow and Tin Man hefted the Lion onto the cart, the mice swiftly pulled him from peril, too.

Well. Even MGM in its halcyon heyday would have been hard-pressed to summon up thousands of theatrically-trained mice (with their own string); after all, the studio had fallen short of its goal of three hundred Munchkins by roughly one-hundred-and-eighty. So the studio turned to the script of Baum’s 1902 musical, wherein exemplary director and stage craftsman Julian Mitchell developed the poppy scene into one of the highlights of any contemporaneous offering. He brought back the show’s Good Witch of the North (earlier prominent in the Munchkinland segments), and she created a massive snowstorm to defeat the lethal flowers. Each of the latter was played by a leggy chorus girl, garbed in green and wearing an oversize red poppy hat.

Following the same pattern, MGM’s Billie Burke –as Glinda – summoned snow to overcome the spell of the Wicked Witch of the West, Margaret Hamilton. (There was, incidentally, no wicked witch character whatsoever in the 1902 musical.) Baum had thrilled to the winter storm spectacle and its impact on every audience in 1902; he should have felt pride at seeing such an elaborate, expanded recreation of that concept from his own show:

As earlier referenced, THE WIZARD OF OZ stage musical was pretty much an unprecedented theatrical sensation across those years of 1902-1909. If one described it in modern “long-run” company, OZ was sort of the CATS or PHANTOM OF THE OPERA or HELLO, DOLLY! of a much earlier time. That being said, one of the elements of the MGM motion picture that Baum might have liked best was . . . its success!

The studio went all out to launch the film on both coasts. The Los Angeles premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on August 15, 1939, drew a crowd of ten thousand fans, who swarmed either side of Hollywood Boulevard, peered from the windows and rooftops of neighboring buildings, and cheered dozens of arriving stars. (Among the OZ associates in the crowd: producer Mervyn LeRoy; his associate, Arthur Freed; director Victor Fleming, Scarecrow/Ray Bolger, Cowardly Lion/Bert Lahr, Glinda/Billie Burke, Uncle Henry/Charley Grapewin, musical “adaptor” and conductor Herbert Stothart, and five costumed Munchkins from the cast.) The next day, the box offices at both Grauman’s and Loew’s State were swamped; MGM had wisely booked OZ into two of the area’s first-run theaters for its debut.

On the East Coast, the noise made by OZ was even greater, and Baum himself would have been amazed. The picture opened on August 17 at the Capitol Theatre, and the four-abreast throng of eager patrons began lining up at the entrance at 5:30 a.m. By the time the box office opened at eight o’clock, the orderly but jam-packed multitude extended out from the ticket windows at the southwest corner of Broadway and 51et Street, then spilled west down 51st Street to 8th Avenue, bent south from 8th Avenue down to 50th Street, and trailed again back east and then north, around the corner of 50th Street and Broadway. It was a living, breathing moat of nearly ten thousand people, all waiting to get into a venue that seated half that number. Adding to the excitement of the massed and massive all-age assemblage was their anticipation for the “live” stage show they’d be seeing between screenings of THE WIZARD OF OZ: the Capitol Theatre was offering a “special added attraction” of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland singing, dancing, and clowning through a thirty-two minute show, five times a day, and accompanied by a twenty-three piece orchestra.

This view of the eager audience for OZ was taken on the film’s opening day in New York City. The cameraman was situated near 8th Avenue, and his photograph looks east down West 51st Street toward Broadway and the Capitol Theatre. The distant marquee reads: IN PERSON NOW/MICKEY ROONEY/JUDY GARLAND/ON SCREEN/THE WIZARD/OF OZ.

Wouldn’t you stand in line, too?!  😊

It doesn’t take much imagination (at least not if it’s an imagination like mine . . .) to picture Baum on the other side of 51st and Broadway that morning, looking across the street at those thousands of people with a pleased, gentle smile on his face and a bright and grateful twinkle in his eye. I think of him as bemused and quietly astounded – but mostly immeasurably warmed and proud of what had been wrought from his own imaginings of four decades prior . . ..

————-

Next month: Part Two of “What Might Frank Have Thought?” (And many thanks for reading thus far!)

REMEMBERING, RESPONDING, REJOICING: A “NEW YEAR” MEDLEY OF OZ!

By: John Fricke

[Above: Some of you may feel certain that you know what you’re seeing in this photo – and some of you may be right! 😊 But for those who are and for those who aren’t, please keep reading. There’s a specific reason this picture is on display, as well as further specific reasons for all seven which follow in our inaugural ALL THINGS OZ blog for 2022!]

Frank Sinatra sang it best: “Who knows where the road will lead us? Only a fool would say . . . .”
Well, fool I may be, but I’m not foolish enough to actively predict the unfolding, unraveling, and/or unimaginable delights of 2022 — no matter how much hope we all have for the latter! So instead, we’re going to focus on three approaches for the first blog of the year: remembering, responding, and rejoicing. If you’ll (please) “read on,” you’ll see what I mean.
First, we happily recollect two women who lived extraordinary lives, and in terms of longevity alone, that’s an incontrovertible statement. An even greater hallmark, however, was the demeanor possessed by both. Anyone who knew, watched, or worked with them could easily observe the ability, dedication, and determination they possessed. Furthermore, they used all three to infuse day-to-day (and decade-to-decade) existence with energy, joy, caring, and sharing.
One of these women was Betty White, and her career achievements and personal commitments to animal welfare (among other causes) have been reviewed at length across the recent weeks since she passed at age ninety-nine. However! There’s a key factoid about her developmental years that often gets lost amidst homage to THE GOLDEN GIRLS, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, HOT IN CLEVELAND, et al. Are you aware that one of her two or three (absolutely!) favorite authors was L. Frank Baum? In interviews over the years – and in some of her own autobiographical writings — Ms. White has warmly referenced him and the Oz bookS (a capital “S” there, please, as she was very much aware there was much more to “the land” than just one volume). Meanwhile, here’s illustrative proof: In this ebullient photo from the mid-1960s, Betty poses with new husband Allen Ludden. She’s reading Ruth Plumly Thompson’s KABUMPO IN OZ, and he’s holding Baum’s THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ, while a drawing or poster of the latter character unfurls below them. The entire image is, indeed, a lovely way for Oz partisans to remember one of their own.

Another favorite Oz champion passed on Christmas Eve. She certainly wasn’t as internationally famous as Betty White, but she was equally cherished, treasured, and venerated by the fans who’d embraced her across four decades as a mainstay of Oz festivals in the Midwest United States. Mary Ellen Burbach didn’t appear in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1939 film, THE WIZARD OF OZ, but her husband-to-be, Pernell St. Aubin, played in that production as both a Munchkin townsman and soldier. (In later years, Mary Ellen would proudly point him out to those viewing the movie: “Behind Dorothy’s carriage! He’s a soldier – in the front row, closest to the screen!”)

They wed in 1948; prior to that, Mary Ellen worked at the Chicago World’s Fair as well as onstage and in nightclubs, performing with one or another of the famous troupes of “little people” then on the circuit. She also traveled to Hollywood, where she was seen onscreen as a leprechaun princess in MGM’s THREE WISE FOOLS (1946). The movie itself “sort of . . . well, it disappeared!” she would later admit, although Mary Ellen took pride in recalling its all-star cast: Margaret O’Brien, Lionel Barrymore, Lewis Stone, Thomas Mitchell, Edward Arnold, Jane Darwell, Cyd Charisse, Harry Davenport, and Ray Collins among them. In the photo below, the older gentlemen are (from left) Thomas Mitchell (with Margaret O’Brien), Edward Arnold, Lionel Barrymore (seated), and Lewis Stone. Mary Ellen is pretty much dead center in her fairy garb – and note, please, just three leprechauns to her right: Jerry (“Lollipop Guild” of Oz) Maren!

In both preceding and succeeding years, both Mary Ellen and Pernell enjoyed miscellaneous other entertainment-related jobs, but they came into their own as proprietors and bartenders of Chicago’s Midget Club. That comfortable neighborhood establishment (in two locations, first from 1948-1955, and then elsewhere until 1982) was built to their size and, as a result, garnered both curiosity and patronage. Due to such publicity, Jean Nelson of near-by Chesterton, IN, reached out to the St. Aubins in 1982 and invited them to her local WIZARD OF OZ festival. They attended four annual events as a couple; after Pernell’s passing in 1987, Mary Ellen continued to make Oz appearances and became known and adored in Chesterton as the festival’s “first lady.”

The original Chesterton event disbanded after 2012, and a Tinley Park, IL, WIZARD OF OZ FEST was one of several that supplanted it. Mary Ellen continued as their honored guest and “first lady” throughout the festival’s initial five years of operation (2015-2019). The photo here shows her onsite 98th birthday party in September 2018, in which she’s posing with, from left: Carla Sellers (official photographer and attendee of countless Oz festivals), emcee John Fricke (yours truly), and Christine Lascody – Mary Ellen’s best friend.

After a very brief illness, the still-working and vitally-independent Mary Ellen St. Aubin left us at age 101. It might better be said that she left us WITH an amazing legacy of camaraderie, capacity-to-party, and love of life. 😊


Now for a couple of responses! Over the last four years, this blog has discussed many Oz and Frank Baum-related topics; one of the most popular of these has always been MGM’s THE WIZARD OF OZ film. This is, of course, to be expected, as that motion picture has long been recognized as the best-known, best-loved, and most-familiar of all time.

At one recent point, a question was posed to me as to which sequences in the picture offered opportunities to get a glimpse of the stars’ “doubles,” filling in for them for stunts or tricky scenes. Well, as this actually happens with at least five of the principal cast members at one moment or another – and with appreciation for the query – here’s a quick checklist. For example:

a) Judy Garland’s Dorothy double takes the fall into the Kansas pigpen; opens the sepia door of the Kansas farmhouse so that the Technicolor Judy can step forward into Munchkinland; and is swept up into the air by the Winged Moneys.

b) Bert Lahr’s double does the Cowardly Lion’s athletic leap onto the Yellow Brick Road to scare Dorothy and her friends at their first encounter; he also does the dive through the Emerald City window after their first meeting with the Wizard.

c) Jack Haley’s double is dropped – clinking, clanking, and clattering — to the ground in the Haunted Forest, after the Tin Man is hoisted into the air because HE doesn’t believe in spooks.

d) Margaret Hamilton’s double is elevator-propelled onto the Munchkinland set for the first appearance of the Wicked Witch of the West.

AND

e) in a moment that is now astoundingly recognizable, the doubles for the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion are extraordinarily apparent in a couple (though not all) of the shots of the trio as they climb the mountain to reach the Wicked Witch’s Castle. Please see the photo at the top of this month’s blog; it ain’t Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, and Bert Lahr, that’s for sure! Meanwhile, when next you see this sequence of the film, please notice the much-more-raggedy Cowardly Lion costume being worn by the Lahr doppelganger!

Just above? This is one of several other MGM motion picture appearances made by THE WIZARD OF OZ tornado, and over the months, several people have inquired as to where they might see it in action. There are at least two films for which to watch out on the Turner Classic Movies channel, as the special effects footage crafted by A. Arnold “Buddy” Gillespie and his associates was deemed so effective that portions unused in OZ later turned up in both HIGH BARBAREE (1947) and as seen here in a moment from CABIN IN THE SKY (1943). That’s Lena Horne – stunning from any angle – who watches the thirty-five-feet tall muslin and chicken-wire funnel as it approaches to destroy the “wicked place” where she, Ethel Waters, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, and others have been partying.


My own rejoicing this month comes in the form of professional and personal appreciation. Some of you may remember recently reading here about the new book, THE ART OF OZ, published in December by Rizzoli and launched by Gabriel Gale and me in both virtual and random book-signings since November — including one for Chittenango’s All Things Oz Gift Shop and Museum! Both of us are sincerely, deeply grateful for the enthusiasm shown by those who have purchased and enjoyed THE ART OF OZ, but the New York book launch on November 19th was uniquely memorable. Not only did a jam-packed crowd turn out – more than thirty had to stand in the rear of the room after all seats were taken – but there were two very special guests on hand. One of these was Jane Lahr, daughter of OZ movie Cowardly Lion Bert Lahr. Jane actually served as the book packager of THE ART OF OZ, and it was her passion and delight in Gabe’s artwork that led to Rizzoli’s acquiring the project. The other visitant was Scott Meserve, grandson of the Wickedest Witch of the West of ALL time, Margaret Hamilton. You can imagine the thrill of their presence for the many Oz fans in attendance, as Jane and Scott lent distinction, class, glee, and history to the event.

So . . . here are a couple of photos of their forbearers in appreciation for magic past, present, and future! (That of Maggie was specifically chosen to emphasize her grandmotherly aura – everywhere apparent during her print-ad and TV commercial reign as Cora, spokesperson for Maxwell House coffee during the 1970s.)

The other professional association of the moment – for which gratitude is due — is pictorially summarized just below. Michael Feinstein and I have been friends for more than forty years, and it was (as might be expected) a professional joy to assist behind-the-scenes in the assemblage and presentation of his new show, GET HAPPY. The two-act concert celebrates the 2022 centennial of Judy Garland, honoring in song her vaudeville and motion picture repertoire, as well as her stage, recording, and television careers. GET HAPPY was offered over nine performances here in New York City between December 15 and 26, and audiences were enraptured by the music, lyrics, and anecdotes Michael shared. (Four of his songs are among those written by Harold Arlen and E. Y. “Yip” Harburg for THE WIZARD OF OZ score.) My own role came in providing Garland memorabilia — stills, posters, program covers, and some film footage — to serve as visual accompaniment, virtually throughout the evening. So all OZ movie fans and all Garland and Great American Popular Song adherents, advocates, and aficionados, please take note: Watch for Michael as he tours GET HAPPY in honor of HER centennial (June 10 of this year).

There you have it: remembering, responding, and rejoicing! 😊 I hope you’ve enjoyed this means of swinging into 2022. It seemed to be a fitting way to simultaneously look back and look ahead at some of the love and immeasurable pleasure that annually grows out of L. Frank Baum, Oz, and everything they’ve wrought in 121 years. I know I’m thankful for it all – and I know I’m thankful that you continue to align with us here every month to share the prized memories and activities.
Here’s to the health, blessings, and elations ahead!

WE NEED A “FRANK BAUM” CHRISTMAS!

By John Fricke

[Above: This glorious poster trumpeted the initial publication of THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS, L. Frank Baum’s 1902 fantasy novel for children. The original Mary Cowles Clark graphic was adapted by superlative Oz illustrator/designer Dick Martin for the wraparound cover of the Christmas 1965 edition of THE BAUM BUGLE – then (since 1957) and now (to this day and beyond!) the thrice-yearly “journal of Oz” publication of The International Wizard of Oz Club, Inc. (ozclub.org)]

One plain and simple fact should come as no surprise to anyone reading here: L. Frank Baum had a limitless imagination and — to be sure — extraordinary real-life adventures. That combination led him to write not only about Oz and its countless unique citizens and hamlets, but to pen dozens of additional sagas of other original peoples and lands. Baum could also, when he began to dream with paper and pencil in hand, fathom the chronicles of already legendary or thought-to-be-mythic historical figures. Fortunately for us, one such realization came to the master storyteller in his comprehension of the narrative he put forward as THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS in 1902.

The book was first announced – in January of that year — for forthcoming publication by The George M. Hill Company of Chicago. They heralded as SANTA CLAUS: HIS LIFE AND ADVENTURES with the promotional declaration: “We confidently believe [it] will make the biggest sensation known to the juvenile book world since ALICE IN WONDERLAND.” When the Hill combine declared bankruptcy in March, however, rights to Baum’s SANTA CLAUS were allotted to Bowen-Merrill publishers (soon to be Bobbs-Merrill), who changed the title as referenced in the preceding paragraph.

[Above: Baum discovered that the young Claus was befriended by countless fairy folk as a boy. Shown with him here are the Ryls, whose active existence is explained just below. This color plate by Mary Cowles Clark is from the first edition of THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS.]

In Baum’s story, Claus is a mortal baby, adopted by a fairy wood nymph and raised among the immortals in the enchanted forest of Burzee. Among his closest companions are the Ryls and the Knooks. Baum specifically describes both in his evocative text: “The Ryls are required to watch over the flowers and plants . . .. They search the wide world for the food required by the roots of the plants, while the brilliant colors possessed by the full-grown flowers are due to the dyes placed in the soil by the Ryls, which are drawn through the little veins in the roots and the body of the plants as they reach maturity.” The Knooks have been created “to watch over the beasts of the world, both gentle and wild.” The anxieties of such work “make the Knooks look old and worn and crooked,” but they and the Ryls are among Claus’s prime helpers when he leaves Burzee, relocates to the adjacent Laughing Valley of Hohaho, grows to manhood, and is inspired to bring joy to children.

How Claus came to create or invent toys and dolls; to conceptualize Christmas trees and Christmas stockings; to magically travel on Christmas Eve – and on and on – is best left to all of you to discover when you read Baum’s biography of the gentleman. When Claus (against many odds) becomes immortal, the recounting of that situation is offered by the “Royal Historian” in what seems to me to be one of the most touching and meaningful of his writings.

[Above: Baum included Santa in several of his works over the years, most notably the fifth Oz book, THE ROAD TO OZ (1909). Therein, the jolly old soul is a venerated and revered guest for the story’s grand finale: Princess Ozma’s birthday celebration on August 21st. John R. Neill drew this lavishly detailed, full-page illustration to picture Santa’s arrival at the Royal Palace in the center of the Emerald City. He is preceded by the sprightly, charmed Ryls and followed by the gnarled but wondrously powerful Knooks.]

Baum’s THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS initially remained in print for two decades. In recent years, it’s been republished, abridged, adapted into two animated versions, and presented in a comic book and multi-part Japanese anime series – among other incarnations. It’s not nearly as well-known, of course, as THE WIZARD OF OZ and the Oz books, yet it deserves a new edition; it would be ideal for reading aloud to youngsters of ages four through seven – or for their own joy by any reading-precocious and fantasy-prone youngsters.

(Above: A “tele-op” slide – or screen card — designed to advertise showings of the first animated version of THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS. Originally broadcast by CBS-TV in December 1985, the fifty-minute Rankin/Bass stop-motion production remains a tender, yet emotionally stirring condensation of Baum’s story; seek it out on home video or cable at this (or any!) time of the year. 😊 ]

This is, of course, the logical, annual All Things Oz blog in which to recall Baum’s “book for 1902.” Given his Chittenango birthplace, however, it’s perhaps even more appropriate to veer away from the professional and embrace the personal. It’s thus a privilege to share here a recollection contributed by L. Frank Baum’s third son, Harry Neal, to the Oz Club’s magazine, THE BAUM BUGLE, in their Christmas 1965 edition. (Harry was then honorary president of the organization, and the summer lodge he and wife Brenda operated at Bass Lake, IN, was the site of the Club’s original conventions.) There could be no better combination of words than those Harry selected to describe Frank Baum’s approach to the holidays for his family:

SANTA CLAUS AT THE BAUMS’ by Harry Neal Baum

“We always had a Christmas tree, and this was purchased by Father and set up in the front parlor behind drapes that shut off the room. This, Father explained, was done to help Santa Claus, who was a very busy man and had a good many houses with children to call upon.

“Santa Claus (Father) came a little later to deck the tree, and we children heard him talking to us behind the curtains. We tried to peek through cracks in the curtains, but although we could hear Santa Claus talking, we never managed to see him and only heard his voice.

“On Christmas Day, when the curtains were opened, there was the Christmas tree that Santa Claus had decorated – a blaze of different colors, and the presents for each of the boys stacked below it! It was an exciting and thrilling experience, and we had no doubt that Santa had really called at our house and left these wonderful presents for all of us. “Note: One Christmas, we had FOUR Christmas trees – one for each of the four boys – in the four corners of the room!”              

[Above: The cover of my own 1902 edition of THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS. I bought it in the mid-1960s at a Milwaukee, WI, used-bookstore for $5.00, and – while a number of other early acquisitions have had to be sent on their way over the years – it remains a personal treasure and pleasure. Baum originally dedicated the book, “To My Son, Harry Neal Baum”; some sixty-three years later, that son penned the brief reminiscence shared above. And when I attended my next International Wizard of Oz Club convention a few months later, I took the book along, and Harry kindly autographed it, “With all good wishes . . . .”]

As must be obvious, this month’s essay also offers “all good wishes” for the season and coming year, whether you’re having the sort of “Frank Baum Christmas” described by Harry Neal – in your own family manner and traditions, of course – or you’re enjoying a Baum-y holiday by enjoying THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS on the printed page, on home video, on cable, or via streaming.

Whatever your celebratory circumstances or customs, may you all know the heart happiness that Mr. Baum so often purveyed in his entertainments — and may you be warmed in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead with blessed good health and good experiences. As the primary “Dorothy Gale” of so many memories sings in her 1949 film, IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME: “May the ones you love be near you, with the laugh of friends to cheer you . . ..”

Thank you, Judy.

Thank you – especially and always – L. Frank Baum.

And thank you, all of you, for coming here for another year of sharing and reading.