One of the
introductory special features of Rizzoli’s new and gloriously illustrated book,
THE ART OF OZ, is a “royal proclamation extraordinary” from Princess Ozma — and
perhaps it best explains the celebratory nature of this new volume from artist
Gabriel Gale. In her decree, directly addressed to Gale, Ozma “hereby and
happily sanctions the sharing of your bright new pictorial entertainment with
the Many Friends of Oz in the Great Outside World.” She continues, “In this
manner, all children . . . may view your fresh and present-day drawings of the
best-loved characters who reside in Oz . . . [and] those who dwell nearby,
underneath, and in the depths of the oceans around and about our Marvelous
And that is
JUST what Gabe’s art provides: beautifully designed portraits and examinations
of outstanding Ozian citizens, creatures, curiosities, creations (and a few monsters!),
taken from L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, his “Borderland of Oz” fantasies, and a
few of Gale’s own characters from his fictional AGES OF OZ series. (The first
two volumes of those books for “middle-school-and-up” children were published
in 2017 and 2018 by Simon & Schuster.)
publication date of THE ART OF OZ Is October 19th, but personally
autographed copies may be ordered NOW, and further information about that will be
found below. In addition to more than one-hundred-and-fifty representations, studies,
and diagrams from Gabe, the book also includes sixty-five W. W. Denslow and
John R. Neill pictures from the original Baum books, as well as pull quotes
from Baum’s own texts to describe many of the various “Ozzies.” Furthermore,
there is a full, original, and accompanying text throughout, which serves as a
guide to Baum’s wondrous realms and adventurers. It’s been designed to
accompany and entertain any reader of any age, whether one is a long-term,
long-time fan or someone who knows Oz solely through the plot of the first
book, THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, and/or the iconic Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Judy
Garland motion picture based on it.
One of the
unique things about the text is that it was garnered from interviews with eight
genuine legends of Baum’s kingdom. As such, each has written a different
chapter of THE ART OF OZ, describing the extraordinary personalities or
oddities depicted therein. These Oz celebrities, of course, enjoyed close
associations or escapades (or — in some cases — experienced dangerous
encounters) with those shown in Gabriel Gale’s likenesses; they are therefore
eminently qualified to recount the attendant stories.
THE ART OF OZ thus will be able to acquaint or reacquaint themselves with the
reflections and remembrances of Dorothy Gale (formerly of Kansas and now a
happy resident of the Emerald City); her close companions, the Scarecrow, Tin
Woodman, and Cowardly Lion; Glinda the Good; and the Wonderful Wizard himself. Even
Toto gets a chapter, and he sagely introduces it by asking, “Are you surprised
I can write? I can talk, too! Oz animals have that ability, although I lived in
the Emerald City for years before anyone knew it about me. Until then, I
communicated with my bark and tail . . . and charm! One day, however, Princess
Ozma told Dorothy that any animal ‘who came under the spell of’ Oz could talk.
So, Dorothy encouraged me ‘to be more sociable,’ and after teasing her with
bow-wows, woofs, and wagging, I agreed. I’ve been speaking ever since!”
In THE ART
OF OZ, these seven personages consider the witches, beasts, curiosities,
mechanicals, and other diverse fantasy compatriots of Oz, as well as the
Emerald City itself. Professor H. M. Woggle-Bug, T. E. (from Baum’s second Oz
title, THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ) also jumps in – one gets the impression he
couldn’t be stopped – to conduct an examination of “The Maps of Oz.” He
additionally contributes fulsome captions throughout and a full introduction to
the book itself. “Full” (of himself) is the operative word, but as he
unavoidably self-endorses, he is “after all, a Very Big Bug.”
In the process of exploring its Gabriel Gale illustrations and “on location” reportage from actual favorite Ozites, those who revel in THE ART OF OZ will encounter such famed, memorable, or haunting citizenry as (among others): the Winged Monkeys, the Wicked Witch of the West, the Emerald City Guardian of the Gates and the Soldier with the Green Whiskers, Jack Pumpkinhead, Tik-Tok the Machine Man, the Flying Gump, the Wheelers, General Jinjur, the Kalidahs, the Li-Mon-Eags, the Fuddles, the Gargoyles, the Ryls (friends of the young Santa Claus), the Phanfasms, the Hammer-Heads, the Scoodlers, the Frogman, the Flatheads, the Growleywogs, the Horners and Hoppers, Quox the ever-personable Dragon – and many more.
As you might
be able to tell by the foregoing, THE ART OF OZ has been conceptualized,
created, and constructed as a twenty-first century passport to L. Frank Baum’s
magical land. Children will be astounded at a “grown-up” book that is so
particularly designed – in images and language – for all ages; it is hoped that
their joy at reading (or having read to them) the actual chapters of Oz
comments from Dorothy and her friends will resonate most happily. Meanwhile,
above and beyond the text, there are well over two hundred exceptional,
brilliant pictures; Gabriel Gale’s virtuosity is infused with imagination, his
gifts, and his lifelong love of Oz – all hallmarks to be found as well in the
accompanying work of the Messrs. Baum, Denslow, and Nell.
Finally, the book also presents a fine afterword by preeminent L. Frank Baum scholar, biographer, and historian Michael Patrick Hearn, in which he offers an appreciation of Gale’s visuals and places them in historical context. Hearn also shares quotes from the artist, which provide even further insight into the nature of Gabe’s approach to THE ART OF OZ.
As you might
imagine, there’s much more to share about the book: how Gabriel Gale met
renowned New York City book editor and “packager” Jane Lahr on the Oz Festival
circuit a few years ago; how her Oz passion (as, no less, the daughter of MGM’s
Cowardly Lion) and her savvy and admiration of Gabe’s remarkable talents led to
the proposal for THE ART OF OZ; how it was taken up by Rizzoli, one of the
world’s most highly-esteemed publishers of art books; and how designers Lisa
Schreiber and Michael Walsh aligned all the visual and verbiage components with
style, panache, and elan.
Jane, Michael, and/or me at a book signing across the next year; we’ll tell
proud and grateful – as an associate of all three of them – to have been given
the privilege of conducting and transcribing the interviews with the Oz
luminaries to provide THE ART OF OZ text. That’s why you see my name on the
cover up there. Of course, I’ve been visiting Oz on a regular (okay, “daily” .
. .) basis since age five, but I’m still very much aware of how fortunate I am
that the residents there have come to trust me with their words and reminiscences,
much as they’ve trusted Gabe with their images. Thank you all.
AUTOGRAPHED COPIES —
As noted above, THE ART OF OZ will be published by Rizzoli on
October 19th. The book is nearly two hundred pages of Oz, with color
illustrations (often more than one!) on virtually every glossy leaf. The All
Things Oz Gift Museum Gift Shop is now taking advance orders via email at
firstname.lastname@example.org; each book will be accompanied by a personally
autographed book plate, signed by both Gabriel Gale and John Fricke.
THE ART OF OZ is priced at $39.95, plus tax and shipping. The books
and book plates will be shipped in late October.
One of Chittenango’s most loyal boosters — and OZ-Stravaganza!
attendees — sent me an email this past Wednesday, August 25th, that simply
“Happy WIZARD OF OZ Day!”
He, like so many others on social media, was celebrating the fact
that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s extraordinary movie of L. Frank Baum’s story, THE
WIZARD OF OZ, was nationally released on that date in 1939.
Eighty-two years ago!
Given the inspiration of his email, it seemed like a worthy idea
to use this month’s blog to contemplate the most recent pop-culture impressions
made by that motion picture — now in its ninth decade of legend. I know I
don’t have to discuss with those reading here the fame and familiarity of Judy
Garland & Company. They, along with “Over the Rainbow,” the ruby
slippers, Baum’s characters, his Yellow Brick Road, Poppy Field, Emerald City,
and melting witch, are so deeply ingrained in public consciousness that it’s
almost best to simply and declaratively state that MGM’s THE WIZARD OF OZ isn’t
any longer “a film”; it’s a world-wide phenomenon.
Across the last three-and-a-half-years, there (thus far) have been
forty-one blogs in this series. Every four or five months, one of them has looked
back at some aspect of Metro’s movie, cast, production, promotion, or reception.
The most recent of these, back in March, celebrated MGMunchkin Margaret
Pellegrini, so another nod to the 1939 film seems due about now. As noted
above, there’s great, good reason to do so, for the movie continues to grab
international, national, internet, and/or fan “headlines.”
For example (and just in the past few months!):
1) It would have been difficult indeed
to escape the multimedia attention accorded OZ in July, when another of Judy
Garland’s “Dorothy Gale” dresses from the motion picture was pretty much
unexpectedly discovered at the Catholic University of America in Washington,
D.C. (Please see photos just above.) Gifted
to the institution by celebrated actress Mercedes McCambridge circa 1973, the
garment had been treasured, eventually carefully folded up, placed in a shoe
box, and tucked so safely away that no one knew where it had gone! It turned
up, quite by accident all these decades later, on an office shelf – the shoe
box wrapped in a protective garbage bag. The iconic outfit has since been authenticated
by the same Smithsonian Institution archival team that oversees and protects a
pair of Judy’s ruby slippers at the National Museum of American History.
Next month, the long-awaited, oft-postponed, and no-doubt-glorious Academy Museum of Motion Pictures will open in Los Angeles,
and it has already won classification as the world’s premier institution
dedicated to the art and science of movies. Given that, it’s yet another signal
honor for MGM’s THE WIZARD OF OZ to have been selected to launch the edifice in
two separate and wondrous ways. Opening day, September 30th, will be
celebrated with “A Symphonic Night at the Movies”: a matinee and evening
screening of OZ at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., accompanied
by the American Youth Symphony, conducted by
There’ll be, as well, a concurrent MGM OZ exhibition, including such film-related memorabilia as one of the then-cutting edge (and majorly cumbersome!) Technicolor cameras used to film the picture; a Munchkin jacket costume; documents and photographs that (per a press announcement) “will explore the [OZ] screenwriting, casting, make-up design, costumes, and stars such as Judy Garland”; AND a pair of the original ruby slippers. The latter was purchased on behalf of the Academy several years ago by a consortium of contributors, including (among others) Leonardo DiCaprio and Steven Spielberg. These ruby slippers are in the best condition of all known surviving pairs.
photo above – or one of four others taken on the same occasion – Is said to be
part of the Academy’s OZ exhibition and is my very minor contribution to the
event! They reached out to me about “the Munchkin bus pictures” about
two-and-a-half-years ago, as I’d used them in several books, articles, and
documentaries since I first discovered the negatives by accident in 1990. (They
had been misfiled with pictures from a totally non-OZ-related motion picture
for many decades.)
series of poses was made in Times Square, NYC, in early November 1938. Many of
the “little people” who lived in the Northeast were asked to congregate there
to depart by bus for California and their roles in THE WIZARD OF OZ. And yes .
. . for the countless thousands who came to know and love him on the “Oz
Festival Circuit” between 1989 and 2010 (including the annual Chittenango OZ-Stravaganza!),
that’s eighteen-year-old Jerry Maren, dead center in the first row, sporting a
pullover sweater, tie, and suspenders. The smallest of the assembled gang on
the bus, he would soon be cast as the (again!) dead center member of The
Lollipop Guild trio in the movie.
3) Meanwhile, back in 2021, other OZ activities continue unabated. There have been any number of recent MGM-related podcasts, although the sum total is a very mixed bag of varying quality. One of the best of these, at least per the comments I’ve heard, is the ambitious, multi-part series, NO PLACE LIKE HOME, written and hosted by Ariel Ramchandani with cohost Seyward Darby. (Full disclosure here: I did a two-hour-plus interview for the program, but I’ve not yet heard any of it and have no idea to what extent I might have been incorporated. The enthusiasm referenced above has come via unsolicited responses offered elsewhere.)
4) Most controversial of the present-day OZ announcements has been that of a “remake” of THE WIZARD OF OZ, to eventually come from New Line and Temple Hill, to be directed by Nicole Kassell. Although irate fans were immediately up-in-arms and manning the battlements at such news, their ire was mostly based on ill-chosen phrases by the media in heralding the news. First of all, please remember that IF this new THE WIZARD OF OZ makes it to the screen, it is not intended as a literal remake of the MGM musical. It’s instead to be a retelling of the Baum text, and as those who love the Oz books have forever lobbied for a “real” version of his story, this might be it. Even more importantly (at least for the moment): Countless other such film and TV projects have been screechingly and screamingly proclaimed over the years, never again to surface – never mind materialize. (The lobby card above, however, is posted here as a reminder to all filmmakers everywhere who might think it a good idea to actually, actively recreate the 1939 movie: You ain’t never, ever gonna come even near to touching – never mind equaling – the coalescence of talents pictured and named here!)
5) Finally, an audio recording made for the soundtrack of Metro’s OZ in September 1938 has been floating around for a number of years, but it’s lately caused a lot of social media conversation. So let’s conclude with some music!
The Scarecrow’s “If I Only Had a Brain” was one of the
very first OZ pre-recordings, to which Ray Bolger and Judy Garland would
lip-sync and dance on the Yellow Brick Road. It was among the first moments
actually filmed, too, in late 1938. But there was eventual dissatisfaction with
the rendition, its orchestration, and its choreography: too light and whimsical,
not enough verve and energy. So the whole thing was redone the following
March. This, however, is the first
version, and those of you who know the sequence well will have no difficulty in
picking up on the differences in Ray’s vocal delivery and the more sanguine
dance music that follows:
Happy listening! And thanks (very much) for reading. It seems
there’s no end to the surprises that continue to be conjured by MGM’s
adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s THE WIZARD OF OZ.
In recent months, these
All Things Oz blogs have discussed the Ozcot Lodge in Indiana; the Ozcot home
of L. Frank Baum in Hollywood; the extraordinary range of virtual guests at
last month’s OZStravaganza! in Chittenango, NY; Ms. Margaret Pellegrini — that
most beloved of MGMovie Munchkins; the writings of Baum and other “Royal
Historians” . . . and on and on.
It’s now no surprise
whatsoever that Oz has, in its 121 years-to-date, become ever-more fascinating
Across July, we received
some kind comments about last month’s reminiscences, which covered the first
International Wizard of Oz Club (ozclub.org) conventions in the early 1960s. (I
began attending them as a preteen.) The enthusiasm of those who read these
memories has spurred, in turn, additional, happy personal reminders for me of
even earlier or simultaneous Ozzy delights – along with the believe-it-or-not
fact that Oz news was then comparatively infrequent. This may be difficult to
fathom these days, when it’s amazingly true that new Oz projects of all types
seem to be announced on a weekly basis: books, motion pictures, theater
adaptations, games, puppet shows, podcasts, and ad infinitum! So this month, we’re again looking back at
the era when Oz news was disseminated by the rare newspaper or magazine mention
– and such information then had to be shared between partisans via the United
States Postal Service, at whatever the cost of paper, envelope, and stamps.
(Long distance phone calls were prohibitively expensive!)
I discovered the Oz book series when I was seven and started to receive those volumes as birthday, Christmas (and etc.) gifts when I was eight. This was in the late 1950s, and I very quickly came to realize that the clean, new copies – fresh from the Reilly & Lee publishing company – were one-and-all (if in diverse ways) thrilling. But my next gradual comprehension was less pleasant: my earliest Oz Club adult correspondents told me that the original editions of the first twenty-nine titles in the series (but for one volume) had included color plates or color illustrations. The modern day reprints I was reading, in a cost-effective move, had long since dropped them.
Eventually, I managed to amass a stack of some earlier editions – with the plates – but I never corralled all of them. That means that these days there remain many beauteous John R. Neill color pictures that still come as a surprise to me when someone shares them, or when I’m privy to browse through another’s collection. Such art always provides an emotional flashback to the Oz glee I possessed as a child. This is one of those plates:
The summer I was nine, I read a brief newspaper announcement that Shirley Temple would launch her new monthly series of TV specials with an adaptation of Baum’s second Oz book, to be telecast by NBC on September 18, 1960. For weeks, I rapturously anticipated THE LAND OF OZ and its all-star cast, and although I was in-advance disgruntled (because I knew a lot of the story would have to be omitted to cram the saga into fifty-two minutes plus commercials), it was still Oz! Shirley played Tip/Ozma, Agnes Moorehead was a nifty Mombi, and Sterling Holloway, Ben Blue, Gil Lamb, and Frances Bergen beautifully embodied (respectively) Jack Pumpkinhead, the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Glinda. Even Mel Blanc was on hand as the voice of the Sawhorse, with Arthur Treacher as Graves, the (what else?) Butler.
It was just two years
later that there was another major Oz announcement in newspaper and movie
magazine columns: a forthcoming feature-length animated cartoon musical, RETURN
TO THE LAND OF OZ. Producer Norman Prescott heralded this coup in autumn 1962:
not only would the songs be written by the Academy Award-winning team of Sammy
Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, but Prescott had secured the services of Liza
Minnelli as a singing Dorothy Gale. This marked the first professional
assignment for the then-sixteen-year-old daughter of MGM’s WIZARD OF OZ
Dorothy, Judy Garland. Minnelli was to be featured in four of the thirteen
RETURN TO THE LAND OF OZ musical numbers; others would be sung by Ethel Merman,
Danny Thomas, Peter Lawford, Milton Berle, Rise Stevens, Herschel Bernardi, and
Jack E. Leonard. (Mel Blanc, Paul Lynde, and Paul Ford had non-singing parts,
as did Margaret Hamilton, who made a quantum leap from her MGM OZ roles as
Almira Gulch/the Wicked Witch of the West by assaying the tender-hearted
voicing of Aunt Em for the cartoon.)
Such a mix of talent created a genuine stir in the Oz community in 1962 — and I was among the most feverish of all! My Oz passions by then had been augmented by a fledgling fascination with musical comedy. Yet pretty much everyone’s curiosity about the project lessened as year after year passed, and there was no sign of the production coming to fruition. It was gradually learned that Prescott completed soundtrack recording for the film in short order but then ran into financial problems; it took him and his associates nearly a decade to finish the cartoon’s animation. (During that time, Mickey Rooney replaced Lawford on the track and rerecorded the Scarecrow’s voice.) When the picture finally made its debut in England and Australia in 1972, most interest and anticipation for it had faded, while the title itself had evolved from RETURN TO OZ to THE RETURN TO OZ to JOURNEY BACK TO OZ. A 1974 USA theatrical release was a washout, although the production later found a somewhat responsive audience during teleshowings and on home video.
Last month’s blog discussed the 1960s’ Oz convention showings of some of the early silent Oz movies – especially those made by L. Frank Baum himself in 1914. (They were abetted by the long. dull, minimally Ozzy, and very weird feature done in 1925.) As I wrote here in June, I couldn’t believe I was seeing those motion pictures during my first formal Oz gatherings, and the 1914 productions, at least, were fascinating and often delightful. These Baum fantasias (THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ, THE MAGIC CLOAK OF OZ, and HIS MAJESTY, THE SCARECROW OF OZ) contained his own story elements and treasured characters — including some new astonishments like my personal favorite, “the awful lonesome Zoop.” Each reel of film opened and closed with an EXTREME close-up of The Oz Film Company’s “living logo,” actress Vivian Reed as Princess Ozma:
We’ve long since passed
into an era when all of those silent films (and countless other Oz motion
pictures and television shows) are readily at hand. A 16mm projector, screen,
and personal film prints have been supplanted by VHS, DVD, and YouTube. Yet the
early cinematic thrills that came along for Oz fans in the 1960s, 1970s, and
into the 1980s were extraordinary, simply BECAUSE the material was only
minimally available – and certainly never at just the touch of a “play” button.
As you’ve read above, announcements
about Oz events often appeared out of the blue – and as surprises that
galvanized the small Oz Club community into communication. It was a lovely,
warming time to be a fan: all thirty-nine of the Oz books were back in print
for several years beginning in 1960; there was the new addition to the series
(number forty!), MERRY GO ROUND IN OZ, in 1963; MGM’s WIZARD OF OZ was a
cross-country, heavily-anticipated annual TV event; articles began to appear in
national publications about Baum, Oz, and the Oz Club . . . and the random
expansions of the Oz franchise continued to mount.
Did we think it would ever
come to its present day omnipresence? I know I didn’t even contemplate such a
thing “back in the day”; I was too busy enjoying all we had! But given today’s internet,
the rabid fan groups of all ages, and the immediate (if not faster!) exchange
of news, gOZzip, activities, and all, it’s now entirely possible to get swept
up in a daily cyclone (you didn’t think I’d say, “go down a rabbit hole,” did you?),
and to become enmeshed and immersed in — and to otherwise hobnob with — the
latest Ozian escapades and “escapaders.”
What’s this? You need,
want, and demand proof of such omnipresence, commonality, and familiarity of Oz
in present-day pop culture? Okay, here are two examples: 1) Please review the
photo at the very top of this blog and note that an entire, month-long county
fair was built around Baum’s imagination and its varied franchises just two
years ago last month. It attracted 1,531,199
And 2) For those who require an even more recent example, here’s an editorial cartoon born of the early July heatwave:
A few months ago, this blog celebrated “Ozcot,” the
Hollywood, California, home built for themselves by L. Frank Baum (Royal
Historian of Oz) and his wife, Maud, in 1910. Other recent blogs about the
Baums have referenced that property, as well.
But there was another Ozcot – a small summer lodge maintained
and run by Harry Neal Baum, the third of Frank and Maud’s four sons. It was a
multi-story, clapboard building on the shore of Bass Lake, Indiana, and Harry
and his wife, Brenda, opened it to vacationers, Sunday diners, family reunions,
and small conventions. The Oz Club was only four years old when it held its
first weekend gathering there, September 8-10, 1961. This drew a couple of
dozen people (roughly one-fourth of the Club’s membership at that time!), and the
initial conference managed to program a number of activities that have been
integral aspects of Club get-togethers ever since, i.e., a costume contest,
musical entertainment, special guest speakers, and the like.
Its success was also enough to launch the idea of making such informal Ozzy socializing an annual event for collectors, partisans, and friends. I didn’t become an Oz Club member until the following July (1962), thus missing the second convention by just a month. (They’d switched the date from September to the third weekend in June to accommodate those potential attendees who would have school conflicts in the autumn and be unable to get away.) I spent the next eleven months totally gearing up for June 1963, and thanks to comprehending and compassionate parents, away my mom and I went. (My dad stayed at home with my seven-year-old brother and not quite two-year-old sister.) It took us two trains – we changed in Chicago — to get to North Judson, Indiana, which was the nearest mini-depot to Bass Lake. At age twelve, however, and after seven years as an increasingly frenzied Oz and Baum devotee, any trip by any means would have been worth it to me: I was about to arrive “in” Oz for the very first time . . . .
On detraining, we were met by Fred M. Meyer, secretary of the
Club and my basic “correspondence conduit” to its doings across the preceding
months. He simultaneously greeted a woman and her three children; the oldest of
these was about my age, and I eagerly turned to him to initiate an Oz
conversation. He was polite and pleasant but immediately turned me over to his
mom, Martha Liehe; she was the fan, and the kids were just along for the ride –
“training it” all the way from Denver, no less!
True confession here: Indiana’s “Ozcot” wasn’t a
vacationer’s dream. There was no air conditioning, and those of you who know
Indiana in June may now recoil in horror. Additionally, there were steep
staircases to the upper floors, a sometimes-erratic evening meal schedule, just
a handful of bathrooms, and – as convention attendance increased between 1963
and 1968 – increasingly jammed sleeping quarters.
did it matter?
There was a screened-in porch, facing the lake, by which one entered
the lodge. Once in the actual building, the central staircase was directly in
front of you. To the left was the parlor, with its baby grand piano, Maxfield
Parrish print(s?) from the illustrations he did for L. Frank Baum’s MOTHER
GOOSE IN PROSE, and shelves and shelves of books. The treasures among those
were copies of Oz and other volumes by Baum, which he himself had had rebound
in leather and “stamped” in gold for his personal library some five decades
The room to the right was designated as the primary meeting area.
There were tables of Oz and fantasy books for sale by fellow conventioneers. There
were Oz dolls and Oz toys and Oz peanut butter glasses on the shelves. There
were posters on the wall from the 1902 stage production of THE WIZARD OF OZ,
from the 1949 reissue of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1939 WIZARD OF OZ film, AND the
wood-carving “Sign of the Goose” that Baum himself made and painted more than
sixty years earlier to herald his summer home in Macatawa, Michigan. (That year
of my first convention, 1963, also saw a display of a dozen or more beautiful –
and astoundingly detailed – maps of Oz and its surrounding countries, designed
and drawn by various enthusiasts.)
Across the weekend, chairs traveled in and out of that room to
accommodate seating for the thirty or so in attendance. It was our “auditorium”
for the evening showing of silent Oz movies: a portion of THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF
OZ (1914) and THE WIZARD OF OZ (1925). Suffice it to say, this was a rare and
highly anticipated treat in those pre-home video days; I’d been reading about
those films for five years – but now I’d actually SEE them! During Saturday
afternoon, we gathered in the same spot for the equally awaited auction of rare
and collectible material, although – in those days – prices only occasionally
soared into the double digits. (And then it would take a first edition, or a
rare title, or original Neill artwork to do so.) There were Ozzy discussions
all day and deep into the night in the meeting room, the parlor, and on the
porch – plus an Oz quiz based on all the books in the series, and unfamiliar
songs from the early Oz stage musicals pounded out on the piano.
Brenda Baum was an indefatigable hostess, seemingly everywhere at once and simultaneously overseeing the housekeeping and the kitchen. (As per Ozcot publicity, meals were served by college girls wearing “Dorothy of Oz” dresses – i.e., checkered gingham.) Harry Neal Baum was then 73 but going strong. In succeeding years, one could see that he was beginning to slow down a bit, and he eventually passed away in June 1967, just days before that year’s Convention. Yet Brenda drew all of us to her – “the Ozmaniacs,” in her parlance – and the Club held its last Ozcot meetings in 1967 and 1968. We then followed Brenda to Michigan for a number of years, where she served as hostess at the Castle Park resort.
Prior to my first meeting with him in 1963, Harry Neal Baum and I had already exchanged letters (and imagine, please, the level of pleasure that suffused a preteen at receiving a handwritten communication from one of the sons of L. Frank Baum). 😊 When we met, Harry also autographed my copy of THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS, which his father had dedicated to him in 1902. But for everyone, the 1963 “Harry highlight” came when he rose from the dinner table on the first evening of the OzCon to make a brief speech of welcome (and gratitude for all the Baumian allegiance). He then shared some charming personal history about an entertainment in Macatawa circa 1900, when his dad worked up a patter song for Harry and younger brother Kenneth (both preteens) to perform during a local amateur night. He clearly recalled that they’d worn matching white sailor suits, sat on a bench, stared unsmilingly at the audience, and (alternating lines) sang, “I was walking ‘round the ocean on a Sunday afternoon/When I met a lobster salad, but I didn’t have a spoon . . . . ” The nonsense verses went on from there; Harry sang ’em all for the enraptured conventioneers. After their song, the two boys apparently did a little dance, and although Harry didn’t try to recreate that, he did note that, at the time, they were “still seated on the bench and staring straight ahead – and moving only our feet and lower legs in simple steps.” Meanwhile, Oz Club artist Dick Martin had heard the anecdote at least a year earlier and convinced Harry to write up the story, both for posterity and publication in the Club’s BAUM BUGLE magazine. It appeared in the December 1962 issue, with this Dick Martin illustration:
So much came of that weekend for me. It marked the onset of my
regular attendance at Oz Club conventions, to which I pretty much unabatedly
returned into the 1990s (and still do, though on a more random basis). In those
early years, the friendships begun or renewed at Bass Lake continued by old-fashioned
mail for the next eleven months, followed by the “Oz family reunion” for three
glorious days every June throughout the 1960, 1970s, and 1980s. Additionally,
my collection incrementally grew at every meeting via treasures from the Club auction
in the 1960s — some items of which I retain to this day: an MGM pressbook for
the 1955 reissue of OZ; a huge packet of photostats of L. Frank Baum and Oz
research material (dating back, in some cases, to the turn of the century); and
color plate editions of the early Oz books.
Perhaps the most remarkable acquisition – circa 1965 or so — was a 1930s
edition of THE WIZARD OF OZ, including several dozen primarily unidentifiable
autographs on the book’s fly leaf and left endpaper. The list was headed by the
name, “Stella Royale – MGM,” and Club auctioneer Dick Martin was his
customarily self-stringent soul in refusing to make any claims (or acknowledge
even the remote possibility) that the book had actual OZ film-related
provenance. (In those days, no one knew enough about the movie’s unbilled
performers or behind-the-scenes workers to identify them by name.) I remember
winning the volume in the auction for $3.50 or thereabouts, and I bought it
primarily because it came with a 1939 colorized postcard of Judy Garland’s
Stone Canyon house that had been tucked into the book’s pages. Upon further
examination, however, I noticed that two of the signatures on the flyleaf were
familiar to me; even as a teen, I’d done enough MGM OZ research to recognize
the names of “Bobby Connolly” – who had been the movie’s choreographer – and
“Cowboy,” which was the nickname given to one of Connolly’s assistants on the
film, Arthur Appell. In later years, thanks to the research of Steve Cox
(author of THE MUNCHKINS OF OZ), I could confirm that Stella Royale and another
twenty or so of the book’s autographs were indeed those of some of the “little
people” who appeared in MGM’s motion picture. This was an unexpected treasure
(by everyone!), to be sure.
Apart from the years to come of far-reaching Oz friendships and eventual projects, my future took another remarkable “hit” during that June weekend in 1963. One of the major Ozians on hand was Russell P. MacFall, night editor of the Chicago TRIBUNE and recent coauthor of the Frank Baum biography, TO PLEASE A CHILD. After noting my enthusiasm and passion across the first twenty-four hours of the Convention, Russell approached my mom; she was outdoors, reading, and enjoying a few days of non-Oz, non-housewife vacation of her own! He talked with her about my interests and inquired about potential career paths, to which Dotty summarized “journalism, music, or theater.” Russell smiled in response (I heard about all of this on the way home) and said something to the effect that, at age 12, I probably wasn’t as yet considering colleges. He continued, though, and suggested that, when the time did come, she and my dad and I should consider Northwestern University in Evanston (which is where Russell and his family lived). “Mr. MacFall” told my mom that NU had excellent departments in all three of the subjects in which I was vitally interested.
The idea that Russell planted that day remained omnipresent for
the next five years, until it was time for me to write to colleges in late 1968.
I applied to five, all out of Wisconsin, but it was Northwestern that was my
first choice, and I was accepted there as a freshman, beginning in September
1969. (This is another reason I’m always available to discuss the magic of Oz. 😊)
By then, I’d long since been encouraged by Fred, Dick, Justin,
Russell, the Greenes, and numerous others to expand my Club participation —
and especially to write for THE BAUM BUGLE. This eventually led to two stints
as the magazine’s editor-in-chief (1984-87, 2017) and to serve at different
times as Club president, vice-president, and Board member.
There’s one more telling point to make about those early Oz conventions – and, in particular, the conventioneers. As noted, my mom and I trained to Oz in 1963; a year later, she stayed in Milwaukee, and my dad drove the two of us to Indiana for the weekend. The highlight that second year was the actual tornado that spun across Bass Lake during the Friday night dinner hour, in full view of those gathered. The massed “Ozmaniacs” – once again, college age to senior citizens; I was the only teen – obliviously pressed themselves to the big glass windows that took up most of the wall space in Ozcot’s dining room annex. They were determined to WATCH this veritable, churning wall of water, even though (or becoz?!) it was headed directly for the lodge. My father, meanwhile, was scrambling around, asking Brenda if the building had a basement! Even before she had time to respond, the funnel blessedly veered to the right at virtually the last moment. It demolished a house further down the beach, and sent the Ozcot Scarecrow, as seen in the photo above, flying away. He was retrieved the next day and then restuffed — after his garb (a pair of Harry’s blue pajamas) had been laundered and dried.
That’s not the telling point, however! I’ve always recounted the
“parental parts” of this story with the tongue-in-cheek explanation that, “My
mom took me the first year, and my dad took me the second year – because
neither of them could figure out what kind of adults would get together for a
weekend to talk about THE WIZARD OF OZ!” Long before either made the journey,
though, they’d read all my correspondence from many of the gentlemen mentioned
above. Dotty and Wally had a solid sense
of what an amazing array of personalities, “intelligences,” and kindnesses were
at hand. And the point is that – after they’d each been to a Convention to see
this for themselves – they thereafter sent me, at age fourteen and beyond, on
the train by myself to Oz.
My mom and dad knew that I was not only safe there — I was home.
That’s what Oz people were like. And to this day, there are
equally remarkable souls among the throngs that turn out for the Club
conventions and the Oz festivals!
To wrap up the hoztory: By 1964, there were regional, one-day,
Club-based conventions popping up around the country; eventually – and in
addition to the “founding” event in the Midwest — there were other full
weekend celebrations on the East and West Coasts. These days, there are two
annual fellowships: one of them wholly Club organized, which darts about the
continental United States landscape from Oregon to Illinois to Louisiana to
upstate New York and etc. The other grew out of the Club and takes place in
locations along the West Coast.
Add to those the weekend or one-day Oz festivals every year all
over the USA, and it seems apparent that the charisma of Baum’s country and
characters continues its extraordinary outreach. (Hey, I’m in my fifty-ninth
year of this merry madness!) Both the festivals and the Club Conventions have
their partisans; the rabid (and savvy and hep) fans, of course, embrace it all.
Chittenango is far and away the longest-running and most mammoth of all the public event festivals, although last year, its OZ-Stravaganza! had to be canceled in the face of the pandemic. This year, though, the programming went on and was presented virtually. (This means that recordings of the presentations are available to see via the All Things Oz Facebook page!) Next year, there’s every hope and plan to once again “go live,” and entertain the tens of thousands of Oz fans and families who pour into L. Frank Baum’s birthplace village for the parade, the celebrities, the programs, the contests, the auction, the music, the food, the vendors (Oz and otherwise), and – now, as well! –the wondrous, all-refurbished All Things Oz Museum.
But in this momentary lull – with the “other” Ozcot in Indiana on
my mind (and a raft of recollections attendant to it) – I wanted to use this
month’s blog to travel back to those early days of Oz camaraderie. It never subsides,
to say the least, but I hope you enjoyed the trip and the looking back; this is
my vivid “memory mélange” of . . . THE WAY WE WOZ. 😊
for the first time in forty-three years, there was no annual Chittenango
OZ-Stravaganza! The glorious festival in the birthplace village of L. Frank
Baum – “Royal Historian of Oz” – was initially launched in 1978 and, by 2019,
had spanned five decades. In the process, OZ-Strav! triumphed over rain, snow, sleet,
hail, wind, thunder, lightning, power outages, a mini-tornado, a last-minute
lack of hotel space for special guests, the bright-red sunburns of parade viewers
(and participants), and the fact that the MGM movie Munchkins even briefly
worked while protectedly garbed against the cold in the winter coats and boots
of the children of festival volunteers!
remarkable history and “record”: the longest-running, Oz-related, annual
festival in the world. And all we can say about 2020 is that it took a
world-wide pandemic to stop the fun.
however, that world is being blessed – however slowly and piecemeal — with a
gradual reestablishment of activities. It’s still too soon to bring thirty
thousand people together for a weekend in Central New York, but plans are
already being formulated for OZ-Stravaganza! 2022, which will also mark the
centennial celebration of Judy Garland: “Dorothy” of the iconic 1939 film
version of THE WIZARD OF OZ.
But . . . !
The International L. Frank Baum and All Things Oz Historical Foundation has no intention of making you wait another twelve months to enjoy a wondrous and all-encompassing roster of Oz presentations. Thus, across the first weekend in June, they’ll “reconvene” right here on the internet in an assemblage of brand new and extremely Ozzy video programs. It’s a streaming, “virtual” OZ-Stravaganza! 2021, all in celebration of Chittenango’s favorite son, and honoring the wonders that he and his imagination inaugurated one-hundred-and-twenty-one years ago with the publication of THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ book. The Foundation’s officers and board of directors have come together to produce a rainbow road of viewing and entertainment, “starring” guests who are both new to OZ-Stravaganza! as well as several much-lauded favorites of the past. It’s an amazing amalgamation of Ozian experts, illustrators, authors, researchers, historians, and entertainers.
Certainly, motion pictures – and one film in particular – can be credited for a large percentage of the world-wide enthusiasm enjoyed by Dorothy and her friends. That “one film in particular” is, of course, the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer THE WIZARD OF OZ. Of the movie’s many remarkable qualities, perhaps its most outstanding technical achievement is the mélange of special effects that permeates the entire story – all achieved for the screen long before CGI was ever envisaged. The man behind that magic was A. Arnold “Buddy” Gillespie; his grandson Robert Welch (above) is coeditor of Buddy’s autobiography, THE WIZARD OF MGM, and you’ll find Robert’s on-camera OZ-Strav! interview is a marvel of rare Metro OZ imagery and behind-the-scenes genius.
The diversity of meanings in – and interpretations of – the Oz books has led to some further and extraordinary motion picture making. In 2014, OZLAND was added to the short list of genuinely thought-provoking and evocative modern-day visions of Baum and his saga; this year’s virtual OZ-Stravaganza! is graced by the director, screenwriter, producer, cinematographer, and editor of that award-winning film. What is even more remarkable is that they’re all one thirty-three-year-old man, shown above: Michael Williams. (Now do the math and contemplate the fact that he was still in his mid-twenties when he employed all those talents to create the award-winning OZLAND.)
Fans of the Oz books and their illustrations will be fascinated by the drawings and anecdotes shared by Brady Schwind (above). A renaissance man of stage and film, Brady is another award-winning writer, director, and performer; fortunately for us, he is also a life-long Oz fan and recently “creator” of THE LOST ART OF OZ. He established this innovative project in an effort to track down as many as possible of the estimated four thousand original drawings prepared for the official Oz book series between 1900 and 1963. The discoveries he’s made, the challenges he’s encountered, and the dreams that he dares to dream will thrill and delight you as he describes them.
There are, as well, three outstanding and “returning” guests to the virtual OZ-Stravaganza! 2021. MGM’s OZ? And new and original Oz books? Paul Miles Schneider (above) brilliantly straddles both categories. Fans have radiated joy when hearing, in-person, about his preteen meeting – and subsequent, school-year-long, pen pal friendship –with quintessential Wicked Witch of the West, Margaret Hamilton. In more recent years, Paul’s passion for Oz has led to a trilogy of acclaimed books for young readers – SILVER SHOES, THE POWDER OF LIFE, and THE MAGIC BELT — in which a present-day preteen Kansas boy, Donald Gardner, learns something that many of us have always known (or at least felt): Oz is real. Along with all the other guests referenced here, Paul will offer his personal back-story in an on-camera OZ-Strav! interview.
Tom Hutchison is pictured above with two OZ-Stravaganza! cohorts, including cosplay dream girl Allison Lehr. Lifelong comic book fan, Tom has passed from collecting to managing (and then owning) a store; a few years ago, he dove into his current enterprises and now writes and publishes his own work, all the while serving as an editor to newcomers in the field of comics. In terms of specific Oz imaginings, he is the writer/creator of a specific “Old West” approach to Baum’s characters and countries. The Hutchison THE LEGEND OF OZ: THE WICKED WITCH introduces a Dorothy who wears ruby spurs, and whose best friend is now her trusty steed – named Toto!
Those who revel in new Oz books geared to youngsters of all ages will already know the fantasy mind-workings of Gabriel Gale. His first two AGES OF OZ novels won widespread partisanship when first released three and four years back. Now Rizzoli, the famed art book publishers, have focused on another of the Gale gifts and proudly assembled scores of his original, dynamic, and colorful drawings of characters from Baum’s Oz (and “Borderland of Oz”) stories. Gabriel Gale’s THE ART OF OZ is scheduled for publication on October 5th and also includes Baum quotes, samples of original Oz art by W. W. Denslow and John R. Neill, and an afterword by preeminent Baum authority Michael Patrick Hearn. The major text for the book has been written – with sanction from Princess Ozma herself – by Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion, Toto, Glinda, Professor Woggle-Bug, and the Wonderful Wizard. Thus, THE ART OF OZ (please see below) is a guided tour through some of the happiest, most whimsical, and sometimes tremor-inspiring (if ultimately vanquished) personalities ever created by L. Frank Baum!
see when you watch the videos, Marc Baum – entertainment director of
OZ-Stravaganza! and secretary of the Foundation — conducted the interview with
Tom Hutchison, as well as one with me. I then had the privilege of speaking
on-camera with Michael Williams, Robert Welch, Paul Miles Schneider, and
Gabriel Gale. So, we hope YOU’LL join us
to spend time with some new friends and some long-time pals. Many of you
reading here can trace your associations with one, several, or all of these
gentlemen to the good times shared at past festivals and myriad Oz events.
Virtually translated, this means that these new recordings with them are
basically a family reunion waiting to happen. 😊
– AND MOST IMPORTANTLY: There may be more “surprises,
announcements, and guests (oh, my!)” to be revealed in terms of the VIRTUAL OZ-STRAVAGANZA!
2021, so PLEASE VISIT THE ALL THINGS OZ-HOME PAGE ON FACEBOOK
EVERY DAY THIS WEEK to keep up-to-date – and to learn when to tune in
to participate in all the magic and joy of these fascinating Oz personalities.
You’ll never forget their stories, and as fellow fans, we know you’ll want to
hear their latest Oz announcements.
looking forward to your attendance – and your comments!
guess everyone has recurring dreams, and some of those I’ve heard or read about
from fellow Oz fans are certainly . . . well, I guess the catch-all word would
I only have one of my own, but it’s popped up over multiple nights and across
multiple decades since I was a preteen. It takes place in the book department
of a major store like Gimbels or Schuster’s (that’ll date me!), and in it, I
gleefully come upon a huge table stacked high with Oz books — or multiple
shelves with spines-out Oz books. They’re all brand new, they’re all for sale,
and best of all, every one of them carries a title that is unfamiliar. NONE of
them is any one of the “famous forty” of the official series.
several of these dreams, I’ve even been able to pick up one or two of the books
to look at them. They’re in the same, basic Reilly & Lee size and format
that prevailed across the years they were publishing the catalog: neatly
Neill-illustrated, and way beyond fascinating. The rear flap of each dust
jacket lists “The Oz Books” (just as Reilly & Lee did on most of theirs),
but again, they’re all different names — none of those that I’d actually ever
seen in the past. The concept of a score or more of new Oz tales never fails to
enchant and thrill me in my sleep, yet despite many such midnight reveries,
I’ve only retained one title among the many volumes I perused while slumbering:
THE NONESTIC OCEAN OF OZ.
Even that, though, is a happy reminder of the places our hearts may lead us when we’re asleep!
of these memories are currently “in mind” here, because in recent weeks, I’ve
been immersed in the first fourteen Oz books, their characters, their
geography, the first “Royal Historian” L. Frank Baum, and the first two Oz
illustrators, W. W. Denslow and John R. Neill. Such preoccupation occurred as
accompaniment to the text I’ve been asked to prepare to accompany Gabriel Gale’s
forthcoming book, THE ART OF OZ. (It’ll be published by Rizzoli in October, and
I hope you’ll watch this space for forthcoming details.) In the overall Ozzy
process, I also thought of the many years of Christmas cards sent by Fred Meyer
(1926-2004) as secretary of The International Wizard of Oz Club (ozclub.org).
Most of Fred’s cards depicted the covers and/or titles of Oz books that he and
other fans wished had been written as part of the original series.
As work continued on THE ART OF OZ, however, my thoughts eventually – and logically — always returned to Mr. Baum himself, Chittenango’s Favorite and Favored Son. He discovered countless citizens in his own visits to Oz, but he only used nine of their names in the titles of his fourteen full-length Oz books. Not at all coincidentally, the heading of this month’s blog is taken from his “To My Readers” letter at the onset of DOROTHY AND THE WIZARD IN OZ. He often devoted that space in his Oz books to refer to the suggestions, enthusiasms, and (especially!) requests he received by mail from literally thousands of children; Mr. Baum affectionately (and he meant it in gratitude, I’m sure) dubbed them his “loving tyrants” who demanded “Oz – Oz!” to the exclusion of anything else.
Mr. Baum . . . . As one of your latter-day “loving tyrants,” I didn’t become a
fan until thirty-seven years after you left for Oz for good. But had I been
able to make my recommendations, I would have wished (in the nicest possible
child’s voice) for you to tell us “more,” volume by volume, about BILLINA IN OZ
(the talking yellow hen who later created a minor cinema sensation in Disney’s
1985 film, RETURN TO OZ) and THE GUMP OF OZ (the assembled flying machine;
ditto the Disney reference). Also, I’m sure THE SAWHORSE OF OZ must have
encountered many knotty problems on his later travels, which I’m equally
certain he solved with his sawdust brains. GENERAL JINJUR OF OZ surely teamed
at some point with OMBY AMBY OF OZ (The Soldier With the Green Whiskers); perhaps
they worked together with KALIKO IN OZ to protect the Nome Kingdom from hideous
invaders. There might even have been some friendly KALIDAHS IN OZ, although
given the flop of Mr. Baum’s 1905 stage musical, THE WOGGLE-BUG, it’s not
surprising that the highly magnified and thoroughly educated insect never got a
full Oz book of his own.
All of that being said, I’m mindful of the fact that Mr. Baum did the very best he could in the twenty years he wrote about Oz. And remembering that personal Oz passions are variegated and not carved in emeralds, I’ll just list here what I THINK my top-four/wished-for Baum books would be: 1) POLYCHROME IN OZ (see that lass just below!), 2) SANTA CLAUS IN OZ, in a real adventure of his own (his ”special guest” appearance in Mr. Baum’s THE ROAD TO OZ doesn’t qualify on that level); 3) THE WOOZY OF OZ, a little guy who’s a Fricke family favorite and an all-around sweetheart (ya gotta love someone whose eyes flash fire when he’s taunted with the mystery phrase, “Krizzle-Kroo!”); and 4) THE GIANT YOOPS OF OZ; please see the picture up top. As mentioned in that caption, there should be some sort of story in the activities of a physically overpowering, carnivorous male giant and his sorcery-prone wife – each towering twenty feet or more in height, and both with grudges against Oz residents and celebrities. (Thanks to Princess Ozma, Mrs. Yoop is now – and deservedly – wearing the form of a small green monkey as punishment for her past deeds. Who knows what twisted plot she and her husband might concoct in vengeance?)
for Baum fans who’ve traveled to Oz during the past one-hundred-years, his
successors DID think to give some of his preeminent discoveries their own Oz
titles. The second “Royal Historian,” Ruth Plumly Thompson was savvy and jolly
and inventive enough to report on the activities of THE COWARDLY LION OF OZ,
JACK PUMPKINHEAD OF OZ, THE HUNGRY TIGER OF OZ, THE [G]NOME KING OF OZ, THE
LOST KING OF OZ, and OJO IN OZ. Jack Snow later authored THE SHAGGY MAN OF OZ,
and via The Oz Club’s special publications program, Gina Wickwar has most
recently offered TOTO IN OZ
are other dream books, of course, but they may have to wait to be read until
that future date when one holds a card for the Royal Library of Oz — or for
actual (and anticipated) meetings in the Emerald City with the various Royal
Historians. For years, some Oz researchers puzzled over Mr. Baum’s “announced”
title, THE WHATNEXTERS OF OZ – until it was contemplated that the interview
quote in question may well have been pronounced in Baumian tongue-in-cheek
humor. Purportedly, a reporter proffered a query (in words to this effect):
“What’s next for you, Mr. Baum?” And the twinkling-eyed author responded, “Why,
THE WHATNEXTERS OF OZ.”
go figure . . . . (But they reported
concluding paragraphs of several Thompson Oz books posed her predictions of
future histories: about the travels of popular Kabumpo the Elephant, Thun the
Thunder Colt, King Randy of Regalia and his newly-wed Silver Princess; or about
the further voyages of explorer Captain Samuel Salt, King Ato of Octagon Island
(Salt’s cook!), Roger the Royal Read Bird, and King Tandy of Ozamaland, as they
sailed in search of a roc’s egg for Princess Ozma’s Christmas stocking; OR the
journey of the Tin Woodman and Wizard in the “Oztober” – one of the Wizard’s
two Ozoplanes – as they flew away in search of its lost sister-ship, the
Beyond even that: Prior to his premature death in 1956, “Royal Historian” Jack Snow alluded to a book with the working title, OVER THE RAINBOW TO OZ. It was intended as an examination of the early history of the magic land, and Polychrome was to be a major character in that saga. And finally – for this conversation, anyway! – Eloise Jarvis McGraw (who coauthored MERRY GO ROUND IN OZ and THE FORBIDDEN FOUNTAIN OF OZ with her daughter Lauren Lynn) privately confided in the mid-1960s that she had developed “the whole plot – and a good one” for an Oz book to follow MERRY GO ROUND . . .called BABUSHKA IN OZ!
As you’ve probably realized, none of those books ever happened. But there are so many that have, I think all of us — fans, readers, authors, illustrators, kids of every age (not to mention the loving tyrants of each generation since 1900) – owe a whole lot to L. Frank Baum, who started this whole thing. That fact that his imagination has bred so much more, in so many ways, and in so many different directions, is all that need be said about his resoundingly generous gifts. Across 121 years, the man and his cohorts have had the power to impact, entrance, and delight. They’ve created indelible wonderlands and unforgettable lives eternal in the process — and all of that dwells in countless billions of hearts.
Anyway, I’ve been feeling PRECISELY that sort of gratitude. And I’m grateful to have this format in which to share such emotion. 😊
Many thanks for checking in!
months ago, the monthly blog here was devoted to Meinhardt Raabe: “My First
Munchkin.” The Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer “Coroner” initially came into my Oz life
sometime around 1980 and was the third cast member of THE WIZARD OF OZ movie I encountered
in person. (I’d met Judy Garland in 1967 and Margaret Hamilton in 1979, coming
to know the latter reasonably well across the next four years.) Next “up,”
however, was Margaret Pellegrini — the dancing Munchkin in the blue flowerpot
hat, as well as one of the Sleepyhead Munchkins up in the nest – and that
marked the onset of a twenty-four-year friendship that remains ever close to my
In June 1989 and at the behest of MGM/UA Home Video, I traveled to Grand Rapids, Minnesota (birthplace of Judy Garland), to launch promotional activities for the forthcoming, fiftieth anniversary VHS tape release of the OZ movie. As I recall, Meinhardt was there, too, but Margaret and fellow Munchkin dancer Fern Formica were the real highlights among several special guests. Fern left the festival circuit – and, as L. Frank Baum referenced it, the Great Outside World, too – just few years later. But from 1989 through 2012, it was a rare season that didn’t bring Margaret back into my life, whether at a festival, convention, benefit, film screening, or any sort of Ozzy demonstration.
When Margaret died in August 2013, I was asked to assemble memories from eight of her friends for an article in THE BAUM BUGLE, magazine of The International Wizard of Oz Club, Inc. (ozclub.org). The finished piece was laced with their specific and always fervently fond recollections of (as we blatantly, honestly, and privately termed Margaret) “The Favorite.” My own remembrances book-ended that feature, but there really wasn’t room for everything — nor will there be here. I’m summoning up what I can, though, to happily celebrate “Miss Margaret,” the nickname by which she was always saluted by Colleen Zimmer and Barbara Evans in Chittenango.
When Margaret and I met in Minnesota in 1989, we were – as noted – pretty much at the chronological onset of events heralding the golden anniversary of THE WIZARD OF OZ movie. We didn’t know how much the Ozian furor and fever was about to grow, but it most certainly did; as a result, more and more Munchkins and I were tossed together in numerous cities and towns over the next six months. (Among those that immediately come to mind: New York, NY; Culver City, CA; Kansas City, MO; Chesterton, IN; Liberal. KS; and Racine, WI.) If any of you took part in Oz festivities that year, you may recall that the scope and appeal of such activities just exploded, and an appreciably-sized snowball became — then and in subsequent years — an avalanche of presentations for many of us, especially the Munchkins.
Each of the
surviving little people made his or her own unique contributions to such gatherings.
Margaret, however, possessed the most outgoing charm, charisma, and
camaraderie; the greatest ability to recognize those she’d met before; and the
most timeless dedication to the work at hand. She – like all the other “small
ones” – was always provided with her own table space and an adjacent chair on which
she could sit while signing autographs and posing for pictures. Yet, Margaret’s
modus operandi was to stand – indefatigably – for hours on end. Then, at the conclusion
of these long days and evenings, she would scamper back to the local hotel,
slip into slacks and a dressy top, and head for the nearest casino. (Between
rounds of gambling, she’d graciously sign autographs there, as well!)
to her fans was an outgrowth of a life of caring for others. She was just 15 and brand new to show
business when she made THE WIZARD OF OZ. Yet she then continued on as a
performer until she married a normal-sized man and had a son and daughter. Margaret
lost all three of them in later years, as well as a great-great grandchild, but
she went on to raise grandchildren and (especially) two great grandchildren, Cheryl
and Barbara, who often traveled with her and also became Oz circuit favorites.
A few of my most
you can see in the accompanying photographs, Margaret had two different styles
of her OZ costume recreated for her appearances. As the demands for her
presence increased over the years (up to and including a jaunt to Australia!),
she went through several copies of both. She knew that, were she suitably
“decked out,” it would be a plus for those who’d see her – and, to be sure, the
overwhelmingly visible rapture from all ages at this diminutive lady in a
Munchkin costume was a nonstop delight to behold.
1993, Margaret and seven other MGM Munchkins responded to my request to be
interviewed on-camera for the home-video documentary, WE’RE OFF TO SEE THE
MUNCHKINS. Her unfailingly retentive memory, her humor, and the potent
Pellegrini stories provided many high spots in that seventy-seven-minute
production, but my choicest MM (Margaret Moment) came in a brief glimpse of
Chesterton, IN, festival footage captured by videographer Paul Combel. Margaret
was filmed standing (no surprise there!) in the rear of a convertible, parked
on a side street, and waiting for the onset of the parade. Children costumed as
Oz characters – a cowardly lion, a tin woodman, a lullaby league ballerina, et
al – were clustered around and enthusiastically talking with her, and one
little girl unhesitatingly and colloquially piped up, “Are you the REALLY
Munchkin?” And Margaret instantly responded, “Yes, I’m REALLY a Munchkin!”
2009, we asked her to contribute an introduction to the MGM OZ seventieth
anniversary book, THE WIZARD OF OZ: AN ILLUSTRATED COMPANION TO THE TIMELESS
MOVIE CLASSIC. Her delight in seeing her words in print was surpassed only by
our pride in showcasing her and capturing for posterity a handful of her
sharpest recollections and comments.
Chittenango festival audiences remember to this day the times when, onstage at
the Friday evening “Munchkin” panel, I’d ask Margaret a question and hand her
the mic – after which she’d stroll the stage and refuse to return it to me. The
fact that we were comfortable enough with each other to joke in such a fashion
– and that we both trusted and adored each other – always made for a
presentational highlight, not because of me but because of her.
benefitted from Margaret’s warmth and joy, as well – perhaps most notably
during a small Oz fete in suburban Milwaukee twenty or so years ago. She and
Munchkin soldier Clarence Swensen (and his wife, Myrna) were riding in the
parade on the back of low-slung, flatbed sort of trailer. Coincidentally, it
came to a brief pause just opposite the bleachers where my mom, sister-in-law,
and two preteen nieces were happily watching. Given the fact that that the two
Munchkins (and one Munchkin-by-Marriage) were then within easy hailing
distance, my mom impulsively called to her friends, “Hi, Margaret! Hi,
Clarence! Hi, Myrna!” The three of them turned in the direction of the greeting
and (as if rehearsed) simultaneously caroled out “DOTTY!” in recognition. And –
led by Margaret – they all clambered down from the truck and dashed over to the
curb to say hello. 😊
Margaret Pellegrini was one of a kind; a major force in the success of the decades of Oz festivals; and a definite reason for the size they became. There was immense pleasure as one watched her interact with the public – and (as referenced above) the manner in which one face after another would light up to a wondrous degree when they saw her. But as I wrote a few years ago, my warmest and most glowing remembrance is that of her late-night kibbitzing with festival “regulars” as she wandered hotel hallways and lobbies in a muumuu. Or of the manner in which she’d privately, wisely, and wickedly vent about those she felt had somehow “betrayed” Oz. Or of her sliding into a chair at the early morning breakfasts (just prior to a full day’s schedule), when she – after who-knows-how-few-hours-of-sleep – would softly and gleefully tell about her late-night casino winnings of the previous evening!
limitless list of adulators could add reams of additional copy here. For now,
though, let me just say that — as you saw above — I titled this month’s blog,
just as easily have carried the heading, “You Made Me Love You.”
If you’ve ever heard
anything about L. Frank Baum’s childhood, you’re aware that – as a boy — he
lived on a beautiful estate called Rose Lawn, near Syracuse, NY. Its gardens,
flowers, lawns, paths, and mansion-like home made for a happy environment; here
Frank wrote and printed his own small newspaper, or read or daydreamed for
hours on end.
As an adult, his living
quarters weren’t continually that plush. His imagination and varying
professions led him to (mostly) rented houses, deluxe (or not) hotels or apartments,
or fashionable or rustic summer dwellings. He and his family lived everywhere
from the Syracuse area to Aberdeen in Dakota Territory, to Chicago, Macatawa,
MI, and Coronado, CA. Finally, in 1910, he arrived at the home shown in the
photographs just above and below; he christened it “Ozcot.”
It was an apt designation.
By then, Baum was the renowned “Royal Historian of Oz,” primarily famous for
the first six books in the Oz series and the outrageously successful THE WIZARD
OF OZ stage musical (very loosely adapted from the story of that title). Never
a savvy money-manager, he had lost a small fortune on another theatrical
venture, the multi-media FAIRY-LOGUE AND RADIO PLAYS (1908); by 1911, he was
forced to declare bankruptcy.
The saving grace in this is that he had already transferred all of his property, including book rights, to his wondrous wife, Maud Gage. Thus, when she came into an inheritance from her mother, Maud and Frank borrowed additional funds from a wealthy friend and bought a lot in quiet Hollywood, CA. There, they built Ozcot, and – possibly for the first time since his youth – Baum once again had a long-term home of his own: a large, two-story bungalow with an immense back yard. There he could garden, keep an aviary, and breed and raise what turned out to be prize-winning chrysanthemums and dahlias.
Given the Southern California climate, Baum could comfortably write outdoors much of the time, and his years at Ozcot witnessed a remarkable professional output. Baumian enterprises between 1911-1919 included the two “Tiny Trot and Cap’n Bill” fantasy books, THE SEA FAIRIES and SKY ISLAND; the LITTLE WIZARD STORIES OF OZ (six short tales about favorite characters from the marvelous land); his final eight full-length Oz novels; continuations of his “series books” for teenagers; the production of the reasonably successful stage musical, THE TIK-TOK MAN OF OZ; the launch of the short-lived Oz Film Manufacturing Company; and a score of other book and theatrical endeavors that were developed but never completed or mounted. (This latter statement excepts the four complete shows he wrote for The Uplifters, a by-invitation-membership club for businessmen, originally based at the Los Angeles Athletic Club.)
Obviously, Baum’s life at
this time was as vividly, participatorily active as possible; apart from his
work, there were golf games, flower show excursions, family outings, and the
like. But Ozcot was there, at the end of the day – or at the finish of a
business trip or road-show tour — to provide a peaceful foundation and
retreat. Sixty years later, veteran Hollywood journalist/scenarist Adela Rogers
St. Johns remembered Baum’s “extraordinary twinkle of joie de vivre” when she
chanced to “meet him taking a little soul-and-back-stretching stroll down
Bronson Avenue to Hollywood Boulevard.” At such moments, one writer
appraised the other, and she felt that Baum’s jaunts were spiritually
“companioned no doubt with the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly
Lion, and of course, Dorothy.”
It was a beautiful, peaceful neighborhood, as borne out by a recent social media posting that described the area and, specifically, the Baum home: “Hollywood . . . at the time was mostly citrus groves. In 1910, the street was known as Magnolia but was renamed Cherokee two years later. On the second floor, [Baum] had a long, enclosed porch with a view of the distant mountains; downstairs, at one end, [was] a large sunroom where he grew flowers. In his garden, he planted roses, dahlias and chrysanthemums, [and] before long, he was recognized as a champion amateur horticulturist in Southern California. He built a large bird cage, big enough for a zoo, and there kept hundreds of rare and exotic song birds.”
Across the last two years of his life, Baum faced multiple health complications: angina attacks, gall bladder removal, an inflamed appendix. His weakened condition kept him bedridden for months – but he continued to write his books, answer letters from children, and rest securely (if not always comfortably) in the home he and Maud established for themselves. He died there at Ozcot on May 6, 1919, just days before his sixty-third birthday. Maud remained in residence — keeping up Frank’s gardens and their homestead as she was able – until her own death in 1953, after which Ozcot was razed. But joyous memories about the place continue to surface. A few years ago, local resident and film actress Ann Rutherford recalled her own frequent walks past Ozcot in the late 1930s and into the 1940s. The flowers remained eye-catching and stunning, and if Maud was in the yard, the two women would often visit. Rutherford was then a well-known Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer actress, most familiar to moviegoers as “Polly Benedict,” Mickey Rooney’s girlfriend in the ANDY HARDY series. It was thus a given that she would attend the premiere of MGM’s THE WIZARD OF OZ; a few months ago, this blog featured a photograph of Maud and Ann at that event. Just below, you’ll find another in which they’re present, if not preeminent!
I mentioned above that
“joyous memories about” Ozcot “continue to surface.” One of these, just this
past week on Facebook, actually prompted this month’s blog topic, and I quote
it here: “My grandmother, who
lived nearby [Ozcot], and her little friends used to go to [Mr. Baum’s] house,
and he would come out and tell the children stories about Dorothy and the
Wizard of Oz, while they sat on his porch and had lemonade and cookies. He
would tell the children to hang Log Cabin Syrup cans in the trees — and that
the Munchkins would come and live in them. When my grandmother went to
Hollywood High (where she graduated in 1919), she said there were still some of
those cans hanging in the trees in Hollywood!”
What could be more typically Frank Baum than a directive – and outcome — like that? (The question’s rhetorical, but in case you know of any homeless Munchkins, here’s a 1914 container of the type he was describing! 😊 )
to L. Frank Baum, and to his final “there’s no place like home” in this life. As
someone who wasn’t born for more than thirty years after Baum’s passing, I grew
up loving Oz in the 1950s, 1960s, and ever after. The more I’ve learned about Ozcot
across all this time, the more I’ve wished I could have been one of the
children who visited him there – or wrote to him there.