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!
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
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.
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.)
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
In other words, you’re all cordially and delightedly invited
to become a member of The Oz Family. 😊
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
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.
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
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.
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.
for reading and remembering him with me.
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!
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
(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!
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.”
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.”
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
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
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
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
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
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.”)
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.
Among the sources consulted for this
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
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.
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.)
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!
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
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.’”
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!)
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
Thus the blogs for this month and next!
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.)
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.
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.
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
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.
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!)
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
And thank you, all of you, for coming
here for another year of sharing and reading.
last three decades or so, I’ve been the very, very grateful recipient of a
number of kind comments about the books I’ve written. (The current THE ART OF
OZ is number eight.) What I’ve heard across the boards, more than anything
else, is a sort of glowing estimation: “The pictures are fabulous.” Invariably,
this is either followed by an intimation — or even the outright, off-hand
admission — of “Of course, I haven’t READ the book. But the pictures are
completely honest, this doesn’t bother me a bit. The selection of art for every
volume is as carefully considered as are the words that explain/accompany it.
So, either way, both the generous “complimentor” and the author are fulfilled!
However, in keeping with an ongoing effort to please – and continuing the theme we launched last month – here are another ten pieces of Oz-related art. It’s hoped they’ll give you joy, pique your curiosity, or raise some warm memories of what L. Frank Baum, his associates, and his successors have shared with us in the name of that merry old land.
The success of THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ book in 1900 was immeasurably augmented a couple of years later by the overwhelming popularity of a similarly titled, somewhat comparable, and outrageously musical, comedic, and gaudy stage production. Its seven seasons of success in New York and on tour made it the (forgive me . . . ) CATS of its day – albeit with a lot more laughs and afterglow. Above, you’ll see the overnight sensation of the show, Fred A. Stone, whose dancing, tumbling, gymnastic, and embraceable characterization of the Scarecrow led to a subsequent stage and film career that lasted nearly forty years. In the musical, both he and his vaudeville partner, David C. Montgomery (playing the Tin Woodman), enjoyed multiple costume disguises in keeping with the much-reconfigured plot of the show. Here, Stone’s third act “whites” are part and parcel of a sequence in which his body was “taken apart” and reassembled onstage in front of a delighted audience.
Baum was a born entertainer, whether as author, theatrical, or cinematic “imaginist.”
A decade after the Broadway success of THE WIZARD OF OZ, he adapted his third
Oz book (OZMA OF OZ) into another elaborate musical production, THE TIK-TOK MAN
OF OZ (1913). The show revamped the OZMA plot, adding new characters and love
interests (appropriate for TIK-TOK’s intended and all-ages appeal), plus
lavish, stylish spectacle. Though the production never made it to New York, its
success on the West Coast and on most of its Midwest tour brought glee to
nearly ten months of responsive audiences. Savvy pop culture fans will notice
the name of Charles Ruggles among the cast; he played — if only briefly — the
juvenile romantic lead of “Private Files.” Ruggles went on to scores of roles
in film (perhaps best known today: BRINGING UP BABY and the original THE PARENT
TRAP) and television (THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, and the
voice of Aesop on THE BULLWINKLE SHOW among them).
The ad above touted the show’s coming engagement in San Francisco, where TIK-TOK’s famed producer, Oliver Morosco, had grown up. The musical had just completed a successful break-in in Los Angeles and was now deemed ready to conquer “the road.”
The Oz Film
Manufacturing Company was Baum’s major foray into motion picture production –
though quickly compromised (and then closed) by the public’s lack of interest
in “family” movies in 1914. Yet no expense was spared in providing his features
with a new, elaborate Hollywood studio, top-flight actors and mounting, and
sumptuous publicity. The Company’s first project, THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ, is first
represented above by an effective-if-odd art assemblage of character figures;
clockwise, from top center, they seem to be Princess Ozma, Scraps the Patchwork
Girl, Unk Nunkie, the Scarecrow, Hank the Mule (but with a unicorn horn?), the
Cowardly Lion, the Woozy, General Jinjur, Dr. Pipt the Crooked Magician, and
Ojo the Munchkin. (Some of that is, I admit, my own guesswork at the artist’s
The second Oz Co. ad presented here is taken from one of the early film “trade publications.” PATCHWORK GIRL had found a distributor (though, as referenced above, not a ready audience), and THE MAGIC CLOAK OF OZ was by then already completed and ready for booking as well. It had to wait several years for even limited release, but there’s no discounting the very high hopes and high energy of Baum and his compatriots in the sales push for the product.
One of the most dismissed and eventually disdained OZ projects was the full-length, silent screen, Larry Semon movie comedy, THE WIZARD OF OZ (1925). Despite its appropriation of Baum’s title and several characters, the final result was mostly a combination of slapstick action and young adult romance. (Dorothy Gale is herein – both literally and figuratively — a flapper-age lost princess of Oz.) Semon directed and starred as a Kansas farmhand who disguises himself as a Scarecrow. Spencer Bell, a well-regarded African-American actor, played another farmhand who masquerades as a lion but is otherwise racially stereotyped. The extent of the latter profiling is most succinctly noted in the fact that he used the stage name G. Howe Black to assay the role, and his character was called Snowball.
One of the curi-Oz-ities in last month’s blog was an ad for the early Rankin-Bass (then Videocrafts Inc.) cartoon series, TALES OF THE WIZARD OF OZ. Since then, several All Things Oz devotees have commented on the company’s visual interpretations of the Baum “stars” (the show dates from 1961) and took extra pleasure in the concept of the pink gumdrop Munchkin. Here – especially for you Munchkin fans! – is another gathering of the clan in a detail from different publicity for the show. (And for those of you who might never get enough of catchy TV theme songs, here’s one that, once heard, is seldom forgotten. It opened each of the more than one hundred episodes of the series! https://youtu.be/GfqrjkhAbqA )
As shown up top, MGM’s THE WIZARD OF OZ was a network TV mainstay and annually appeared almost every year from 1956-1998. Countless print displays alerted the public to the film’s appearance, and the one offered just above caused a bit of a stir at the time: the largest image (though used in reverse) seemed to Oz partisans to be a still taken during the deleted production number, “The Jitterbug”! This later proved to be true, and other photos were discovered in ensuing years. But the tantalization of such a photograph was heady stuff for some of us back in the day!
A different but joyous-on-its-own thrill was raised among Oz enthusiasts in 1984, when Hollywood trade papers carried the full-page color assemblage shown here. Disney took this means of announcing that filming had finally begun on its much-discussed and anticipated production of [RETURN TO] OZ. Although the resultant motion picture won a very mixed response a year later, the specific, initial fervor felt by many fans for the appearance of the age-appropriate Dorothy (Fairuza Balk) was certainly fulfilled. Ms. Balk gave a pitch-perfect and highly gratifying performance. (Additionally, this photo showed her holding the key intrinsic to Baum’s OZMA OF OZ book!)
Finally, we top ‘em all by our own “return” . . . to Frank Baum
himself. The alternately tender and dramatic saga of his career and personal
challenges as a young-to-middle-age-man were put forward in a quietly splendid
TV movie, THE DREAMER OF OZ, on December 10, 1990. The two-hour NBC special
gave imaginative, yet based in fact expansion to the manner in which Baum
created his initial Oz characters and adventures. Baum’s formidable
mother-in-law, Matilda Joslyn Gage, was enacted by Rue McClanahan (“Blanche
Devereaux” to any fans of THE GOLDEN GIRLS who might be reading here), and
Annette O’Toole appeared as her daughter Maud Gage – ultimately Mrs. L. Frank Baum.
The cast was topped by John Ritter (THREE’S COMPANY) as the author and dreamer
himself. Ritter’s sensitive and winning portrayal provided wondrous warmth to
the proceedings, as did the “wraparound” of the presentation: Maud’s purported
interview with a young journalist at the premiere of MGM’S OZ, some twenty
years after Frank’s passing.
The foregoing is perhaps all the reminder we need that Oz wasn’t
of its time during Frank Baum’ life span here, nor has it been consigned to
happy history since then — no matter how many the decades since he moved on to
“a land that he dreamed of” (and wrote about) on countless occasions. Thanks to
his astonishing and ever fresh, fertile, and festive imagination – and the
creative talents of all those who participated in the projects referenced above
– Oz is timeless.
However apt or excellent or poor or odd its countless thousands of
adaptations by others, Oz continues its unprecedented heart hold. For that, we
can only be grateful to L. Frank Baum.
if that be true, the purpose of this blog is to spare you (most!) of ten
thousand words . . . and simply provide some Ozzy art that it’s hoped will spur
joy, nostalgia, curiosity, and memories. Most of all, may it inspire affection,
admiration, and awe for what Chittenango native L. Frank Baum launched 121
years ago when he first shared news of a visit to a marvelous land.
WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, published in 1900, is the book that started it all.
Since then, it and the various offshoots of Baum’s subsequent nineteen years of
magic and imagination have been franchised, expanded upon, brand-ed, exploited
— but mostly revered and held in heart, joy, and delight by countless billions
of people of all ages.
month and next, the All Things Oz Blog will look at artwork attendant to some
of the Oz projects of the past 119 years, demonstrating how the public was
notified about the happiness ahead — or at-hand. The illustrations will be
accompanied by anecdotes or factoids . . . or whatever other random Ozziness
comes to mind!
in the early-to-mid-1960s, premier Oz collector and illustrator Dick Martin
received a phone call from a local Chicago book dealer who knew of Dick’s
virtually lifelong enthusiasm and wanted to alert him to some vintage Oz
posters he’d just acquired. Dick
appreciated the information and told the dealer he’d be in to see them. He also
assumed, however, that the store owner was generically referencing some of the
various-sized placards for the 1939 MGM film version of THE WIZARD OF OZ — or
its 1949 or 1955 theatrical reissues. At that time, and believe it or not, such
movie memorabilia was barely collected or considered collectible (times have
changed, hey?!), so Dick didn’t rush over to the man’s shop. A week or so passed; the man phoned again to
inquire as to Dick’s interest. Dick assured him that he’d be in very soon, but he
still and privately didn’t feel very motivated.
More time went by, and the dealer made one last call to say he’d seek another buyer if Dick, for some reason, was absolutely indifferent. At that point — and given the fact that the two were friends — Dick decided he owed the man an immediate visit; imagine, please, Dick’s quiet ecstasy when he then and finally made the trek:
large and extraordinary posters the man had obtained (I think there were four)
dated back not to MGM but to the very first stage dramatization of THE WIZARD
OF OZ, which opened in Chicago in 1902. It captivated the town, did a brief and
jubilantly received tour, and opened in popular triumph in New York in January
1903. The production (sometimes with two companies playing the circuits at the
same time) was “on the boards” for seven seasons; this was an unheard of
theatrical success back in the day. Needless to say, the beautifully
lithographed color posters – then already more than sixty years old — were an
amazing (I’ll say it again: AMAZING) addition to the Dick Martin collection.
Baum himself had been very active in that OZ production, contributing (of course) the basic story and some of the song lyrics. Though it was enormously different in many ways from the Oz book, the show nonetheless enjoyed such popularity that it provided Baum with an enormous income. In turn, he invested some of that money in another theatrical offering: the imaginative, multi-media FAIRYLOGUE & RADIO-PLAYS, with which he toured for four months at the end of 1908. The program consisted of hand-colored silent films, color slides, and a live orchestra; the author/producer himself appeared as the in-person host and narrator. Such an undertaking was majorly expensive, however, and although well-received, the RADIO PLAYS had to be abandoned before further debt was incurred.
1913, Baum brought THE TIK-TOK MAN OF OZ to the stage, rewritten from a musical
script he’d originally fashioned several years earlier. Although the show never
made it to Broadway or to the major Eastern cities, it was thoroughly enjoyed
by audiences on the West Coast and throughout the Midwest, touring in all for
As must by now be apparent, Baum was indefatigably ingenious. Within weeks of the closing of THE TIK-TOK MAN OF OZ, he and several Los Angeles businessmen teamed to form The Oz Film Manufacturing Co. It was designed to make feature-length motion pictures of Baum’s fantasies — Oz and otherwise — and Oz Films were speedily established and ensconced in their own studio in Hollywood. However, there were distribution challenges for both this new organization and its fare; this was a couple of decades before Walt Disney created a genuine market for “family” films and fairy tale retellings. Thus, after three Oz films, two productions intended for a less juvenile market, and several short subjects, the Oz Film Co. was disbanded. Its first effort, THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ (1914), was a fairly faithful adaptation of Baum’s children’s book of the preceding year, although the author also added a love interest to the plot in an effort to engage the attentions of a grown-up audience. This double-page advertisement announced the intended splendor of the five-reel movie:
Jumping ahead a number of decades, 1961 televiewers were at least initially intrigued by a series of four-or-five minute cartoons that began appearing in syndication that autumn. TALES OF THE WIZARD OF OZ was an early effort by what soon became the celebrated Rankin/Bass production team and firm. In this instance, though, the animations were hurried (no pun intended), and the characters were more buffoon than classic: Socrates Strawman, Rusty Tin Man, Dandy Lion, and a group of incomprehensibly chattering Munchkins who looked like tiny gumdrops. There was, however, a muted-if-brief appeal to it all – it WAS Oz, even if only after a fashion — and the cartoons additionally inspired a series of promotional toys (as indicated by this trade paper ad from the era):
Everyone in the United States who is now of “certain ages” (say, mid-thirties to eighty) grew up across the five decades that MGM’s THE WIZARD OF OZ was an exclusive and virtually annual national telecast. Between 1956 and 1998, the movie appeared on network TV no less than thirty-nine times; since then, there have generally been multiple cablecasts across any twelve-month period. During the pre-home video era, however — from 1956 to the early 1980s — it’s impossible to overstate the excitement created by OZ “once-a-year only!” Pretty much the entire general public was its audience, and advertisements like this (a full-page in TV GUIDE) emphasize the importance of the film for viewers, its TV network (either CBS or NBC, pending contracts with MGM), and its sponsors:
to Baum’s thirteen other Oz novels were held by Walt Disney for a number of
years before that studio finally committed to production of a full-length, live
action RETURN TO OZ for release in 1985. Though stunning in virtually all of
its performances, creature creations, and many of its visual moments, the
finished product was oddly scripted and, as a result, either alienated or
displeased its initial audiences. Word-of-mouth and critical comment were
highly mixed, and RETURN TO OZ was thus a commercial failure. Yet in recent
years, its merits have been widely and wildly expounded and expanded upon, and
there’s no question the picture has a devout (if still limited) following.
Initially, the Disney project was simply called OZ. This advance promotional poster indicates that title; the horrific or horrified (take your pick!) eyes are those of actress Jean (UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS) Marsh, who costarred in RETURN TO OZ in the dual role of Mombi the Witch and Nurse Wilson:
Finally, we’ll close this month as we began – with artist Dick Martin and a classic example of his own work. Dick began a lustrous association with Oz book publishers, The Reilly & Lee Company of Chicago, circa 1959. Over the next decade or so, he illustrated THE VISITORS FROM OZ and MERRY GO ROUND IN OZ, contributed new art for ten Oz dust jackets, recreated John R. Neill cover artwork for lovely new editions of Baum’s Oz titles, wrote Oz newspapers, did promotional “chalk-talks,” and (circa 1965) designed and drew this captivating poster:
conceived to market the basic Oz characters and series, while simultaneously
promoting two of the more recent Ozians. For those who’d welcome a quick guide,
please view the characters clockwise from the Cowardly Lion (top center): He is
followed by the Scarecrow, the Wizard, Princess Ozma, Tik-Tok the Clockwork
Man, and the banner-bearing Flittermouse. Around and up on the opposite side,
you’ll see Merry Go Round, Dorothy Gale, the Nome King, the Tin Woodman, and
Scraps the Patchwork Girl. All are Baum book characters, except for Flitter and
Merry, both of whom took principal roles in the then-new fortieth Oz title,
MERRY GO ROUND IN OZ (1963) by Eloise Jarvis McGraw and her daughter Lauren
the years, a number of you have written to (or spoken with) me to say how much
pleasure you’ve found in the odd combinations of illustrations included in
these blogs. In case it isn’t by now obvious, this month’s composite
“gathering” is especially meant for all of you, and part two of “Posters
& Heralds & Ads . . . Oh, Oz!” will appear next month, right here!
I hope you’ve found it fun – because if it isn’t fun, we’re doing
it wrong. 😊