MISCELLANY-OZ! CELEBRATING PAST & RECENT JOYS ALONG THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD

By John Fricke

[Above:  Two years ago, OZ – in all its permutations — was the theme of the San Diego County Fair. I didn’t know what to expect when I first approached the grounds, but then the gate you see above loomed ahead. In nothing flat, I became a grateful, immediately-fulfilled, grinning, tear-y eyed seven-year-old . . . . 😊 ]

In recent months, these All Things Oz blogs have discussed the Ozcot Lodge in Indiana; the Ozcot home of L. Frank Baum in Hollywood; the extraordinary range of virtual guests at last month’s OZStravaganza! in Chittenango, NY; Ms. Margaret Pellegrini — that most beloved of MGMovie Munchkins; the writings of Baum and other “Royal Historians” . . . and on and on.

It’s now no surprise whatsoever that Oz has, in its 121 years-to-date, become ever-more fascinating and explorable.

Across July, we received some kind comments about last month’s reminiscences, which covered the first International Wizard of Oz Club (ozclub.org) conventions in the early 1960s. (I began attending them as a preteen.) The enthusiasm of those who read these memories has spurred, in turn, additional, happy personal reminders for me of even earlier or simultaneous Ozzy delights – along with the believe-it-or-not fact that Oz news was then comparatively infrequent. This may be difficult to fathom these days, when it’s amazingly true that new Oz projects of all types seem to be announced on a weekly basis: books, motion pictures, theater adaptations, games, puppet shows, podcasts, and ad infinitum!  So this month, we’re again looking back at the era when Oz news was disseminated by the rare newspaper or magazine mention – and such information then had to be shared between partisans via the United States Postal Service, at whatever the cost of paper, envelope, and stamps. (Long distance phone calls were prohibitively expensive!)

I discovered the Oz book series when I was seven and started to receive those volumes as birthday, Christmas (and etc.)  gifts when I was eight. This was in the late 1950s, and I very quickly came to realize that the clean, new copies – fresh from the Reilly & Lee publishing company – were one-and-all (if in diverse ways) thrilling. But my next gradual comprehension was less pleasant: my earliest Oz Club adult correspondents told me that the original editions of the first twenty-nine titles in the series (but for one volume) had included color plates or color illustrations. The modern day reprints I was reading, in a cost-effective move, had long since dropped them. 

Eventually, I managed to amass a stack of some earlier editions – with the plates – but I never corralled all of them. That means that these days there remain many beauteous John R. Neill color pictures that still come as a surprise to me when someone shares them, or when I’m privy to browse through another’s collection. Such art always provides an emotional flashback to the Oz glee I possessed as a child. This is one of those plates:

[Above: The Hungry Tiger of Oz, in the book of that title, here encounters a Ruth Plumly Thompson (quite literal) flight of fancy in John R. Neill’s art. Only RPT could amalgamate an escape from the Nome King’s caverns with a ferocious fire-fall — as the Tiger, Oklahoma native Betsy Bobbin, Carter Green the Vegetable Man, and Scarlet Prince Randy of Rash are saved from immolation because the young boy possesses one of the magical rubies of his kingdom. It protects its bearer (and those with whom he’s in physical contact) “from all harm on earth or under the earth.”]

The summer I was nine, I read a brief newspaper announcement that Shirley Temple would launch her new monthly series of TV specials with an adaptation of Baum’s second Oz book, to be telecast by NBC on September 18, 1960. For weeks, I rapturously anticipated THE LAND OF OZ and its all-star cast, and although I was in-advance disgruntled (because I knew a lot of the story would have to be omitted to cram the saga into fifty-two minutes plus commercials), it was still Oz! Shirley played Tip/Ozma, Agnes Moorehead was a nifty Mombi, and Sterling Holloway, Ben Blue, Gil Lamb, and Frances Bergen beautifully embodied (respectively) Jack Pumpkinhead, the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Glinda. Even Mel Blanc was on hand as the voice of the Sawhorse, with Arthur Treacher as Graves, the (what else?) Butler.

[Above: Some twenty-two years after she missed out on playing Dorothy in the movies, Shirley Temple finally made it over the rainbow — in the duo-guise of Tip (above) and Princess Ozma. Lord General Nikidik, a new, comically evil character, was added to this TV adaptation of THE LAND OF OZ and played by an appropriately over-the-top Jonathan Winters.]

It was just two years later that there was another major Oz announcement in newspaper and movie magazine columns: a forthcoming feature-length animated cartoon musical, RETURN TO THE LAND OF OZ. Producer Norman Prescott heralded this coup in autumn 1962: not only would the songs be written by the Academy Award-winning team of Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, but Prescott had secured the services of Liza Minnelli as a singing Dorothy Gale. This marked the first professional assignment for the then-sixteen-year-old daughter of MGM’s WIZARD OF OZ Dorothy, Judy Garland. Minnelli was to be featured in four of the thirteen RETURN TO THE LAND OF OZ musical numbers; others would be sung by Ethel Merman, Danny Thomas, Peter Lawford, Milton Berle, Rise Stevens, Herschel Bernardi, and Jack E. Leonard. (Mel Blanc, Paul Lynde, and Paul Ford had non-singing parts, as did Margaret Hamilton, who made a quantum leap from her MGM OZ roles as Almira Gulch/the Wicked Witch of the West by assaying the tender-hearted voicing of Aunt Em for the cartoon.)

Such a mix of talent created a genuine stir in the Oz community in 1962 — and I was among the most feverish of all! My Oz passions by then had been augmented by a fledgling fascination with musical comedy. Yet pretty much everyone’s curiosity about the project lessened as year after year passed, and there was no sign of the production coming to fruition. It was gradually learned that Prescott completed soundtrack recording for the film in short order but then ran into financial problems; it took him and his associates nearly a decade to finish the cartoon’s animation. (During that time, Mickey Rooney replaced Lawford on the track and rerecorded the Scarecrow’s voice.) When the picture finally made its debut in England and Australia in 1972, most interest and anticipation for it had faded, while the title itself had evolved from RETURN TO OZ to THE RETURN TO OZ to JOURNEY BACK TO OZ.  A 1974 USA theatrical release was a washout, although the production later found a somewhat responsive audience during teleshowings and on home video.

[Some of the winsome characters of JOURNEY BACK TO OZ; their ultimate animation took nearly ten years to complete.]

Last month’s blog discussed the 1960s’ Oz convention showings of some of the early silent Oz movies – especially those made by L. Frank Baum himself in 1914. (They were abetted by the long. dull, minimally Ozzy, and very weird feature done in 1925.) As I wrote here in June, I couldn’t believe I was seeing those motion pictures during my first formal Oz gatherings, and the 1914 productions, at least, were fascinating and often delightful. These Baum fantasias (THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ, THE MAGIC CLOAK OF OZ, and HIS MAJESTY, THE SCARECROW OF OZ) contained his own story elements and treasured characters — including some new astonishments like my personal favorite, “the awful lonesome Zoop.” Each reel of film opened and closed with an EXTREME close-up of The Oz Film Company’s “living logo,” actress Vivian Reed as Princess Ozma:

[Above:  One Oz historian later and pointedly wisecracked that Vivian Reed got the job as The Oz Film Company “insignia” because no other actress possessed a smile “so startling”!]

We’ve long since passed into an era when all of those silent films (and countless other Oz motion pictures and television shows) are readily at hand. A 16mm projector, screen, and personal film prints have been supplanted by VHS, DVD, and YouTube. Yet the early cinematic thrills that came along for Oz fans in the 1960s, 1970s, and into the 1980s were extraordinary, simply BECAUSE the material was only minimally available – and certainly never at just the touch of a “play” button.

As you’ve read above, announcements about Oz events often appeared out of the blue – and as surprises that galvanized the small Oz Club community into communication. It was a lovely, warming time to be a fan: all thirty-nine of the Oz books were back in print for several years beginning in 1960; there was the new addition to the series (number forty!), MERRY GO ROUND IN OZ, in 1963; MGM’s WIZARD OF OZ was a cross-country, heavily-anticipated annual TV event; articles began to appear in national publications about Baum, Oz, and the Oz Club . . . and the random expansions of the Oz franchise continued to mount.

Did we think it would ever come to its present day omnipresence? I know I didn’t even contemplate such a thing “back in the day”; I was too busy enjoying all we had! But given today’s internet, the rabid fan groups of all ages, and the immediate (if not faster!) exchange of news, gOZzip, activities, and all, it’s now entirely possible to get swept up in a daily cyclone (you didn’t think I’d say, “go down a rabbit hole,” did you?), and to become enmeshed and immersed in — and to otherwise hobnob with — the latest Ozian escapades and “escapaders.”

What’s this? You need, want, and demand proof of such omnipresence, commonality, and familiarity of Oz in present-day pop culture? Okay, here are two examples: 1) Please review the photo at the very top of this blog and note that an entire, month-long county fair was built around Baum’s imagination and its varied franchises just two years ago last month. It attracted 1,531,199 people.

And 2) For those who require an even more recent example, here’s an editorial cartoon born of the early July heatwave:

NO explanation required.  😊

And, as ever, thank you for reading!

THE “OTHER” OZCOT – AND THE FIRST OZ CONVENTIONS

By John Fricke

[Above: Decades ago, this sign was posted adjacent to the road that circles Bass Lake, Indiana. It welcomed everyone to the “Wizard of Oz Lodge,” a small summer vacation hotel as well as home to the first International Wizard of Oz Club Convention exactly sixty years ago this September. The Club gatherings, which continue to this day, were forerunners of Chittenango’s OZ-Stravaganza! and other festivals around the United States.]

A few months ago, this blog celebrated “Ozcot,” the Hollywood, California, home built for themselves by L. Frank Baum (Royal Historian of Oz) and his wife, Maud, in 1910. Other recent blogs about the Baums have referenced that property, as well.

But there was another Ozcot – a small summer lodge maintained and run by Harry Neal Baum, the third of Frank and Maud’s four sons. It was a multi-story, clapboard building on the shore of Bass Lake, Indiana, and Harry and his wife, Brenda, opened it to vacationers, Sunday diners, family reunions, and small conventions. The Oz Club was only four years old when it held its first weekend gathering there, September 8-10, 1961. This drew a couple of dozen people (roughly one-fourth of the Club’s membership at that time!), and the initial conference managed to program a number of activities that have been integral aspects of Club get-togethers ever since, i.e., a costume contest, musical entertainment, special guest speakers, and the like.

Its success was also enough to launch the idea of making such informal Ozzy socializing an annual event for collectors, partisans, and friends. I didn’t become an Oz Club member until the following July (1962), thus missing the second convention by just a month. (They’d switched the date from September to the third weekend in June to accommodate those potential attendees who would have school conflicts in the autumn and be unable to get away.) I spent the next eleven months totally gearing up for June 1963, and thanks to comprehending and compassionate parents, away my mom and I went. (My dad stayed at home with my seven-year-old brother and not quite two-year-old sister.) It took us two trains – we changed in Chicago — to get to North Judson, Indiana, which was the nearest mini-depot to Bass Lake. At age twelve, however, and after seven years as an increasingly frenzied Oz and Baum devotee, any trip by any means would have been worth it to me: I was about to arrive “in” Oz for the very first time . . . .

[Above: With Bass Lake just behind the camera (and photographer) at the 1962 Oz Convention, this photo captures Ozcot and its screened porch entrance in the background. The dining room annex is at right. Upfront and seated are Florida twins David L. and Douglas G. Greene (then eighteen); standing between them is Justin G. Schiller (nineteen), who founded the Oz Club at age fourteen in 1957. The Greenes were two of its fifteen charter members (sixteen, really, as Justin most definitely has to be included!]

On detraining, we were met by Fred M. Meyer, secretary of the Club and my basic “correspondence conduit” to its doings across the preceding months. He simultaneously greeted a woman and her three children; the oldest of these was about my age, and I eagerly turned to him to initiate an Oz conversation. He was polite and pleasant but immediately turned me over to his mom, Martha Liehe; she was the fan, and the kids were just along for the ride – “training it” all the way from Denver, no less!

True confession here: Indiana’s “Ozcot” wasn’t a vacationer’s dream. There was no air conditioning, and those of you who know Indiana in June may now recoil in horror. Additionally, there were steep staircases to the upper floors, a sometimes-erratic evening meal schedule, just a handful of bathrooms, and – as convention attendance increased between 1963 and 1968 – increasingly jammed sleeping quarters.

And did it matter?

NOOOOOOOOOO!  😊

There was a screened-in porch, facing the lake, by which one entered the lodge. Once in the actual building, the central staircase was directly in front of you. To the left was the parlor, with its baby grand piano, Maxfield Parrish print(s?) from the illustrations he did for L. Frank Baum’s MOTHER GOOSE IN PROSE, and shelves and shelves of books. The treasures among those were copies of Oz and other volumes by Baum, which he himself had had rebound in leather and “stamped” in gold for his personal library some five decades before.

The room to the right was designated as the primary meeting area. There were tables of Oz and fantasy books for sale by fellow conventioneers. There were Oz dolls and Oz toys and Oz peanut butter glasses on the shelves. There were posters on the wall from the 1902 stage production of THE WIZARD OF OZ, from the 1949 reissue of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1939 WIZARD OF OZ film, AND the wood-carving “Sign of the Goose” that Baum himself made and painted more than sixty years earlier to herald his summer home in Macatawa, Michigan. (That year of my first convention, 1963, also saw a display of a dozen or more beautiful – and astoundingly detailed – maps of Oz and its surrounding countries, designed and drawn by various enthusiasts.)

[Above: This is the poster that thrilled me when I initially rounded the corner into the Ozcot meeting room on Friday afternoon, June 21, 1963. It was the first real MGM OZ movie-connected item I’d ever seen.]

Across the weekend, chairs traveled in and out of that room to accommodate seating for the thirty or so in attendance. It was our “auditorium” for the evening showing of silent Oz movies: a portion of THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ (1914) and THE WIZARD OF OZ (1925). Suffice it to say, this was a rare and highly anticipated treat in those pre-home video days; I’d been reading about those films for five years – but now I’d actually SEE them! During Saturday afternoon, we gathered in the same spot for the equally awaited auction of rare and collectible material, although – in those days – prices only occasionally soared into the double digits. (And then it would take a first edition, or a rare title, or original Neill artwork to do so.) There were Ozzy discussions all day and deep into the night in the meeting room, the parlor, and on the porch – plus an Oz quiz based on all the books in the series, and unfamiliar songs from the early Oz stage musicals pounded out on the piano.

Brenda Baum was an indefatigable hostess, seemingly everywhere at once and simultaneously overseeing the housekeeping and the kitchen. (As per Ozcot publicity, meals were served by college girls wearing “Dorothy of Oz” dresses – i.e., checkered gingham.)  Harry Neal Baum was then 73 but going strong. In succeeding years, one could see that he was beginning to slow down a bit, and he eventually passed away in June 1967, just days before that year’s Convention. Yet Brenda drew all of us to her – “the Ozmaniacs,” in her parlance – and the Club held its last Ozcot meetings in 1967 and 1968. We then followed Brenda to Michigan for a number of years, where she served as hostess at the Castle Park resort.

[Above: Our original OzCon “den mother,” Brenda Baum (by then Turner) returned to the Midwest in 1987 for the thirtieth anniversary of the founding of The International Wizard of Oz Club – held that year in Zion, Illinois. She was honored on this occasion with the organization’s highest commendation: The L. Frank Baum Memorial Award “for Outstanding Contributions to the Saga of Oz.” All-around good guy and book dealer Herm Bieber is in the rear, as is the partly obscured David Maxine, now of the extraordinary and often Oz-related Hungry Tiger Press.]

Prior to my first meeting with him in 1963, Harry Neal Baum and I had already exchanged letters (and imagine, please, the level of pleasure that suffused a preteen at receiving a handwritten communication from one of the sons of L. Frank Baum). 😊  When we met, Harry also autographed my copy of THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS, which his father had dedicated to him in 1902. But for everyone, the 1963 “Harry highlight” came when he rose from the dinner table on the first evening of the OzCon to make a brief speech of welcome (and gratitude for all the Baumian allegiance). He then shared some charming personal history about an entertainment in Macatawa circa 1900, when his dad worked up a patter song for Harry and younger brother Kenneth (both preteens) to perform during a local amateur night. He clearly recalled that they’d worn matching white sailor suits, sat on a bench, stared unsmilingly at the audience, and (alternating lines) sang, “I was walking ‘round the ocean on a Sunday afternoon/When I met a lobster salad, but I didn’t have a spoon . . . . ” The nonsense verses went on from there; Harry sang ’em all for the enraptured conventioneers. After their song, the two boys apparently did a little dance, and although Harry didn’t try to recreate that, he did note that, at the time, they were “still seated on the bench and staring straight ahead – and moving only our feet and lower legs in simple steps.” Meanwhile, Oz Club artist Dick Martin had heard the anecdote at least a year earlier and convinced Harry to write up the story, both for posterity and publication in the Club’s BAUM BUGLE magazine. It appeared in the December 1962 issue, with this Dick Martin illustration:

So much came of that weekend for me. It marked the onset of my regular attendance at Oz Club conventions, to which I pretty much unabatedly returned into the 1990s (and still do, though on a more random basis). In those early years, the friendships begun or renewed at Bass Lake continued by old-fashioned mail for the next eleven months, followed by the “Oz family reunion” for three glorious days every June throughout the 1960, 1970s, and 1980s. Additionally, my collection incrementally grew at every meeting via treasures from the Club auction in the 1960s — some items of which I retain to this day: an MGM pressbook for the 1955 reissue of OZ; a huge packet of photostats of L. Frank Baum and Oz research material (dating back, in some cases, to the turn of the century); and color plate editions of the early Oz books.

Perhaps the most remarkable acquisition – circa 1965 or so — was a 1930s edition of THE WIZARD OF OZ, including several dozen primarily unidentifiable autographs on the book’s fly leaf and left endpaper. The list was headed by the name, “Stella Royale – MGM,” and Club auctioneer Dick Martin was his customarily self-stringent soul in refusing to make any claims (or acknowledge even the remote possibility) that the book had actual OZ film-related provenance. (In those days, no one knew enough about the movie’s unbilled performers or behind-the-scenes workers to identify them by name.) I remember winning the volume in the auction for $3.50 or thereabouts, and I bought it primarily because it came with a 1939 colorized postcard of Judy Garland’s Stone Canyon house that had been tucked into the book’s pages. Upon further examination, however, I noticed that two of the signatures on the flyleaf were familiar to me; even as a teen, I’d done enough MGM OZ research to recognize the names of “Bobby Connolly” – who had been the movie’s choreographer – and “Cowboy,” which was the nickname given to one of Connolly’s assistants on the film, Arthur Appell. In later years, thanks to the research of Steve Cox (author of THE MUNCHKINS OF OZ), I could confirm that Stella Royale and another twenty or so of the book’s autographs were indeed those of some of the “little people” who appeared in MGM’s motion picture. This was an unexpected treasure (by everyone!), to be sure.

Apart from the years to come of far-reaching Oz friendships and eventual projects, my future took another remarkable “hit” during that June weekend in 1963. One of the major Ozians on hand was Russell P. MacFall, night editor of the Chicago TRIBUNE and recent coauthor of the Frank Baum biography, TO PLEASE A CHILD. After noting my enthusiasm and passion across the first twenty-four hours of the Convention, Russell approached my mom; she was outdoors, reading, and enjoying a few days of non-Oz, non-housewife vacation of her own! He talked with her about my interests and inquired about potential career paths, to which Dotty summarized “journalism, music, or theater.” Russell smiled in response (I heard about all of this on the way home) and said something to the effect that, at age 12, I probably wasn’t as yet considering colleges. He continued, though, and suggested that, when the time did come, she and my dad and I should consider Northwestern University in Evanston (which is where Russell and his family lived). “Mr. MacFall” told my mom that NU had excellent departments in all three of the subjects in which I was vitally interested.

[Above: June 1963: Russell MacFall and Dotty Fricke – my mom – pose with the stuffed and profoundly welcoming figure who graced the roadside at Ozcot. If you look very closely at the middle right edge of this snapshot, you can see just the left-hand rim of the posted sign that appears at the top of this blog.]

The idea that Russell planted that day remained omnipresent for the next five years, until it was time for me to write to colleges in late 1968. I applied to five, all out of Wisconsin, but it was Northwestern that was my first choice, and I was accepted there as a freshman, beginning in September 1969. (This is another reason I’m always available to discuss the magic of Oz. 😊)

By then, I’d long since been encouraged by Fred, Dick, Justin, Russell, the Greenes, and numerous others to expand my Club participation — and especially to write for THE BAUM BUGLE. This eventually led to two stints as the magazine’s editor-in-chief (1984-87, 2017) and to serve at different times as Club president, vice-president, and Board member.

There’s one more telling point to make about those early Oz conventions – and, in particular, the conventioneers. As noted, my mom and I trained to Oz in 1963; a year later, she stayed in Milwaukee, and my dad drove the two of us to Indiana for the weekend. The highlight that second year was the actual tornado that spun across Bass Lake during the Friday night dinner hour, in full view of those gathered. The massed “Ozmaniacs” – once again, college age to senior citizens; I was the only teen – obliviously pressed themselves to the big glass windows that took up most of the wall space in Ozcot’s dining room annex. They were determined to WATCH this veritable, churning wall of water, even though (or becoz?!)  it was headed directly for the lodge. My father, meanwhile, was scrambling around, asking Brenda if the building had a basement! Even before she had time to respond, the funnel blessedly veered to the right at virtually the last moment. It demolished a house further down the beach, and sent the Ozcot Scarecrow, as seen in the photo above, flying away.  He was retrieved the next day and then restuffed — after his garb (a pair of Harry’s blue pajamas) had been laundered and dried.

[Above: Ozcot 1964 (from left): Dick Olsen, with whom I later worked at the Northwestern University Library; Cal Dobbins, an Indiana resident who happily shared his fascination with – in addition to Oz — vintage newspaper cartoons and silent films; Hank Blossom, who annually traveled from the Virgin Islands with his wife to attend the Indiana convention; Irene Fisher, a wondrous artist and then life-long, classy, and treasured friend; Wally Fricke, my dad; and me, at age thirteen. The Wizard of Oz Lodge dining room annex is at right; the windows just behind us are those to which the conventioneers plastered themselves to watch an approaching tornado that weekend.]

That’s not the telling point, however! I’ve always recounted the “parental parts” of this story with the tongue-in-cheek explanation that, “My mom took me the first year, and my dad took me the second year – because neither of them could figure out what kind of adults would get together for a weekend to talk about THE WIZARD OF OZ!” Long before either made the journey, though, they’d read all my correspondence from many of the gentlemen mentioned above.  Dotty and Wally had a solid sense of what an amazing array of personalities, “intelligences,” and kindnesses were at hand. And the point is that – after they’d each been to a Convention to see this for themselves – they thereafter sent me, at age fourteen and beyond, on the train by myself to Oz.

My mom and dad knew that I was not only safe there — I was home.

That’s what Oz people were like. And to this day, there are equally remarkable souls among the throngs that turn out for the Club conventions and the Oz festivals!

To wrap up the hoztory: By 1964, there were regional, one-day, Club-based conventions popping up around the country; eventually – and in addition to the “founding” event in the Midwest — there were other full weekend celebrations on the East and West Coasts. These days, there are two annual fellowships: one of them wholly Club organized, which darts about the continental United States landscape from Oregon to Illinois to Louisiana to upstate New York and etc. The other grew out of the Club and takes place in locations along the West Coast.

Add to those the weekend or one-day Oz festivals every year all over the USA, and it seems apparent that the charisma of Baum’s country and characters continues its extraordinary outreach. (Hey, I’m in my fifty-ninth year of this merry madness!) Both the festivals and the Club Conventions have their partisans; the rabid (and savvy and hep) fans, of course, embrace it all. 😊

Chittenango is far and away the longest-running and most mammoth of all the public event festivals, although last year, its OZ-Stravaganza! had to be canceled in the face of the pandemic. This year, though, the programming went on and was presented virtually. (This means that recordings of the presentations are available to see via the All Things Oz Facebook page!) Next year, there’s every hope and plan to once again “go live,” and entertain the tens of thousands of Oz fans and families who pour into L. Frank Baum’s birthplace village for the parade, the celebrities, the programs, the contests, the auction, the music, the food, the vendors (Oz and otherwise), and – now, as well! –the wondrous, all-refurbished All Things Oz Museum.

But in this momentary lull – with the “other” Ozcot in Indiana on my mind (and a raft of recollections attendant to it) – I wanted to use this month’s blog to travel back to those early days of Oz camaraderie. It never subsides, to say the least, but I hope you enjoyed the trip and the looking back; this is my vivid “memory mélange” of . . . THE WAY WE WOZ.  😊

Thanks for reading!

OZ-STRAVAGANZA! 2021 COMES TO YOU!

By: John Fricke

[Above:  The All Things Oz Blog is proud to present the debut of this two-page spread of Gabriel Gale’s original drawings. (They, along with dozens of others, will be published this October in his new book, THE ART OF OZ.) At left, you see Glinda the Good, accompanied by L. Frank Baum’s own description of the magnificent Good Witch of the South. The opposite illustrations depict her warriors, mounted on some of the “most regal and valiant of horned animals – elk, caribou, reindeer, and stags”; Glinda led them all into battle to overthrow the wicked witches of the Land of Oz. More information? It’s coming your way this weekend! Please read below and learn how you can enjoy the story behind Gabriel Gale’s THE ART OF OZ – and so much more Oz news – as this year’s OZ-Stravaganza! comes to YOU!]

Last year, for the first time in forty-three years, there was no annual Chittenango OZ-Stravaganza! The glorious festival in the birthplace village of L. Frank Baum – “Royal Historian of Oz” – was initially launched in 1978 and, by 2019, had spanned five decades. In the process, OZ-Strav! triumphed over rain, snow, sleet, hail, wind, thunder, lightning, power outages, a mini-tornado, a last-minute lack of hotel space for special guests, the bright-red sunburns of parade viewers (and participants), and the fact that the MGM movie Munchkins even briefly worked while protectedly garbed against the cold in the winter coats and boots of the children of festival volunteers!

It’s a remarkable history and “record”: the longest-running, Oz-related, annual festival in the world. And all we can say about 2020 is that it took a world-wide pandemic to stop the fun.

Now, however, that world is being blessed – however slowly and piecemeal — with a gradual reestablishment of activities. It’s still too soon to bring thirty thousand people together for a weekend in Central New York, but plans are already being formulated for OZ-Stravaganza! 2022, which will also mark the centennial celebration of Judy Garland: “Dorothy” of the iconic 1939 film version of THE WIZARD OF OZ.

But . . . !

The International L. Frank Baum and All Things Oz Historical Foundation has no intention of making you wait another twelve months to enjoy a wondrous and all-encompassing roster of Oz presentations. Thus, across the first weekend in June, they’ll “reconvene” right here on the internet in an assemblage of brand new and extremely Ozzy video programs. It’s a streaming, “virtual” OZ-Stravaganza! 2021, all in celebration of Chittenango’s favorite son, and honoring the wonders that he and his imagination inaugurated one-hundred-and-twenty-one years ago with the publication of THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ book.  The Foundation’s officers and board of directors have come together to produce a rainbow road of viewing and entertainment, “starring” guests who are both new to OZ-Stravaganza! as well as several much-lauded favorites of the past. It’s an amazing amalgamation of Ozian experts, illustrators, authors, researchers, historians, and entertainers.

Certainly, motion pictures – and one film in particular – can be credited for a large percentage of the world-wide enthusiasm enjoyed by Dorothy and her friends. That “one film in particular” is, of course, the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer THE WIZARD OF OZ. Of the movie’s many remarkable qualities, perhaps its most outstanding technical achievement is the mélange of special effects that permeates the entire story – all achieved for the screen long before CGI was ever envisaged. The man behind that magic was A. Arnold “Buddy” Gillespie; his grandson Robert Welch (above) is coeditor of Buddy’s autobiography, THE WIZARD OF MGM, and you’ll find Robert’s on-camera OZ-Strav! interview is a marvel of rare Metro OZ imagery and behind-the-scenes genius.

The diversity of meanings in – and interpretations of – the Oz books has led to some further and extraordinary motion picture making. In 2014, OZLAND was added to the short list of genuinely thought-provoking and evocative modern-day visions of Baum and his saga; this year’s virtual OZ-Stravaganza! is graced by the director, screenwriter, producer, cinematographer, and editor of that award-winning film. What is even more remarkable is that they’re all one thirty-three-year-old man, shown above: Michael Williams. (Now do the math and contemplate the fact that he was still in his mid-twenties when he employed all those talents to create the award-winning OZLAND.)

Fans of the Oz books and their illustrations will be fascinated by the drawings and anecdotes shared by Brady Schwind (above). A renaissance man of stage and film, Brady is another award-winning writer, director, and performer; fortunately for us, he is also a life-long Oz fan and recently “creator” of THE LOST ART OF OZ. He established this innovative project in an effort to track down as many as possible of the estimated four thousand original drawings prepared for the official Oz book series between 1900 and 1963. The discoveries he’s made, the challenges he’s encountered, and the dreams that he dares to dream will thrill and delight you as he describes them.

There are, as well, three outstanding and “returning” guests to the virtual OZ-Stravaganza! 2021. MGM’s OZ? And new and original Oz books? Paul Miles Schneider (above) brilliantly straddles both categories. Fans have radiated joy when hearing, in-person, about his preteen meeting – and subsequent, school-year-long, pen pal friendship –with quintessential Wicked Witch of the West, Margaret Hamilton. In more recent years, Paul’s passion for Oz has led to a trilogy of acclaimed books for young readers – SILVER SHOES, THE POWDER OF LIFE, and THE MAGIC BELT — in which a present-day preteen Kansas boy, Donald Gardner, learns something that many of us have always known (or at least felt): Oz is real. Along with all the other guests referenced here, Paul will offer his personal back-story in an on-camera OZ-Strav! interview.

Tom Hutchison is pictured above with two OZ-Stravaganza! cohorts, including cosplay dream girl Allison Lehr. Lifelong comic book fan, Tom has passed from collecting to managing (and then owning) a store; a few years ago, he dove into his current enterprises and now writes and publishes his own work, all the while serving as an editor to newcomers in the field of comics. In terms of specific Oz imaginings, he is the writer/creator of a specific “Old West” approach to Baum’s characters and countries. The Hutchison THE LEGEND OF OZ: THE WICKED WITCH introduces a Dorothy who wears ruby spurs, and whose best friend is now her trusty steed – named Toto!

Those who revel in new Oz books geared to youngsters of all ages will already know the fantasy mind-workings of Gabriel Gale. His first two AGES OF OZ novels won widespread partisanship when first released three and four years back. Now Rizzoli, the famed art book publishers, have focused on another of the Gale gifts and proudly assembled scores of his original, dynamic, and colorful drawings of characters from Baum’s Oz (and “Borderland of Oz”) stories. Gabriel Gale’s THE ART OF OZ is scheduled for publication on October 5th and also includes Baum quotes, samples of original Oz art by W. W. Denslow and John R. Neill, and an afterword by preeminent Baum authority Michael Patrick Hearn. The major text for the book has been written – with sanction from Princess Ozma herself – by Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion, Toto, Glinda, Professor Woggle-Bug, and the Wonderful Wizard. Thus, THE ART OF OZ (please see below) is a guided tour through some of the happiest, most whimsical, and sometimes tremor-inspiring (if ultimately vanquished) personalities ever created by L. Frank Baum!

As you’ll see when you watch the videos, Marc Baum – entertainment director of OZ-Stravaganza! and secretary of the Foundation — conducted the interview with Tom Hutchison, as well as one with me. I then had the privilege of speaking on-camera with Michael Williams, Robert Welch, Paul Miles Schneider, and Gabriel Gale.  So, we hope YOU’LL join us to spend time with some new friends and some long-time pals. Many of you reading here can trace your associations with one, several, or all of these gentlemen to the good times shared at past festivals and myriad Oz events. Virtually translated, this means that these new recordings with them are basically a family reunion waiting to happen. 😊

FINALLY – AND MOST IMPORTANTLY:  There may be more “surprises, announcements, and guests (oh, my!)” to be revealed in terms of the VIRTUAL OZ-STRAVAGANZA! 2021, so PLEASE VISIT THE ALL THINGS OZ-HOME PAGE ON FACEBOOK EVERY DAY THIS WEEK to keep up-to-date – and to learn when to tune in to participate in all the magic and joy of these fascinating Oz personalities. You’ll never forget their stories, and as fellow fans, we know you’ll want to hear their latest Oz announcements.

We’ll be looking forward to your attendance – and your comments!

MORE ABOUT OZ, MR. BAUM!

By: John Fricke

Above: The giant Mr. Yoop creates only brief — and encaged — havoc in L. Frank Baum’s book, THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ, but his eleven pages are definitely memorable. (Note the title character with the Scarecrow, Dorothy, and Ojo the Munchkin boy in the lower left corner of John R. Neill’s illustration.) In Baum’s THE TIN WOODMAN OF OZ, Mrs. Yoop dominates and/or pervades ten full chapters, and her powers as a Yookoohoo “magic-worker” cause much distress. Certainly, a subsequent book could have recounted the stories of what has happened to both of them since his capture (and escape?), not to mention the revenge she attempts to take on those who — rightfully! – made a hasty retreat from imprisonment in her castle

I guess everyone has recurring dreams, and some of those I’ve heard or read about from fellow Oz fans are certainly . . . well, I guess the catch-all word would be “interesting”!

Meanwhile, I only have one of my own, but it’s popped up over multiple nights and across multiple decades since I was a preteen. It takes place in the book department of a major store like Gimbels or Schuster’s (that’ll date me!), and in it, I gleefully come upon a huge table stacked high with Oz books — or multiple shelves with spines-out Oz books. They’re all brand new, they’re all for sale, and best of all, every one of them carries a title that is unfamiliar. NONE of them is any one of the “famous forty” of the official series.

In several of these dreams, I’ve even been able to pick up one or two of the books to look at them. They’re in the same, basic Reilly & Lee size and format that prevailed across the years they were publishing the catalog: neatly Neill-illustrated, and way beyond fascinating. The rear flap of each dust jacket lists “The Oz Books” (just as Reilly & Lee did on most of theirs), but again, they’re all different names — none of those that I’d actually ever seen in the past. The concept of a score or more of new Oz tales never fails to enchant and thrill me in my sleep, yet despite many such midnight reveries, I’ve only retained one title among the many volumes I perused while slumbering: THE NONESTIC OCEAN OF OZ.

Even that, though, is a happy reminder of the places our hearts may lead us when we’re asleep!

Above: “The Oz Books”! This is the rear dust jacket flap that I first encountered in real life. I was seven years old, and I’d been a rabid Oz fan for almost two years. By that point, I knew THE WIZARD OF OZ book backwards, and totally by accident that summer day in 1958, I came across a copy of THE ROAD TO OZ in a department store “book nook.” The discovery that there was ANOTHER Oz book is a moment of excitement I’ll never forget. The fact that I then stumbled upon the list above — printed exactly that way — was cause for inner tumult and ebullience and jubilation . . . and a raft of facts and wonders far greater than I could process. Who was the PURPLE PRINCE? What were MAGICAL MIMICS? Was KABUMPO a name or a place? There was a title, DOROTHY AND THE WIZARD IN OZ. Did they ACTUALLY go BACK? Were there really WHOLE BOOKS about the Tin Woodman? the Cowardly Lion? And my favorite, the Scarecrow? My mom was equally impressed by the list; she immediately noticed that a) there were thirty-eight different volumes; and b) EACH was $2.50. That was a considerable amount of coin in 1958

All of these memories are currently “in mind” here, because in recent weeks, I’ve been immersed in the first fourteen Oz books, their characters, their geography, the first “Royal Historian” L. Frank Baum, and the first two Oz illustrators, W. W. Denslow and John R. Neill. Such preoccupation occurred as accompaniment to the text I’ve been asked to prepare to accompany Gabriel Gale’s forthcoming book, THE ART OF OZ. (It’ll be published by Rizzoli in October, and I hope you’ll watch this space for forthcoming details.) In the overall Ozzy process, I also thought of the many years of Christmas cards sent by Fred Meyer (1926-2004) as secretary of The International Wizard of Oz Club (ozclub.org). Most of Fred’s cards depicted the covers and/or titles of Oz books that he and other fans wished had been written as part of the original series.

As work continued on THE ART OF OZ, however, my thoughts eventually – and logically — always returned to Mr. Baum himself, Chittenango’s Favorite and Favored Son. He discovered countless citizens in his own visits to Oz, but he only used nine of their names in the titles of his fourteen full-length Oz books. Not at all coincidentally, the heading of this month’s blog is taken from his “To My Readers” letter at the onset of DOROTHY AND THE WIZARD IN OZ. He often devoted that space in his Oz books to refer to the suggestions, enthusiasms, and (especially!) requests he received by mail from literally thousands of children; Mr. Baum affectionately (and he meant it in gratitude, I’m sure) dubbed them his “loving tyrants” who demanded “Oz – Oz!” to the exclusion of anything else.

Above: A very famous “capture” of Mr. Baum at work in Macatawa, MI. He, his wife, and their four sons summered there for more than a decade. Even on vacation, however, he continued to write; his total output of books, stage plays, short stories, movie scenarios, song lyrics, and poems would indicate that such material absolutely (and mostly) flowed forth. There’s no question that he was doing what he was born to do

Well, Mr. Baum . . . . As one of your latter-day “loving tyrants,” I didn’t become a fan until thirty-seven years after you left for Oz for good. But had I been able to make my recommendations, I would have wished (in the nicest possible child’s voice) for you to tell us “more,” volume by volume, about BILLINA IN OZ (the talking yellow hen who later created a minor cinema sensation in Disney’s 1985 film, RETURN TO OZ) and THE GUMP OF OZ (the assembled flying machine; ditto the Disney reference). Also, I’m sure THE SAWHORSE OF OZ must have encountered many knotty problems on his later travels, which I’m equally certain he solved with his sawdust brains. GENERAL JINJUR OF OZ surely teamed at some point with OMBY AMBY OF OZ (The Soldier With the Green Whiskers); perhaps they worked together with KALIKO IN OZ to protect the Nome Kingdom from hideous invaders. There might even have been some friendly KALIDAHS IN OZ, although given the flop of Mr. Baum’s 1905 stage musical, THE WOGGLE-BUG, it’s not surprising that the highly magnified and thoroughly educated insect never got a full Oz book of his own.

All of that being said, I’m mindful of the fact that Mr. Baum did the very best he could in the twenty years he wrote about Oz. And remembering that personal Oz passions are variegated and not carved in emeralds, I’ll just list here what I THINK my top-four/wished-for Baum books would be: 1) POLYCHROME IN OZ (see that lass just below!), 2) SANTA CLAUS IN OZ, in a real adventure of his own (his ”special guest” appearance in Mr. Baum’s THE ROAD TO OZ doesn’t qualify on that level); 3) THE WOOZY OF OZ, a little guy who’s a Fricke family favorite and an all-around sweetheart (ya gotta love someone whose eyes flash fire when he’s taunted with the mystery phrase, “Krizzle-Kroo!”); and 4) THE GIANT YOOPS OF OZ; please see the picture up top. As mentioned in that caption, there should be some sort of story in the activities of a physically overpowering, carnivorous male giant and his sorcery-prone wife – each towering twenty feet or more in height, and both with grudges against Oz residents and celebrities. (Thanks to Princess Ozma, Mrs. Yoop is now – and deservedly – wearing the form of a small green monkey as punishment for her past deeds. Who knows what twisted plot she and her husband might concoct in vengeance?)

Above: One of my top favorites of Mr. Baum’s Ozian roster: Polychrome, the Rainbow’s Daughter. She graced three of his books and also made later appearances in some of those by Ruth Plumly Thompson and John R. Neill. Polly almost got a book of her own in the 1950s; please read below

Fortunately for Baum fans who’ve traveled to Oz during the past one-hundred-years, his successors DID think to give some of his preeminent discoveries their own Oz titles. The second “Royal Historian,” Ruth Plumly Thompson was savvy and jolly and inventive enough to report on the activities of THE COWARDLY LION OF OZ, JACK PUMPKINHEAD OF OZ, THE HUNGRY TIGER OF OZ, THE [G]NOME KING OF OZ, THE LOST KING OF OZ, and OJO IN OZ. Jack Snow later authored THE SHAGGY MAN OF OZ, and via The Oz Club’s special publications program, Gina Wickwar has most recently offered TOTO IN OZ

There are other dream books, of course, but they may have to wait to be read until that future date when one holds a card for the Royal Library of Oz — or for actual (and anticipated) meetings in the Emerald City with the various Royal Historians. For years, some Oz researchers puzzled over Mr. Baum’s “announced” title, THE WHATNEXTERS OF OZ – until it was contemplated that the interview quote in question may well have been pronounced in Baumian tongue-in-cheek humor. Purportedly, a reporter proffered a query (in words to this effect): “What’s next for you, Mr. Baum?” And the twinkling-eyed author responded, “Why, THE WHATNEXTERS OF OZ.”

Well, go figure . . . .  (But they reported it!)

The concluding paragraphs of several Thompson Oz books posed her predictions of future histories: about the travels of popular Kabumpo the Elephant, Thun the Thunder Colt, King Randy of Regalia and his newly-wed Silver Princess; or about the further voyages of explorer Captain Samuel Salt, King Ato of Octagon Island (Salt’s cook!), Roger the Royal Read Bird, and King Tandy of Ozamaland, as they sailed in search of a roc’s egg for Princess Ozma’s Christmas stocking; OR the journey of the Tin Woodman and Wizard in the “Oztober” – one of the Wizard’s two Ozoplanes – as they flew away in search of its lost sister-ship, the Ozpril.

Beyond even that: Prior to his premature death in 1956, “Royal Historian” Jack Snow alluded to a book with the working title, OVER THE RAINBOW TO OZ. It was intended as an examination of the early history of the magic land, and Polychrome was to be a major character in that saga. And finally – for this conversation, anyway! – Eloise Jarvis McGraw (who coauthored MERRY GO ROUND IN OZ and THE FORBIDDEN FOUNTAIN OF OZ with her daughter Lauren Lynn) privately confided in the mid-1960s that she had developed “the whole plot – and a good one” for an Oz book to follow MERRY GO ROUND . . .called BABUSHKA IN OZ!

Above: The beloved, playful, and loyal Woozy, who (given his shape) is always “on the square” — except for those three seemingly undetachable hairs on the end of his tail

As you’ve probably realized, none of those books ever happened. But there are so many that have, I think all of us — fans, readers, authors, illustrators, kids of every age (not to mention the loving tyrants of each generation since 1900) – owe a whole lot to L. Frank Baum, who started this whole thing. That fact that his imagination has bred so much more, in so many ways, and in so many different directions, is all that need be said about his resoundingly generous gifts. Across 121 years, the man and his cohorts have had the power to impact, entrance, and delight. They’ve created indelible wonderlands and unforgettable lives eternal in the process — and all of that dwells in countless billions of hearts.
Anyway, I’ve been feeling PRECISELY that sort of gratitude. And I’m grateful to have this format in which to share such emotion. 😊
Many thanks for checking in!

“MISS MARGARET”

By John Fricke

Above: Always in greeting, never in farewell. The tops of her facsimile-costume sleeves were stuffed with plastic bags, “so” – in her own words – “they look puffy.” The recreation of her hat, as she wore it for hours at a time, sometimes brought on a headache. But Margaret Pellegrini abidingly dolled up, went forth, and made innumerable memories for countless Oz fans across nearly thirty years of post-MGM public appearances.

About six months ago, the monthly blog here was devoted to Meinhardt Raabe: “My First Munchkin.” The Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer “Coroner” initially came into my Oz life sometime around 1980 and was the third cast member of THE WIZARD OF OZ movie I encountered in person. (I’d met Judy Garland in 1967 and Margaret Hamilton in 1979, coming to know the latter reasonably well across the next four years.) Next “up,” however, was Margaret Pellegrini — the dancing Munchkin in the blue flowerpot hat, as well as one of the Sleepyhead Munchkins up in the nest – and that marked the onset of a twenty-four-year friendship that remains ever close to my heart.

In June 1989 and at the behest of MGM/UA Home Video, I traveled to Grand Rapids, Minnesota (birthplace of Judy Garland), to launch promotional activities for the forthcoming, fiftieth anniversary VHS tape release of the OZ movie. As I recall, Meinhardt was there, too, but Margaret and fellow Munchkin dancer Fern Formica were the real highlights among several special guests. Fern left the festival circuit – and, as L. Frank Baum referenced it, the Great Outside World, too – just few years later. But from 1989 through 2012, it was a rare season that didn’t bring Margaret back into my life, whether at a festival, convention, benefit, film screening, or any sort of Ozzy demonstration.

Above: Even before the OZ film’s fiftieth birthday blew the top off world-wide passion, Margaret was in demand for meet-and-greet Oz-related occasions. She’s shown here as the 1986 Grand Marshall of the (then-annual) South Hadley, Massachusetts, Oz parade; three local youngsters shine as stand-ins for the Lollipop Guild. This was a few years before Margaret realized the wisdom and appeal of acquiring copies of her original Munchkin garb in which she could mingle with – and please – any and all OZ aficionados.

When Margaret died in August 2013, I was asked to assemble memories from eight of her friends for an article in THE BAUM BUGLE, magazine of The International Wizard of Oz Club, Inc. (ozclub.org). The finished piece was laced with their specific and always fervently fond recollections of (as we blatantly, honestly, and privately termed Margaret) “The Favorite.” My own remembrances book-ended that feature, but there really wasn’t room for everything — nor will there be here. I’m summoning up what I can, though, to happily celebrate “Miss Margaret,” the nickname by which she was always saluted by Colleen Zimmer and Barbara Evans in Chittenango.

When Margaret and I met in Minnesota in 1989, we were – as noted – pretty much at the chronological onset of events heralding the golden anniversary of THE WIZARD OF OZ movie. We didn’t know how much the Ozian furor and fever was about to grow, but it most certainly did; as a result, more and more Munchkins and I were tossed together in numerous cities and towns over the next six months. (Among those that immediately come to mind: New York, NY; Culver City, CA; Kansas City, MO; Chesterton, IN; Liberal. KS; and Racine, WI.) If any of you took part in Oz festivities that year, you may recall that the scope and appeal of such activities just exploded, and an appreciably-sized snowball became — then and in subsequent years — an avalanche of presentations for many of us, especially the Munchkins.

Above: In replicas of their film costumes, Meinhardt Raabe and Margaret Pellegrini work side-by-side, selling (and personally autographing) the OZ movie stills in which they were pictured. He sits; she was always too exhilarated by the fans and fun to do anything but stand.

Each of the surviving little people made his or her own unique contributions to such gatherings. Margaret, however, possessed the most outgoing charm, charisma, and camaraderie; the greatest ability to recognize those she’d met before; and the most timeless dedication to the work at hand. She – like all the other “small ones” – was always provided with her own table space and an adjacent chair on which she could sit while signing autographs and posing for pictures. Yet, Margaret’s modus operandi was to stand – indefatigably – for hours on end. Then, at the conclusion of these long days and evenings, she would scamper back to the local hotel, slip into slacks and a dressy top, and head for the nearest casino. (Between rounds of gambling, she’d graciously sign autographs there, as well!)

Such responsibility to her fans was an outgrowth of a life of caring for others.  She was just 15 and brand new to show business when she made THE WIZARD OF OZ. Yet she then continued on as a performer until she married a normal-sized man and had a son and daughter. Margaret lost all three of them in later years, as well as a great-great grandchild, but she went on to raise grandchildren and (especially) two great grandchildren, Cheryl and Barbara, who often traveled with her and also became Oz circuit favorites.

A few of my most magical recollections:

  • As you can see in the accompanying photographs, Margaret had two different styles of her OZ costume recreated for her appearances. As the demands for her presence increased over the years (up to and including a jaunt to Australia!), she went through several copies of both. She knew that, were she suitably “decked out,” it would be a plus for those who’d see her – and, to be sure, the overwhelmingly visible rapture from all ages at this diminutive lady in a Munchkin costume was a nonstop delight to behold.
  • In 1993, Margaret and seven other MGM Munchkins responded to my request to be interviewed on-camera for the home-video documentary, WE’RE OFF TO SEE THE MUNCHKINS. Her unfailingly retentive memory, her humor, and the potent Pellegrini stories provided many high spots in that seventy-seven-minute production, but my choicest MM (Margaret Moment) came in a brief glimpse of Chesterton, IN, festival footage captured by videographer Paul Combel. Margaret was filmed standing (no surprise there!) in the rear of a convertible, parked on a side street, and waiting for the onset of the parade. Children costumed as Oz characters – a cowardly lion, a tin woodman, a lullaby league ballerina, et al – were clustered around and enthusiastically talking with her, and one little girl unhesitatingly and colloquially piped up, “Are you the REALLY Munchkin?” And Margaret instantly responded, “Yes, I’m REALLY a Munchkin!”
  • In 2009, we asked her to contribute an introduction to the MGM OZ seventieth anniversary book, THE WIZARD OF OZ: AN ILLUSTRATED COMPANION TO THE TIMELESS MOVIE CLASSIC. Her delight in seeing her words in print was surpassed only by our pride in showcasing her and capturing for posterity a handful of her sharpest recollections and comments.
  • Some Chittenango festival audiences remember to this day the times when, onstage at the Friday evening “Munchkin” panel, I’d ask Margaret a question and hand her the mic – after which she’d stroll the stage and refuse to return it to me. The fact that we were comfortable enough with each other to joke in such a fashion – and that we both trusted and adored each other – always made for a presentational highlight, not because of me but because of her.
Above: A couple of times over the years, the June Chittenango festival evening events had to be switched from the high school – thanks to a thunderstorm-connected power outage – to the further distant (and apparently on a different grid) middle school. So, we’d hurriedly set up the highly-anticipated and heavily-attended Meet-the-Munchkins discussion on the gymnasium floor. From left: emcee John Fricke; Munchkin-by-Marriage Elizabeth Maren, Jerry (“Lollipop Guild”) Maren, Coroner Meinhardt Raabe, Karl (1st Trumpeter & Soldier), Margaret, and Clarence (Soldier) Swensen. Margaret has her own mic, but I’m holding mine way out of reach anyway!

My family benefitted from Margaret’s warmth and joy, as well – perhaps most notably during a small Oz fete in suburban Milwaukee twenty or so years ago. She and Munchkin soldier Clarence Swensen (and his wife, Myrna) were riding in the parade on the back of low-slung, flatbed sort of trailer. Coincidentally, it came to a brief pause just opposite the bleachers where my mom, sister-in-law, and two preteen nieces were happily watching. Given the fact that that the two Munchkins (and one Munchkin-by-Marriage) were then within easy hailing distance, my mom impulsively called to her friends, “Hi, Margaret! Hi, Clarence! Hi, Myrna!” The three of them turned in the direction of the greeting and (as if rehearsed) simultaneously caroled out “DOTTY!” in recognition. And – led by Margaret – they all clambered down from the truck and dashed over to the curb to say hello. 😊

Margaret Pellegrini was one of a kind; a major force in the success of the decades of Oz festivals; and a definite reason for the size they became. There was immense pleasure as one watched her interact with the public – and (as referenced above) the manner in which one face after another would light up to a wondrous degree when they saw her. But as I wrote a few years ago, my warmest and most glowing remembrance is that of her late-night kibbitzing with festival “regulars” as she wandered hotel hallways and lobbies in a muumuu. Or of the manner in which she’d privately, wisely, and wickedly vent about those she felt had somehow “betrayed” Oz. Or of her sliding into a chair at the early morning breakfasts (just prior to a full day’s schedule), when she – after who-knows-how-few-hours-of-sleep – would softly and gleefully tell about her late-night casino winnings of the previous evening!

Above: Among the many applicable adjectives: “Unforgettable.” Here’s a quintessential snapshot in which Margaret was caught on the run. As ever, she carries her (comparatively) enormous purse and her omnipresent white sweater – and willingly summons up a gay greeting and ready smile, even on her way home after a long day of commitments and subsequent socializing.

Her limitless list of adulators could add reams of additional copy here. For now, though, let me just say that — as you saw above — I titled this month’s blog, “Miss Margaret.”

It could just as easily have carried the heading, “You Made Me Love You.”

“OZCOT” – AT HOLLYWOOD IN CALIFORNIA

By: John Fricke


Above: This is the home that L. Frank and Maud Gage Baum had built for themselves in a sleepy, sparsely-settled Los Angeles suburb, and where Baum would spend most of the last nine years of his life. Across that time, the opening “author’s note” in his new Oz books would be signed – quite simply – from “‘OZCOT’ – At HOLLYWOOD in CALIFORNIA,” and it was here that children would send their letters and even come to visit him, beginning in 1910.

If you’ve ever heard anything about L. Frank Baum’s childhood, you’re aware that – as a boy — he lived on a beautiful estate called Rose Lawn, near Syracuse, NY. Its gardens, flowers, lawns, paths, and mansion-like home made for a happy environment; here Frank wrote and printed his own small newspaper, or read or daydreamed for hours on end.

As an adult, his living quarters weren’t continually that plush. His imagination and varying professions led him to (mostly) rented houses, deluxe (or not) hotels or apartments, or fashionable or rustic summer dwellings. He and his family lived everywhere from the Syracuse area to Aberdeen in Dakota Territory, to Chicago, Macatawa, MI, and Coronado, CA. Finally, in 1910, he arrived at the home shown in the photographs just above and below; he christened it “Ozcot.”

It was an apt designation. By then, Baum was the renowned “Royal Historian of Oz,” primarily famous for the first six books in the Oz series and the outrageously successful THE WIZARD OF OZ stage musical (very loosely adapted from the story of that title). Never a savvy money-manager, he had lost a small fortune on another theatrical venture, the multi-media FAIRY-LOGUE AND RADIO PLAYS (1908); by 1911, he was forced to declare bankruptcy.

The saving grace in this is that he had already transferred all of his property, including book rights, to his wondrous wife, Maud Gage. Thus, when she came into an inheritance from her mother, Maud and Frank borrowed additional funds from a wealthy friend and bought a lot in quiet Hollywood, CA. There, they built Ozcot, and – possibly for the first time since his youth – Baum once again had a long-term home of his own: a large, two-story bungalow with an immense back yard. There he could garden, keep an aviary, and breed and raise what turned out to be prize-winning chrysanthemums and dahlias.

Above: Another view of the cheery Ozcot terrain

Given the Southern California climate, Baum could comfortably write outdoors much of the time, and his years at Ozcot witnessed a remarkable professional output. Baumian enterprises between 1911-1919 included the two “Tiny Trot and Cap’n Bill” fantasy books, THE SEA FAIRIES and SKY ISLAND; the LITTLE WIZARD STORIES OF OZ (six short tales about favorite characters from the marvelous land); his final eight full-length Oz novels; continuations of his “series books” for teenagers; the production of the reasonably successful stage musical, THE TIK-TOK MAN OF OZ; the launch of the short-lived Oz Film Manufacturing Company; and a score of other book and theatrical endeavors that were developed but never completed or mounted. (This latter statement excepts the four complete shows he wrote for The Uplifters, a by-invitation-membership club for businessmen, originally based at the Los Angeles Athletic Club.)


Above: This promotional still was taken to publicize HIS MAJESTY, THE SCARECROW OF OZ — the third full-length silent film produced by Baum’s Oz Film Manufacturing Company (1914). Here, The Tin Woodman (Pierre Couderc) threatens Mombi the Witch (Mae Wells), while Button Bright (Mildred Harris), the Scarecrow (Frank Moore), and Dorothy (Violet MacMillan) look on

Obviously, Baum’s life at this time was as vividly, participatorily active as possible; apart from his work, there were golf games, flower show excursions, family outings, and the like. But Ozcot was there, at the end of the day – or at the finish of a business trip or road-show tour — to provide a peaceful foundation and retreat. Sixty years later, veteran Hollywood journalist/scenarist Adela Rogers St. Johns remembered Baum’s “extraordinary twinkle of joie de vivre” when she chanced to “meet him taking a little soul-and-back-stretching stroll down

Bronson Avenue to Hollywood Boulevard.” At such moments, one writer appraised the other, and she felt that Baum’s jaunts were spiritually “companioned no doubt with the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion, and of course, Dorothy.”

It was a beautiful, peaceful neighborhood, as borne out by a recent social media posting that described the area and, specifically, the Baum home: “Hollywood . . . at the time was mostly citrus groves. In 1910, the street was known as Magnolia but was renamed Cherokee two years later. On the second floor, [Baum] had a long, enclosed porch with a view of the distant mountains; downstairs, at one end, [was] a large sunroom where he grew flowers. In his garden, he planted roses, dahlias and chrysanthemums, [and] before long, he was recognized as a champion amateur horticulturist in Southern California. He built a large bird cage, big enough for a zoo, and there kept hundreds of rare and exotic song birds.”


Above: The Royal Historian of Oz was photographed – at what he probably considered his leisure – in the vast backyard of Ozcot in March 1911. Everything was still “in process,” but he would shortly make a showplace of the entire lot

Across the last two years of his life, Baum faced multiple health complications: angina attacks, gall bladder removal, an inflamed appendix. His weakened condition kept him bedridden for months – but he continued to write his books, answer letters from children, and rest securely (if not always comfortably) in the home he and Maud established for themselves.
He died there at Ozcot on May 6, 1919, just days before his sixty-third birthday. Maud remained in residence — keeping up Frank’s gardens and their homestead as she was able – until her own death in 1953, after which Ozcot was razed. But joyous memories about the place continue to surface. A few years ago, local resident and film actress Ann Rutherford recalled her own frequent walks past Ozcot in the late 1930s and into the 1940s. The flowers remained eye-catching and stunning, and if Maud was in the yard, the two women would often visit. Rutherford was then a well-known Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer actress, most familiar to moviegoers as “Polly Benedict,” Mickey Rooney’s girlfriend in the ANDY HARDY series. It was thus a given that she would attend the premiere of MGM’s THE WIZARD OF OZ; a few months ago, this blog featured a photograph of Maud and Ann at that event. Just below, you’ll find another in which they’re present, if not preeminent!


Above:  Chico Marx of The Marx Brothers is happily welcomed to the Los Angeles premiere of THE WIZARD OF OZ at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, August 15, 1939. Doing the honors is one of the film’s performers, “Lollipop Guild” member Jerry Maren; for this occasion, he was costumed as the Munchkinland Mayor. Please look to the top left of the photo, however, to glimpse “Cowardly Lion” Bert Lahr, actress Ann Rutherford, and Maud Gage (Mrs. L. Frank) Baum

I mentioned above that “joyous memories about” Ozcot “continue to surface.” One of these, just this past week on Facebook, actually prompted this month’s blog topic, and I quote it here: “My grandmother, who lived nearby [Ozcot], and her little friends used to go to [Mr. Baum’s] house, and he would come out and tell the children stories about Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz, while they sat on his porch and had lemonade and cookies. He would tell the children to hang Log Cabin Syrup cans in the trees — and that the Munchkins would come and live in them. When my grandmother went to Hollywood High (where she graduated in 1919), she said there were still some of those cans hanging in the trees in Hollywood!”

What could be more typically Frank Baum than a directive – and outcome — like that? (The question’s rhetorical, but in case you know of any homeless Munchkins, here’s a 1914 container of the type he was describing! 😊 )

So, here’s to L. Frank Baum, and to his final “there’s no place like home” in this life. As someone who wasn’t born for more than thirty years after Baum’s passing, I grew up loving Oz in the 1950s, 1960s, and ever after. The more I’ve learned about Ozcot across all this time, the more I’ve wished I could have been one of the children who visited him there – or wrote to him there.

AND got an answer!