By: John Fricke
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!