by John Fricke

Above:  The one-and-only BETTY ANN BRUNO . . . “MunchKid” of MGM’s classic film, THE WIZARD OF OZ and special guest star of OZ-STRAVAGANZA! She’ll lead the way down the Yellow Brick Road to All Things Oz on June 2, 3, and 4 in Chittenango, NY: birthplace of L. Frank Baum, who wrote THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ and thirteen other books in the forty-title Oz series!

Let the JOY-OZ news be spread: OZ-STRAVAGANZA! is JUST ahead!

I know that isn’t at all the way “Yip” Harburg put it in his “Munchkinland” lyric in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s THE WIZARD OF OZ movie. Back then, however, he was “only” proclaiming the passing of the Wicked Witch of the East; WE’RE here today to herald the annual OZ-STRAVAGANZA!, upcoming in Chittenango, NY, across Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, June 2,3, and 4.

That favored hamlet (just a few miles east of Syracuse) is ever-more renowned as the birthplace of L. Frank Baum, “Royal Historian of Oz” and the man who discovered the magical land and its celebrated denizens and locales. Just pause for a moment and consider who and what that includes: such personages as Dorothy Gale, Toto, the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, Cowardly Lion, the Wonderful Wizard, Glinda, Princess Ozma, Jack Pumpkinhead, the Patchwork Girl, the Woozy — ad infinitum. Plus such scenic treasures as the Emerald City, the Yellow Brick Road, Munchkinland, and all the rest.

Every spring for 46 years, Chittenango has celebrated its native son and his incomparably uplifting contributions to the happiness and hearts of all ages: quite literally billions of readers, moviegoers, theater patrons, fans, collectors, and historians. This year will be no exception, and the festival will be highlighted by several very special guests; the writers and artists of the OZ “Alley;” extraordinary new additions to the All Things Oz Museum & Gift Shop; the illustrious Oz parade; the writing and coloring and costume contests; and, of course, the vendors and auctions and rides. (Oh, my!)

Topping the list of attractions is BETTY ANN BRUNO, one of the original Munchkins of the MGM film. She was only seven years old in 1938, but her already-advanced dancing talent won her a costumed and terpsichorean spot on the Culver City soundstage amidst the 124 “little people” who made up most of the jubilant townsfolk welcoming Judy Garland’s Dorothy to Oz. Now, eighty-five years [!] later, BETTY ANN triumphantly returns to Oz via Chittenango. Our OZ-STRAVAGANZA! audiences couldn’t get enough of her last year, whether onstage or off. She sold out copies of her new memoir, THE MUNCHKIN DIARY: MY PERSONAL YELLOW BRICK ROAD, as fans clamored to read more about OZ and hear about her major adult careers in investigative journalism, television, broadcasting, work for the CIA, and as the founder of her own and ongoing dance company. BETTY takes the stage on Saturday night to discuss all of the above — and in addition to that (you can trust me on this one) NO ONE will want to miss Sunday afternoon’s reprise of her hula demonstration and class. Two dancing friends from her troupe are coming all the way from California to join her onstage for that; be THERE at 1 p.m.!

On Friday evening, our headliner is (just above) GABRIEL GALE, innovative artist, creator, and a brand new, Ozian “Royal Historian.” That latter declaration is beautifully borne out by his deluxe book, THE ART OF OZ, and by AGES OF OZ, his series of novels for children (and people who used to be children). GABE will share the latest news of his projects and adventures; Oz AND Broadway fans will be thrilled to hear about his just-completed trip to England and visit behind-the-scenes and on the sets of a two-part motion picture now in production. (Hint: It’s based on a nonpareil Broadway musical also set in the Land of Oz – and that Stephen Schwartz/Winnie Holzman triumph celebrates its 20th anniversary this year!)

Prior to BETTY ANN’s appearance on Saturday, GABE will also open the presentation that evening, leading a discussion about the MGM WIZARD OF OZ movie and all the VERY peculiar lies and legends that have grown up about it in recent years. I’ll be taking his questions and clarifying and explaining (and/or demolishing where I can!) the social media “gozzip.” Questions from the audience will be uber welcome, too! (Wanna talk shoes? 😊 )

Anyway, please bring your inquiries!

Finally, yours truly gets to launch Friday evening’s festivities with a reminder of the very basic and beloved roots of Oz. Chittenango’s descriptive mantra labels it “Where Oz All Began.” With that in mind, I’m going to look back at Baum’s original creation of THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ book – and how he and phenomenally decorative illustrator W. W. Denslow teamed to produce both the very first “American fairy tale” and a product whose fanciful story-telling, pictorial design, and elaborate color work forever changed children’s literature and the publishing thereof. Here’s one of Denslow’s 24 full-color plates from the first edition of OZ in 1900 to underscore that statement:

Both the Friday and Saturday evening programs “launch” at 6 o’clock in the First Presbyterian Church, 118 Arch Street, immediately adjacent to OZ Park.

While discussing schedules and times, here are a couple more to note right now. The Oz Parade kicks off down Genesee Street at 2 p.m. on Saturday. The All Things Oz Gift Museum (219 Genesee Street) offers special OZ-STRAVAGANZA! hours: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tours are given on Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; admission is $9. (Children 10 years old and under are admitted free of charge, as are active members of the military and their families, and All Things Oz members. They also offer an AAA discount.)

The Museum offers some amazing, new, and glorious Oz items this year. How about an opportunity to see – up-close and for real – “a real, truly” costume from one of the extraordinary professional companies of WICKED, as “built” for and worn onstage by an Academy Award/“Oscar”-winning actress? 😊 (I won’t bait you beyond that: just come along and be dazzled by Patty Duke’s Madame Morrible garb!) In the same realm of wickedness, All Things Oz premiers the Margaret Hamilton autographed photos-and-correspondence collection of Paul Miles Schneider. A life-long fan of the Oz books and 1939 film, Paul became pen pals with the famous Wicked Witch of the West when he was a second grader – shortly after they met in person. (Paul’s Ozzy passion has also manifested itself in three outstanding books for young readers: SILVER SHOES, THE POWDER OF LIFE, and THE MAGIC BELT. His generosity in sharing his Hamilton treasures is pretty much way over the rainbow!) Finally, the Museum also debuts the autographed Jim Shore sketches that evolved into some of the most admired and collectible Enesco Wizard of Oz figurines; AND the Original Lion’s Club Artwork from years of their fishing derby . . .

. . . and BETTY ANN BRUNO’s Munchkin hat, specifically recreated from its original MGM design for her ‘replica” festival appearances!

Our annual Artists & Authors’ Alley talent pool will hold forth in the Celebrity Tent of OZ PARK, and once again, OZ-STRAV! is delighted to play host to a happy gathering of majorly gifted scribes and skilled “illustratives.” On this year’s roster: the ebullient and prolifically Ozzy Ron Baxley, Jr.; “pin-up Oz” aficionado (comics, graphic novels, fantasy, and the LEGEND OF OZ/WICKED WEST series) Tom Hutchison; Julienne La Fleur, artist and author of LESSONS FROM OZ; artist/caricaturist Jim Coon; and first-timer Oz writer/“romanticist,” K. A. Silva.

Throughout the weekend, young and old will have the opportunity to pose with OZ-STRAVAGANZA!’s remarkable, official, and wondrously wardrobed costumed characters. Designer Shawn Ryan, who executed their amazing apparel, will be on hand to oversee their presentation of his work, and he’ll be joined by Jeff Sadecky, their make-up artist and Shawn’s co-envoy of Dorothy & Company.

Bottom line: There’s never enough space to do justice to the OZ-STRAVAGANZA! participants, volunteers, and local and regional support factions. They and their constituents make it all possible, however – as do YOU and your presence, partaking, and exultation! So please come on along for three days of amusements, rides, food, vendors, crafts, auctions, displays, all kinds of contests, Oz celebrities, Oz artists and authors, Oz collectibles, Oz treasures, and Oz souvenirs. The full schedule for the weekend and further details may be found at: www.oz-stravaganza.com

And as ever, I am grateful to everyone in Chittenango – and everyone coming to Chittenango – for letting me be part of something that has permeated my life on a daily basis for the last 67 years. I hope to see, meet and/or reunite – a week from this weekend . . . in OZ!