by John Fricke

Above: In 1956, Reilly & Lee – then the sole publishers of the entire Oz Book Series except for THE WIZARD OF OZ — was finally able to add that title to their roster. Dale Ulrey did the illustrations for the new edition, and these were initially offered in black and red. Across the next nine years, the book went through additional printings, and the interior palette expanded into black and yellow, blue, and green, as well. (We’ve selected Ms. Ulrey’s drawings from a later print run for this blog to emphasize more of a “rainbow road to Oz.”) Just above, you’ll see her full-color, front-cover dust jacket for the Reilly & Lee THE WIZARD OF OZ, which was utilized for the first three years of its publication. She depicts the title character as a somewhat portlier gentleman than did her predecessors, W. W. Denslow and John R. Neill.

A bit of background to begin! Part One of this two-part series may be found by simply scrolling down past this entry; therein discussed are some of the early artists who pictured L. Frank Baum’s book, THE WIZARD OF OZ. There were comparatively few such illustrators, however; from its initial publication as THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ in 1900 – and through 1943 — the predominant editions of the story used and/or adapted the original pictures done by William Wallace (W. W.) Denslow for its first release at the turn of the twentieth century.

Evelyn Copelman’s drawings completely supplanted these in 1944, and although a handful of other artists supplied pictures for abridgements and picture books of THE WIZARD OF OZ between 1939 and 1956, her work remained in print for decades. The copyright expired on THE WIZARD OF OZ text in that latter year, however, and a flock of new versions of OZ – whether in complete or abbreviated format — hit the market. As a result, diverse artists were given the opportunity to “compete” with Copelman and supply their own variations of Baum’s characters and concepts.

The new “public domain” status of THE WIZARD OF OZ was particularly important to The Reilly & Lee Company of Chicago. They – or their predecessor, Reilly & Britton – had published all of the other titles in the official Oz series from 1904 through 1951: thirty-eight books in all. Now, in 1956, they could finally add Baum’s preeminent classic to their list, and they immediately thought in terms of a more contemporary appearance for the publication itself.

They’d actually begun considering such modernization for the series a year or more earlier. To that end, a bright and gifted graphic artist, Dale Ulrey, was selected to re-illustrate Baum’s 1918 book, THE TIN WOODMAN OF OZ, for publication in 1955. (History has it that the Reilly & Lee stock of TIN WOODMAN was running low at the time, and rather than merely reprint the title, the company rationalized that updating its appearance might make of it an experimental test case.) The Ulrey TIN WOODMAN also featured a new interior layout and fresh typesetting – “New Plates Throughout!” as Reilly & Lee trumpeted in its jacket copy — and the Ulrey style, both charming and attractive, was worthy of the new adaptation. Ms. Ulrey maintained the energy of John R. Neill’s original illustrations, emphasized the personalities (comical and otherwise) of the familiar Ozians, and re-cast Dorothy’s image as that of a sweet and sunshiny child of the 1950s.

(It should be noted that — in addition to THE TIN WOODMAN OF OZ — Ulrey had also worked on an earlier Baum project for the publishers, providing art for an edition of his JAGLON AND THE TIGER FAIRIES.  This 1953 storybook was adapted from one of the writer’s “Animal Fairy Tales,” as published across nine months in THE DELINEATOR magazine, January through September 1905.)

All in all — and especially after her work on THE TIN WOODMAN – Dale Ulrey was a logical pictorial “select” for Reilly & Lee’s initial printing of THE WIZARD OF OZ. It’s also interesting to note that, at this point in history, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s classic THE WIZARD OF OZ motion picture had enjoyed theatrical releases in 1939, 1949, and 1955 but had not yet begun its virtually annual, national television appearances. This meant that Ulrey didn’t have to worry about fulfilling many expectations of her reading audience in terms of any deeply implanted “movie” visuals of Ozzy citizens or terrain.

That being said . . . ! Whether or not Ms. Ulrey meant to imply that the wafting wagon and other detritus shown here — mid-funnel — would filmically float by Dorothy’s window is unknown. But one of her first dominant images for the new 1956 edition of THE WIZARD was this vivid, energized depiction of the little girl’s transportation to Oz:

As a graphic artist, Dale Ulrey was best known “in the industry” for her years of drawing such popular, long-running newspaper comic strips as MARY WORTH. That character – if suitably Ozified – might have made a potential lookalike for Baum’s Good Witch of the North. As shown here, however, the illustrator opted out of any such temptation, and the mature sorceress, however unintentionally, seems more a semi-ringer for actress Agnes Moorehead. (This was four years before Ms. Moorehead would play a cranky, Cockney Mombi in the NBC-TV adaptation of Baum’s THE [MARVELOUS] LAND OF OZ to launch THE SHIRLEY TEMPLE SHOW in 1960 – and eight years before the actress would find eternal familiarity and fame as the elegant, sophisticated, and sometimes spiteful Endora on ABC-TV’s BEWITCHED.) Meanwhile, the Munchkins remain unembellished and true to Baum’s descriptions:

In much of her approach to THE WIZARD OF OZ assignment, Ulrey was judicious in continuing the predominant visions of Neill, who’d done the pictures for thirty-four of the preceding books in the series. Prior to that, Denslow had contributed a basic architectural template of a typical Oz house, but Neill had embellished it, and Ulrey substantiated his tradition as she showed Dorothy and Toto during their first day’s journey down the Yellow Brick Road.

Ulrey’s splendid interpretations continued as Dorothy and Toto met their three incomparable companions:

Although Baum never gives the child’s age in his text, Dorothy had been drawn by Denslow as a six- or seven-year-old with brown braids. Neill, in turn, had then given the Oz heroine a shorter, blonde style throughout his thirty-eight year tenure as artist, and Ulrey followed suit. This gave the ingenue’s appearance a happy and logical resemblance to the girl familiar to readers of all of the rest of Reilly & Lee’s Oz Book Series.

The Poppy Field sequence of THE WIZARD saw three of our five protagonists succumb to the potent power of the floral aroma. Ulrey then captured, in excellent fashion, Baum’s detailed description of the rescue of the Cowardly Lion from the deadly poison – on a Tin Woodman-built cart pulled by thousands of field mice. (The idea that that poppies would be neutralized by a snowstorm sent by the Good Witch of the North was first implemented in the 1902 stage musical of THE WIZARD OF OZ and further adapted by MGM for their film, thirty-six years later.)

Following Baum’s textual cues, Ulrey presented Dorothy in her new Emerald City dress when the child went for her first, private audience with the Wizard; the latter, of course, presented himself as “an enormous Head.” The artist also provided an interesting point of view when — a chapter later — she offered the moment the Winged Monkeys arrived with the girl and her dog as their prisoners in the Winkie Country, presenting them to the anticipatory Wicked Witch of the West.

There was additional and ongoing loyalty to Baumian detail when Ulrey chose to recreate the moment that the “Great and Terrible” humbug found himself revealed to Dorothy & Co. In an attempt to frighten the Wizard into granting their requests – and per the book’s written passage — “the Lion . . . gave a large, loud roar . . . so fierce and dreadful that Toto jumped away from him in alarm and tipped over [a] screen that stood in the corner.” There, the five travelers “saw . . . a little old man, with a bald head and a wrinkled face . . . The Tin Woodman, raising his axe, rushed toward the little man and cried out, ‘Who are you?’”

It’s a reasonably well-known fact that MGM both departed from and added to Baum’s plot line in numerous cinematic ways – yet they remained true to the author’s intent in a number of others. As Dorothy prepared to leave for Kansas with the Wizard, “Toto had run into the crowd to bark at a kitten, and Dorothy at last . . . picked him up and ran toward the balloon. She was within a few steps of it, and Oz was holding out his hands to help her . . . when, crack! went the ropes, and the balloon rose into the air without her.” Ulrey maintained the same loyalty to the Royal Historian in sharing this moment of the saga:

The final adventures undergone by our friends are equally faithfully represented by Ulrey. She portrays each of the four challenges they met during their trek to the Quadling Country to seek aid from the Good Witch of the South: the fighting trees, the Dainty China Country, the giant spider monster, and the fractious, armless, telescopic-necked Hammer-Heads:

Finally, when the palace of Glinda the Good is ultimately reached, the famed Sorceress of the South proves to be as lovely as Baum’s description — and Ulrey’s portraiture:

For the last chapter, last page, and last Ulrey illustration, Reilly & Lee – and most probably unintentionally – parroted a THE WIZARD OF OZ art concept that dated back to Denslow and the 1900 first edition. Therein, that remarkable artisan often melded his line drawings with the book text: overlapping, underpinning, or just plain enhancing the awe-inspiring nature of his style and approach.  (Of course, it’s just an imaginative indication of my age that Aunt Em is pictured here by Ulrey as a much more bucolic Mary Worth . . ..  😊 )

While there’s no disputing the inherent entertainment in — and pictorial beauty of — Ulrey’s work in THE WIZARD OF OZ, the public response to it and the redrawn THE TIN WOODMAN OF OZ (for all its own splendor) weren’t readily accepted by the public. Their response to such illustrative updating was quiet rejection, and when Reilly & Lee brought out the gloriously re-presented and manufactured “White Editions” of Baum’s fourteen Oz stories in 1964-65, they reinstated Neill’s art in TIN WOODMAN and replaced Ulrey’s work in THE WIZARD with adaptations of Denslow’s original pictures.

Still, there are tens of thousands of children (or more) who grew up in the decade between 1955-65 – or who later inherited copies of those two titles – and who maintain fond recollections of what Dale Ulrey contributed to the history of Oz publication. Her obvious dedication to her assignment provided art that was unquestionably entrancing, exciting, magical, and appealing – adjectives that happily and indubitably apply as well to Baum’s topography, terrain, and types of characters.

It’s a privilege to celebrate and share some of those drawings here!