Monday, May 17, 2010

Hello, Yellow Brick Road

Magnet # 244:  The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Illustration

Material:  Metal

Purchased By:  Me

Here's to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which is now turning 110 years old. Yep, it was first published on this day back in 1900 and the world of Oz has expanded ever since, gaining new characters and stories in its creator's days and being re-imagined in more modern times.

L. Frank Baum was the author and creator of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and he came from a wealthy New York family.  His father was a self-made oil baron and his mother a women's rights activist.  For his youth, he lived a happy life tutored at his family's estate with his many siblings.  But when he was sent to a military academy at the age of twelve to toughen up, but after being miserable there for two years, he was finally able to return home.  Baum was a dreamer, finding one pursuit after another but when his father gave him a printing press, he began to publish his own journal.  But his interests were widespread and he also dabbled in breeding chickens, writing and producing theatre, owning a store, reporting, and traveling as a salesman.  Truth be told, Baum had as many failures as successes - perhaps even more.  Baum published his first book, Mother Goose in Prose, in 1897, complete with illustrations by the great Maxfield Parrish.  It achieved a moderate success and another one of his books, Father Goose, His Book, became the best-selling children's book of 1899.  But it was the book that appeared in 1900 that would change Baum's life - and children's literature - permanently.  Yep, it was The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  In this work, Baum drew from earlier fairy tales, like those of the Brothers Grimm, but he tried to create his own modern versions that lacked the gruesomeness and scary details of those older stories.  His story proved to be popular with both audiences and critics and Baum would go on to write another thirteen novels centered in the magical world of Oz.  But he also pursued other interests, like novels that had nothing to do with his magical world and financing musicals.  But the failures of these endeavors usually drew him back to Oz, where he could recover financially.  Braum even considered building the first theme park ever near Los Angeles, but he was never able to realize that dream, although Walt Disney later did.  And even though he died before filming of the Judy Garland film The Wizard of Oz began in 1938, Braum still figured into the production.  The film's costumers traveled to a local thrift store looking for a somewhat tattered jacket for Professor Marvel, who later becomes the Wizard, to wear.  When they gave the one they chose to actor Frank Morgan, he ended up discovering the name of the last owner in a pocket - L. Frank Baum.  And, yes, it was confirmed by both his widow and tailor that the coat was once Baum's.  So he did contribute a little extra to the film version of his most beloved tale, and I think that would have pleased him.

Nowadays, it's almost hard to imagine there was a time before Oz.  Baum's stories as well as those of his followers abound and there are plenty of other, more recent, adaptations on the world of Oz and its citizens.  Perhaps the most popular is Wicked, The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, which was published in 1995 and told the tale from the villain's perspective.  Later, it was made into a hugely successful Broadway play.  And both the Muppets have gone to Oz in a 2005 film as well as Diana Ross and Michael Jackson in the 1975 film The Wiz.  It's also been adapted into Japanese manga comics and a sci-fi miniseries called Tin Man.  A man of many interests, Braum has left behind a plethora of stories that continue to inspire generations as he once was by previous storytellers.  And it's just a matter of time before his classic tales are updated for a new audience.


  1. I have fond memories of watching "The Wizard of Oz" movie on tv each year. It was the only program my mother would let me eat dinner on a tv tray in the den and watch the movie because she knew how much I loved it!

  2. It's funny how much people can vary in their tastes. I had a good high school friend that HATED the Wizzard of OZ because it scared her too much. Obviously she was in the very small minoriity.

  3. When I was growing up, getting to watch tv at dinner was a pretty big deal, too. And I remember going through a phase when I watched the movie almost all the time, but I'm not sure if I was able to combine the two. That sounds like fun.

    I can understand being a little afraid of the Wicked Witch and her flying monkeys. Maybe your friend wasn't able to make it to the end when Dorothy wins. Too bad - the "I'm melting" scene might have helped him or her to find the film a little less scary.