Happy Birthday, L. Frank Baum!
Today we celebrate the creator of all things Oz.
The very first Wizard of Oz movie didn’t star Judy Garland. It starred silent actress Bebe Daniels and was filmed in 1910. It runs just over 13 minutes and you can see it here. The special effects include a whirling hay stack, and Dorothy arrives in Oz with an entourage that includes the Scarecrow, Toto, a donkey, and a cow. Regardless of this deviation from what we’re used to, there’s also a witch, a forest, and a wizard. And before the movie, Dorothy and company were on the stage in a musical penned by Oz’s author himself.
Today we can’t imagine movies or American children’s literature without the work of prolific L. Frank Baum (1856–1919), who also had a career as a salesman as well as being a pioneer of marketing. The department store windows of years past owe their lavish and unabashed displays of goods to Baum, who wrote and edited a short-lived but influential trade magazine call The Show Window. After various degrees of professional failure and success, The Show Window gave him enough stability to concentrate on his writing which turned into magical, wonderful, and imaginative stories of the marvelous land of Oz!
Of course, the original is still the greatest and Dover has many reprints of the first books with the illustrations of W.W. Denslow who created big-eyed characters with a lot of heft. Despite assurances of his tameness, Denslow’s Cowardly Lion dominates the page and the Wizard, with a head like an egg, might have powers beyond what he admits.
The Wizard wouldn’t look quite as fearsome in the drawings of the next artist, John R. Neil. But Neil’s renderings have a fairy lightness and grace that shouldn’t be overlooked. Neil’s Ozma, the graceful girl ruler of Oz, always wears red flowers in her hair, which might be peonies but that also might be very large poppies. And Ozma and Dorothy Gale have lots of adventures together. Girls rule in Oz!