Oz Before the Rainbow: L. Frank Baum's the Wonderful Wizard of Oz on Stage and Screen to 1939by Mark Evan Swartz
"The Wizard of Oz" has over the past century become an indelible part of American culture. However, unknown to most of today's fans of the book, its many sequels (including "Ozma of Oz," "The Magic of Oz," "Tik-Tok of Oz," and others) and the 1939 MGM film starring Judy Garland, are the vaudeville musicals and silent films based on "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz"… See more details below
"The Wizard of Oz" has over the past century become an indelible part of American culture. However, unknown to most of today's fans of the book, its many sequels (including "Ozma of Oz," "The Magic of Oz," "Tik-Tok of Oz," and others) and the 1939 MGM film starring Judy Garland, are the vaudeville musicals and silent films based on "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" that were produced during the first three decades of the 20th century with the full participation of L. Frank Baum himself. In Oz Before The Rainbow, Mark Evan Swartz rediscovers this largely forgotten aspect of the Wizard of Oz phenomenon, which was launched a hundred years ago this year with the publication of the enduring children's classic.
Swartz invites readers into a world that is at once familiar and, at times, exceedingly strange. For reasons of both practicality and novelty, Baum and his collaborators changed familiar characters and introduced new ones, including Imogene the Cow (who replaced Toto as Dorothy's companion in a 1903 show), Tryxie the Waitress(the Kansas-born fiancee of Pastoria, the rightful king of Oz), and Sir Dashemoff Daily, Poet Laureate of Oz. In one production, Dorothy was transformed from a 12-year-old girl into a young flapper to allow for a romantic sub-plot. The show's creators also borrowed freely from other popular musical-theater genres: ethnic songs and humor were readily incorporated, as were large doses of mistaken-identity farce and blackface minstrelry. In addition, songs and jokes were constantly rewritten to include topical references that would have delighted adults in the audience.
After briefly recounting the original novel's plot and providing a helpful survey of the various interpretations to which it has been subjected, Swartz delves into the transformation of the wildly successful children's story into its various stage and screen versions. He profiles the actors and actresses who first embodied Baum's characters, including the vaudeville team of (Fred) Stone and (David) Montgomery which became a national phenomenon in the 1900s and 1910s thanks to their portrayals of the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodsman in hundreds of performances. (Ray Bolger, 1939's Scarecrow, idolized Stone, and his wobbly-legged performance owes much to that of his predecessor's.) Swartz also details the evolution of the stage design, costumes, and special effects for these productions, and includes a wealth of original drawings and posters (eight pages of color illustrations and 90 black-and-white images). In the book's epilogue, he describes the making of the 1939 MGM film, highlighting the elements that were not derived from the original novel but rather from earlier stage and screen productions (including the addition of Dorothy's last name, Gale, a pun taken from the 1902 musical).
This unique look at the theatrical and cinematic adaptations of "The Wizard of Oz" reveals that the Oz phenomenon long predated the 1939 MGM film, its subsequent television broadcasts, and the large cult following the film has acquired over the decades. Swartz also makes clear that Oz, as the first widely-read homegrown fairy tale, is a uniquely American fantasy, populated with uniquely American characters, and he suggests that this may explain its enduring popularity.
Mark Evan Swartz is an archivist with the Shubert Archive, which preserves the documentary history of Broadway's Shubert Organization, and editor of the archive's biannual periodical, The Passing Show.
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 7.30(w) x 10.27(h) x 1.12(d)
Meet the Author
Mark Evan Swartz is an archivist with the Shubert Archive in New York and editor of the archive's periodical, The Passing Show.
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