Oz Before the Rainbow: L. Frank Baum's the Wonderful Wizard of Oz on Stage and Screen to 1939

Oz Before the Rainbow: L. Frank Baum's the Wonderful Wizard of Oz on Stage and Screen to 1939

by Mark Evan Swartz
     
 

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"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

Overview

"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.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal - Library Journal
Swartz, a theater archivist, has painstakingly researched the history of L. Frank Baum's 1900 best seller, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz from publication to the ultimate film version, the 1939 MGM Technicolor musical, The Wizard of Oz. Baum wrote 14 additional Oz books before his death in 1939, collaborated on the script of a hugely successful stage production in 1902, and produced the first film based on the book in 1908. The author examines the nature of popular culture and mass media while showing how changes made in the stage and film versions that followed the initial productions effected latter versions and the 1939 film. In the book, for example, Dorothy was a juvenile of five or six, yet in the 1925 play, owing to current fashions and tastes, she was an 18-year-old flapper! This unique study is highly recommended for public and academic libraries. [This is the centennial of Baum's masterpiece; for a complementary history of Baum, see The Annotated Wizard of Oz, LJ 9/15/00, published by Norton.--Ed.]--Bruce Henson, Georgia Tech., Atlanta Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780801864773
Publisher:
Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication date:
08/31/2000
Pages:
320
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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