“A breathtaking read that will transport you over the rainbow and into the heart of one of America’s most enduring fairy tales.”—Lisa Wingate, author of Before We Were Yours
Hollywood, 1938: As soon as she learns that M-G-M is adapting her late husband’s masterpiece for the screen, seventy-seven-year-old Maud Gage Baum sets about trying to finagle her way onto the set. Nineteen years after Frank’s passing, Maud is the only person who can help the producers stay true to the spirit of the book—because she’s the only one left who knows its secrets.
But the moment she hears Judy Garland rehearsing the first notes of “Over the Rainbow,” Maud recognizes the yearning that defined her own life story, from her youth as a suffragette’s daughter to her coming of age as one of the first women in the Ivy League, from her blossoming romance with Frank to the hardscrabble prairie years that inspired The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Judy reminds Maud of a young girl she cared for and tried to help in South Dakota, a dreamer who never got her happy ending. Now, with the young actress under pressure from the studio as well as her ambitious stage mother, Maud resolves to protect her—the way she tried so hard to protect the real Dorothy.
The author of two New York Times bestselling nonfiction books, The Eighty-Dollar Champion and The Perfect Horse, Elizabeth Letts is a master at discovering and researching a rich historical story and transforming it into a page-turner. Finding Dorothy is the result of Letts’s journey into the amazing lives of Frank and Maud Baum. Written as fiction but based closely on the truth, Elizabeth Letts’s new book tells a story of love, loss, inspiration, and perseverance, set in America’s heartland.
Advance praise for Finding Dorothy
“In some ways reminiscent of Jerry Stahl’s excellent I, Fatty, Letts’ Finding Dorothy combines exhaustive research with expansive imagination, blending history and speculation into a seamless tapestry. . . . It’s a testament to Letts’ skill that she can capture on the page, without benefit of audio, that same emotion we have all felt sometime over the last 80 years while listening to ‘Over the Rainbow.’”—BookPage (starred review)
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It was a city within a city, a textile mill to weave the gossamer of fantasy on looping looms of celluloid. From the flashing needles of the tailors in the costume shop to the zoo where the animals were trained, from the matzo ball soup in the commissary to the blinding-white offices in the brand-new Thalberg executive building, an army of people—composers and musicians, technicians and tinsmiths, directors and actors—spun thread into gold. Once upon a time, dreams were made by hand, but now they were mass-produced. These forty-four acres were their assembly line.
Outside its walls, the brown hills, tidy neighborhoods, and rusting oil derricks of Culver City gave no hint of magic; but within the gates of M-G-M—Metro, as it was known—you stepped inside an enchanted kingdom. A private trolley line that cut through the center of the studio’s back lots could whisk you across the world, or back in time—from old New York’s Brownstone Row to the Wild West’s Billy the Kid Street to Renaissance Italy’s Verona Square—with no stops in the outside world. In 1938, more than three thousand people labored inside these walls. Just as the Emerald City was the center of the Land of Oz, so the M-G-M Studios were the beating heart of that mythic place called Hollywood.
Maud Baum had been waiting on foot outside the massive front gates of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for almost an hour, just another face among the throngs of visitors hoping for a chance to get inside. Every now and again, a gleaming automobile pulled up to the gate. Each time, the studio’s guard snapped to attention and offered a crisp salute. Whenever this happened, the fans waiting around the entrance, hoping to catch a peek of the stars, would leap forward, thrusting bits of papers through the car’s windows. As Maud observed this spectacle, she couldn’t help but feel a pang for Frank: his doomed Oz Manufacturing Film Company, a single giant barnlike structure, had been just a short distance away from the current location of this thriving metropolis of Metro. In 1914, when Frank had opened his company, Hollywood had been a sleepy backwater of orange trees and bungalows, and filmmaking a crazy venture seen as a passing fad. If only he could have lived to see what a movie studio would become over the course of the next two decades: another White City, a giant theater stage. This fantastical place was the concrete manifestation of what Frank had been able to imagine long before it had come to pass.
At last it was Maud’s turn. As the guard scribbled her a pass, her stomach fluttered. Inside her purse, she had the small cutout torn from Variety. She didn’t need to look at it; she had long since memorized its few words: “oz” sold to louis b. mayer at m-g-m. As the last living link to the inspiration behind the story, she was determined to offer her services as a consultant. But getting access to the studio had not been easy. For months, they had rebuffed her calls, only reluctantly setting up a meeting with the studio head, Louis B. Mayer, because the receptionist was no doubt fed up with answering her daily queries. Today she would make her case.
If Maud’s suffragist mother, Matilda, had taught her anything, it was that if you wanted something, you needed to ask for it—or demand it, if necessary. True, Maud would far rather be reading a book at Ozcot, her Hollywood home, but she had made a promise to her late husband that she aimed to keep.
The guard pushed her day pass through the glass-fronted window and gave her a nod.
“Where is the Thalberg Building?” she asked.
He jerked his head to the left—a gesture that could have pointed anywhere. “White Lung? Just head that way. You can’t miss it.”
White Lung? What a peculiar name for a building. Maud was about to ask him why, but as she’d aged she’d learned to keep her thoughts to herself so as not to come off as a doddering old fool.
Inside the studio’s gates, the paths and private roads were crowded with people and vehicles. A knot of actors hurried by, costumed in elaborate ball gowns, paste jewels, and powdered wigs, followed by painters in splattered coveralls, a man humming a tune to himself, and another fellow, likely a writer, with a furrowed brow and a pencil tucked behind his ear. Maud leapt out of the way as three girls whizzed past on bicycles. Having spent much time in the theater, she was reminded of the bustle of backstage, but this—this was such an immense scale—all the world’s a stage! Frank had loved to quote Shakespeare. Here, it seemed to be literally true.
The Art Moderne Thalberg Building was dazzlingly white, its fresh exterior paint as clean as snow. A few scaffoldings still crept up one side—the building was clearly brand-new. When she stepped inside the polished lobby, she felt a chill prickle her skin and heard an odd wheezing sound like an old man breathing. She pulled her cardigan tighter around her shoulders as the receptionist gave her a sympathetic look.
“It’s the air conditioner,” she said. “Like a heater for cool.”
Maud suppressed a smile. Such a Frank-like idea. A heater for cool. He was always saying backward things like that.
“May I help you?”
“I am here to see Mr. Louis B. Mayer.” Maud made sure that her voice conveyed no hint of hesitation. She who hesitates is lost. That was another of Matilda’s expressions. Seventy-seven years old and Maud sometimes still felt as if her mother were perched just behind the wings, whispering stage instructions.
The receptionist was a young woman with a well-coiffed platinum bob. “Actress?” she asked.
“Most definitely not.”
The girl raised a stylishly penciled eyebrow and gave Maud the once-over, from her gray curls down to her sturdy brown pumps.
“Are you . . . ?” She leaned in. “His mother?”
To her credit, Maud did not show her irritation. “Mrs. L. Frank Baum. I have an appointment.”
The young woman narrowed her eyes, the rubber tip of her pencil ticking down the list. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Baum. You aren’t on Mr. Mayer’s schedule.”
“Check again,” Maud insisted. “One o’clock. I made this appointment weeks ago.” She wouldn’t let them turn her away now. She’d been waiting too long for this day to arrive.
“You’ll have to speak to Mrs. Koverman . . .” She dropped her voice. “Mount Ida. No one gets to Mr. Mayer without going through her first.”
Maud smiled. “I’m quite adept at going through people.”
“Take the elevator to the third floor. Mrs. Koverman’s desk will be right in front of you.”
As Maud waited for the elevator, her blurry reflection looked back at her from the shining brass of the twin doors. She hoped that her expression reflected a resoluteness of spirit, rather than the trepidation she was now feeling as this important meeting was at last upon her.
“Third floor,” she said to the uniformed elevator man, stepping inside.
When the doors slid open, she faced a secretary’s desk with a plaque that read mrs. ida koverman. A stout matron with bobbed brown hair inspected Maud.
“Maud Baum,” Maud said. “I have an appointment with Mr. Louis B. Mayer.”
“On what business?”
“My late husband . . .” Maud was horrified to hear her voice squeak.
Mrs. Koverman looked at her with no trace of sympathy.
“My late husband, Mr. L. Frank Baum, was the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”
Mrs. Koverman’s expression did not soften.
Maud had long since noted that there were two kinds of people in the world: fans of Oz—those who remembered their childhoods—and those who pretended that they had never even heard of Oz, who believed that adults should put away childish things. From the look on her face, Mrs. Koverman fell into the latter category.
“Have a seat.” She cut off any further conversation with a vigorous clacking of her typewriter keys.
Maud sat, feet crossed at the ankle, handbag and a well-worn copy of Oz balanced on her lap, hoping to convey that she wasn’t planning on going anywhere.
Every now and again, Mrs. Koverman would stand up and rap upon the door with the brass plaque on it reading louis b. mayer, then enter with a piece of typed paper or a phone message. Each time she emerged, Maud looked at her steadily while Mrs. Koverman avoided her gaze. Once in a while, Maud glanced at her wristwatch. Soon one-thirty had come and gone.
The two women might have remained in their silent test of wills had not a large commotion ensued from the elevator bay—a loud thwack and a cry of “Bugger all!” filled the room. Maud was astonished to see a giant young man—well over six feet tall—rubbing his head, then bending over to gather up a scattered pile of papers from the floor. Most surprising, a brand-new edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz had skidded across the floor, landing almost at Maud’s feet.
She picked it up and approached the man. “I believe you’ve lost this?”
“Right,” he said with a British accent. “Just give me a minute. I’m a bit dazed.”
Maud watched with alarm as the lanky man swayed like a tall pine on a windy day. But after a moment, he straightened his tie, took the book from Maud, and held out his other hand in greeting. “Noel Langley. Scenarist.”
He noted the faded clothbound volume Maud held in her other hand. “Doing a little homework, I see.”
“Let me guess. Are you playing Auntie Em?”
“Auntie Em?” Maud was startled. She peered at the man, confused. “But how could you . . . ?”
“Clara Blandick,” Langley continued, not seeming to notice Maud’s reaction. “I presume . . .”
“Oh, the actress?” Maud said, gathering her wits. “You mean the actress?”
“Yes, the actress,” Langley said, louder this time. Maud blinked in irritation.
“Not at all. I’m not an actress,” Maud said firmly. “I’m Maud Baum—Mrs. L. Frank . . . ?”
Langley returned a blank look.
“My late husband, Frank—L. Frank Baum? Author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz?” Maud held up her book and pointed to the author’s name.
Still looking puzzled, he scrutinized Maud as if seeing her for the first time. She twisted the emerald she wore on her fourth finger and smoothed the folds of her simple floral dress, aware how out of place she must appear to this elegant young man.
“But the book was written before I was born . . .” Langley said slowly, as if trying to solve a difficult math problem in his head. “Surely his wife must be . . .” As he spoke, his head cocked progressively more to one side, until with his long limbs and small tilted head, he looked like a curious grasshopper.
“I’m seventy-seven years old,” Maud said. “Not dead yet, if that’s what you were thinking.”
“Certainly not, of course not,” Langley stammered, his face now beet red. “It’s just that I imagined the book was published years ago? I guess, I assumed—oh, never mind what I assumed . . .”
“Not to worry,” Maud said soothingly. “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published in 1900. The turn of the century.”
“Ah, yes . . .” Langley said. His blush had faded, but the tips of his auricles remained pink.
“Must seem like ancient history to a young man like you.” Maud’s heart sank at the thought.
Langley nodded in agreement.
“Which brings up a good point,” Maud said. “It’s a lucky chance I’ve run into you. You see—”
Before Maud had a chance to finish, the elevator doors slid open again and a brown-haired man seemed to blow out as if pushed by a strong wind.
“Langley!” he cried out.
“Hello,” the tall fellow answered. “Look what we have here . . . if you can believe it. It’s Mrs. L. Frank Baum. Mrs. Baum, this is Mervyn LeRoy. He’s the producer.”
LeRoy skidded to a stop in front of the pair and looked Maud up and down.
“Well, I’ll be,” he said, appearing mystified at her presence.
LeRoy’s gaze fell upon the faded green book Maud clasped in her bony, spotted hands.
“Well, now, look at this.” LeRoy reached out. “This looks like the exact same edition I had when I was a kid . . . sat on the shelf right by my bed. Loved that book so much.”
Maud sensed an opening. “Would you like to take a look?”
She held out the worn volume, the color leached from its cover and its edges frayed. Before cracking it open, LeRoy inhaled its papery scent, then reverently brushed the palm of his hand across the stamped green cloth. Flipping it open, he perused the color illustrations one by one, a half-smile on his lips.
“I grew up reading this book. Loved it! It’s hard to explain. I almost felt as if the characters were part of my own family.”
“I am glad to hear you feel that way. So you’ll understand why it’s so important to stick to the author’s vision.”
LeRoy tore his eyes away from the volume in his hands and returned his gaze to Maud, whose corporeal presence he still seemed to find puzzling. “The author’s vision? Tell the truth, I never gave a moment’s thought to the person who wrote it. Oz always seemed so timeless—eternal, really. Funny to think it started out as the idea of an unknown person with a pen in his hand.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This year marks 80 years since the film released and this book is a fitting tribute. The author alternates between the filming of the classic movie and events in Maud and Frank's life together. As the daughter of a prominent suffragette, Maud attended Cornell University with her mother's expectations of great things. So when, Maud fell in love with Frank, a struggling actor, and dropped out of college, her mother was disappointed but supportive. Frank was a dreamer and child like at heart whereas, Maud was the practical one. The author weaves many of the characters and symbols of The Wizard of Oz into Frank and Maud's love story. Through all their financial difficulties and struggles, they worked hard together. The chapters that take place in Hollywood were well done as the author imagines Maud's interactions with the stars that bring Frank's book to life. Especially endearing is Maud's mentoring of a young Judy Garland as she struggles with meeting the demands of her "mommy dearest" mother and ruthless treatment from studio executives. I really loved Frank and Maud's story!
The 1939 film The Wizard of Oz is one of my all-time favourite classic movies. I’ve always been in awe at how a film from the era it was made in was done so spectacular and with a great cast, including Judy Garland. With this in mind when I heard about the book ‘Finding Dorothy’ I just had to read it. The book reads like part biography and part story, although all the book is fictionalised, Elizabeth Letts has stuck to the facts when it came to Maud Baum’s earlier life and her marriage to L. Frank Baum – the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. You can tell how much research and dedication went into this book, as well as how much of a joy it must have been to write. The plot moves back and forth between Maud’s earlier life starting as a child and watching her grow into a strong young woman. The daughter of a suffragette and well educated. She gave up her education to be with L. Frank Baum. The book follows their life together through poverty and riches. In other chapters, we get to be witness to Maud Baum as she offers her help to M.G.M as they film an adaptation of her late husband’s book and she takes young Judy Garland (Dorothy) under her protective wings. The book is completely fascinating and brought to the forefront information on a woman I only knew by name. She had an extraordinary life, even before she met L. Frank Baum. Whilst I enjoyed getting to know Maud and her past, at times these sections felt slow and they were far longer chapters than the ones set in 1938. The later years chapters were the ones that I completely adored and were fascinated by. If you love The Wizard of Oz movie or the children’s books series (yes there are multiple books featuring Oz), then this novel would be just perfect for you. It is eye-opening and brings you into the life of a woman who lived such a remarkable life. You also get to hear all about the famous movie being made and the lives of the actors too – even if it is a work of fiction it felt so real.
October, 1938, inside the MGM Studios in Hollywood California, history was in the making and seventy-seven year old Maud Baum was determined that the story of Oz was going to be told as her husband Frank had written it. The daughter of a suffragette Maud had learned a thing or two watching her mother, Susan B. Anthony and their cohorts finagle and finesse to gain advantage of their position. Written from the author’s wife’s perspective, Finding Dorothy is many stories wrapped into a well-written and interesting undertaking of how the movie The Wizard of Oz came to be made. There is the story of Maud’s mother, Matilda Gage, who encouraged her daughter to accomplish all she could not, including going to college and becoming an attorney. There is the story of Maud, her upbringing, her entrance and attendance to Cornell when women didn’t seek higher education and her abandonment of her education for love. There is the story of the life shared by Maud and Frank Baum, the triumphs, failures, the hardships of being a traveling actor, the loss of everything and the climb back. Ultimately there is the story behind The Wizard of Oz, protecting Dorothy as L. Frank Baum wrote her and how “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” was perfected until there was enough “wanting” in it. Thank you NetGalley and Random House Publishing - Ballantine for a copy
Finding Dorothy is a unique and entertaining book. The tale is of Maud Baum, the wife of famous author L. Frank Baum who penned the Oz books. Maud is concerned about keeping her promise to her late husband . She promised to do everything she could to ensure that the MGM film of the Wizard of Oz stayed true to his creation. Maud struggles to get the studio to take her seriously - the 1930's were not a time when women had much of a voice. She meets young Judy Garland and takes it upon herself to watch out for Dorothy/Judy. This is harder then it seems - the young, gifted artist is taken advantage at every turn. They didn't count on Maud's perseverance and dedication.As Maud is waiting for meetings, or watching filming, she flashes back to the journey that got her there, beginning with attending Cornell University and meeting her future husband. Maud's mother, Matilda Gage, was a confirmed suffragette who traveled about lecturing with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Matilda worked hard to get Maud into the first female class admitted to the prestigious Cornell University. Maud was excited, but not happy. She met Frank Baum over school break at her room mate's party. The instant attraction was squashed by Matilda who did not raise her daughter to marry a theater man, but love won out and Maud joined Frank and the company. Frank found more stable work as Maud became pregnant with their first child. The couple over came many obstacles and Maud stood staunchly by Frank as fate led them from the Dakota wilderness to Chicago and Frank's creation of Oz. Elizabeth produced a well researched, well written book detailing the Baum family's struggles and Frank's journey to produce one of the best loved books in the world. Maud's loyalty to her husband is amazing as her persistence results in a movie that her husband would have loved, and a more confident and nurtured Judy Garland as her rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" becomes a beloved hit. While this is a book of fiction, its obviously based on facts and was a fascinating read. This book is suitable for young adults but I think people of all ages, especially fans of Frank Baum, will love it!
I absolutely loved reading about Maud and Frank Baum and their life together and how it shaped one of my all time favorite books The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The alternating chapters of their life together and the making of the movie evoked some very heartfelt memories for me and I enjoyed every minute. I recommend this well researched book to any fan of historical fiction and for fans of Oz.
Fascinating story about how the author of The Wizard of Oz went about Finding Dorothy interspersed with the making of the movie in 1938-39. Maud Baum is the unifying character in the two strands of her life described in the book. It begins with a 77-year-old Maud attempting to get on the MGM lot to ensure that her long-dead husband’s book would be faithful carried to the silver screen. While the bright colors of Technicolor including the bright green of Oz were unfamiliar, Maud sees a vulnerability and talent in Judy Garland when she hears her singing “Over the Rainbow”. After proving her worth to the MGM honchos, Maud covertly takes Judy under her wing with the help of the studio head’s secretary. In a parallel story, Maud at nineteen is one of the first woman at Cornell. Her mother, a famous suffragette, insists that she become an attorney. However, Maud only has eyes for handsome actor and small theater producer, Frank Baum. Once married, the couple are deeply in love but have ongoing financial problems. When Frank is convinced to publish the book he spends travel time on the train writing, the Wizard of Oz thrusts them both into the spotlight. I enjoyed both parts of Maud’s story but perhaps the movie one slightly more. Finding Dorothy is an excellent look behind the scenes at the cost of both movie and literary stardom. 4 stars! Thanks to Random House and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for an honest review.
I am a huge fan of The Wizard of Oz and in 2009 I read The Real Wizard of Oz by Rebecca Loncraine, one of the books Letts used in her research so I was excited to read this historical fiction take on the creation of Oz. Overall, the story is interesting, but seems to lack emotion. There just wasn’t enough of a connection between Maud’s emotional connection to the Oz stories and her assumed passion to making sure the movie honored the book. As an avid reader and movie geek, I understand that need for an adaptation to be “just right,”, but it just didn’t show upon the page until too late.
Who didn't love The Wonderful Wizard of Oz? A fascinating and adventurous classic MGM movie starring Judy Garland. Now years later,Elizabeth Letts introduces us to the author (L. Frank Baum) behind the book and movie. We also get to learn about his wife, (Maud). This story is told through Maud's voice. It is a story of her life. Maud Baum, f/k/a Maud Gage, was the daughter of a shopkeeper, Maud's mother, Matilda, taught her daughter to treasure education and independent thinking. Maud, later meets Frank, an traveling theater man. Maud marries Frank, and they spent many years living poorly. It wasn't until Frank wrote The Wizard of Oz, that their lives changed. Maud later moved to Hollywood and when the book was turning into a film, she met Judy Garland. Maud befriended Judy, and fought with the producers, trying to keep her husbands book true to his story. This book is beautifully written with lots of detail and emotion. I highly recommend this book to anyone especially for those who love The Wizard Of Oz.
Finding Dorothy is the interweaving of L. Frank Baum, writer of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz series, his wife Maud who sees the fruition of his work to the screen, and the behind the scenes making of the movie, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in the late 1930's. The story also includes the terrible treatment of Judy Garland during the making of the movie from both the studio heads, director and sadly her own mother Ethel. It delves into how the famous song "Over the Rainbow" was almost cut from the movie. But most important who Dorothy is to the writer, his wife, and to Judy Garland. This historical novel well researched by author Elizabeth Letts begins with a young Maud running through a neighbor's yard and being terribly frightened by the scarecrow positioned on a post. This is an example of what I began calling little "Easter eggs" of scenes from the actual movie and how they came to fruition from the Baum's own lives. The story continues with Maud and Frank meeting and falling in love, Frank an actor with an incredible imagination, and Maud a woman's rights advocate, realist and the household financier. During the filming of the movie itself, Maud decides to oversee its making to make sure it stays true to Frank's book. She soon becomes Judy Garland's protector and secret keeper. She sees the abuse of Garland from giving her diet pills as to not gain any weight because her costume is too tight as it is, to the mistreatment Garland endured from some of the men and even her mother who either agreed with them, or looked the other way. This book will be enjoyed by anyone who has read the book series, or ever seen the movie. It gives insight into how the characters were developed and even where some of the infamous lines in the movie came from. Unfortunately it also is perhaps the introduction to a drug addiction which plagued Judy Garland her whole life and was the start of her great sense of insecurity. It delves into the love of Frank and Maud Baum, their family, their losses and their highs, but it is especially about the woman whose strength enabled the story to be told in both book and movie form. I highly recommend Finding Dorothy.
Writing: 4/5 Plot: 4/5 Characters: 4/5 The fictionalized history of the creation of The Wizard of Oz through the eyes of Maud Baum, daughter of early suffragette Mathilda Gage and wife of L. Frank Baum, Oz’s creator. Alternating between her personal history from 1871 (10 years old) through 1899 (38 years old) and the 1938-39 Hollywood film production, the pages unravel the secret origins of Oz and the personal world Baum embedded in the story. As the narrative unspools, the characters are brought to life: Frank is the consummate storyteller and imagineer, firmly embedded in thoughts of the future while weaving fantastical stories from everything around him. Maud is his balance — “To see the ordinary, to avoid being bedazzled by spectacle — this was her gift.” She remained a shopkeeper’s daughter, “firmly anchored in the palpable things of this earth — things that could be observed and touched, measured and weighed.” The scenes are abundantly filled with period details such as peptonizing milk for a baby’s consumption, prescriptions of “Bayer heroin” for coughs, patent medicines, and early air conditioning technology brought to Hollywood — “a heater for the cool.” We follow Frank and Maud as they move from upstate New York to the Dakota territory, working in a variety of occupations from theater management (and acting, scriptwriting, scenic design, etc.), to the owners of Baum’s emporium, to the owner of The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer newspaper, to superlative Salesman. Frank was an early marketeer — blending story and spectacle with product to entrance consumers into buying something they never knew they wanted. The 1938-39 narrative focuses on an older, widowed, Maud, fighting M-G-M to ensure the movie would stay true to Frank’s version. Maud wants to protect the story and what it represents to the millions who have been brought into the Magic of Oz — the longing for something better and the “dream of the rainbow” that keeps people going when times are hard (as they were for most people back then). I’m not a fan of fictionalized history in general — it feels unfair to me to impart imagined thoughts, motivations, and dialog to real (but dead) people who can no longer set the record straight. However, I get easily caught up in a good story, and Elizabeth Letts has done an excellent job of generating one, starting from a variety of primary and secondary sources and filling in with period detail, imagined internal lives, and a well-defined narrative arc.
I began reading Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts with low expectations and a bit of trepidation. I had read the Oz books and watched the movie, and frankly, I did not want this book to shade those memories. I need not have worried. This exceptionally well-written novel captured me from the first chapter which introduces us to Maud Gage Baum, the wife and widow of L. Frank Baum, who created Oz. Moving seamlessly from the filming of the movie to the story of their marriage and family, it is a compelling love story of a marriage that succeeds despite obstacles, hardships, and strife. It also is a story of the making of a movie, whose success is entirely dependent on the teenaged Judy Garland. Above all, this is historical fiction at its best. Letts gives us a clear picture of the expectations and limitations of women in the second half of the 19th century and the effort to gain the right to vote. Maud’s mother was in the highest level of leadership in the suffrage movement. In 1938, as the movie is being made, Maud assumes the role of protector and mentor of the young star, who is manhandled and mistreated by almost every other person around her. As the Baum family moves to the western frontier, we are privy to the harsh economic and environmental challenges they confront. All of the characters are multi-faceted and richly drawn. The dialogue rings with authenticity and the descriptions can make a reader feel the rain or shiver with the cold. Having created a complex tapestry, Letts goes one step further – she sprinkles a little magic dust that will add new dimension to those of us that love the world of Oz. Thanks to NetGalley and Random House Ballantine Publishers and Goodreads for allowing me the opportunity to read an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
This engrossing and heartwarming historical novel tells the story of Maud Baum, the wife of L. Frank Baum. The novel alternates between the filming of The Wizard of Oz in 1938 and Maud’s life leading up to her trip to Hollywood for the film. Maud, the daughter of a women’s suffragist attends Cornell in one of the first women’s classes. She meets Frank Baum through her roommate, a cousin of Franks. Maud is quickly swept off her feet, and despite her mother’s protests, she quits school to embark on a roller coaster life with the man she loves. Frank Baum brought the magical and imaginative into their lives and it was Maud who found herself trying to be the practical one. Now in 1938, the 77-year-old widow must travel to Hollywood to ensure the movie stays true to her husband’s ideals. This is a delightful, poignant novel that tells the story and history behind this much-loved classic book as well as introducing the reader to Maud Baum herself. Fans of the Oz books or the movie (or fans of both) will delight in this depiction of how L. Frank Baum’s land of Oz came to be.
If asked what is the most iconic movie of the twentieth century, those surveyed would definitely place THE WIZARD OF OZ near the top. What many people may not realize is that when the movie was being made, millions of Americans already knew the story, both from a Broadway theater production and from the series of books written L. Frank Baum. In a time when children's literature was not the creative well spring that it is today, Baum's fantasy land of Oz complete with illustrations by W.W. Denslow filled children's minds for generations. Those fans of the books eagerly awaited the movie, much as fans of Harry Potter waited for the first Hogwarts' movie. As the book FINDING DOROTHY begins, L. Frank Baum has been dead for over twenty years and his wife, now 77, gains entrance to the set of the movie, hoping to not only see the filming, but also to gain a copy of the script. Readers soon learn that Maud Baum long ago promised her husband that she would take care of Dorothy; at first, we believe that means she wants to make sure the girl playing Dorothy is the right one. Only as we read further, do we understand that there is "more to the story" than that. The book easily alternates between 1939 MGM studios and Maud's earlier life, beginning when she was a college student, a rarity in the 1880's. We learn that Maud's mother was a well known suffragette, who expected her youngest daughter to get a diploma and be independent. When Maud meets Frank Baum, an actor who runs his own small theater company, he is NOT what Matilda Gage wanted for her girl. But eventually Frank's charm wins over his future mother-in-law and the two marry. But just as Matilda feared, acting is not a steady business and the Baum's life is a series of failures and hardships, especially the years spent in South Dakota and Chicago. Adults will see the correlation between those years and Baum's eventual books. When the book jumps to 1939, we see a rapport develop between Maud and the young Judy Garland. As Letts reveals, Garland (aka Dorothy) truly did need protection and someone to care for her. Surfice to say, the "I, too" movement was needed at MGM. On a lighter note, I especially enjoyed the story line about the song,"Somewhere over the rainbow," which was almost cut from the film. We librarians and teachers know that good readers make connections between their own lives and the story. The more connections made, the better the understanding. Here are my connections: 1. Like most American kids, I watched the WIZARD OF OZ countless times as I was growing up. Anyone else remember when it was shown on Sunday night one time per year? After reading this novel, I think I should rewatch the movie with new insight. 2. My youngest granddaughter has a special love for this story. She has seen two live musical productions of it. She and her mom have listened to an audio version of the original book many times. Often, instead of music, she wants to listen to that recording as she drifts off to sleep. 3. "Somewhere over the rainbow" is the song my husband plays on his ukulele and sings to the grandkids before bedtime when they stay overnight. I am sure that other readers will have their own connections. This is the first book by Elizabeth Letts that I have read, and I really liked the easy readability of her writing. I will be looking into finding her nonfiction books. I hope that FINDING DOROTHY is well received by readers; I can see it being a favor
For my mother's generation and mine, The Wizard of Oz was much more than just a story or simply a popular movie. It was an intrinsic step in our lives, a promise that it was alright to dream, and there was always a chance to make your dreams come true. Mom read the stories to us girls, and we in turn read the Oz books to our children, and occasionally over the last 40 or so years we were able to watch the movie on late night television or even see it on the big screen at a special screening. And ALWAYS there were tears, evoking memories and hopes and dreams both achieved and missed. I had thought that little if anything could top the emotions my heart remembers when I hear Judy Garland sing 'Over the Rainbow'. Elizabeth Letts managed to do just that. I can't tell you how many times I had to set this book aside and pull memories out of the archives of my heart, shed a tear or two, have a cup of tea, call a sister. This is a book you need to read, even those of you too young to have much memory banked in the land of Oz. You will love Maud and Frank Baum, and seeing the life that goes into the making of the story, and the heartbeats that went into the filming of the original movie. And I hope there will come a time you will want to read The Wizard of Oz to your children. There are 14 other Oz stories by Frank Baum but they are much harder to find. I'm going to see if they have the 1939 movie on Netflix and if so, watch it again tonight. And if you haven't seen the Broadway play "Wicked" yet, do so. It can make you laugh until you cry. I received a free electronic copy of Finding Dorothy from Netgalley, Elizabeth Letts, and Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine Books in exchange for an honest review. Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me.
At first, I thought this book would be about the making of the movie, The Wizard of Oz, and it is about that but so much more. The story jumps between Maud Baum's life and her involvement on the set of the movie fiercely guarding her husband's legacy and the young woman chosen to play the character at the heart of the story, Dorothy. The story of Maud and her warm-hearted, theatrical husband L. Frank Baum brings the WIZARD OF OZ to life. The story parallels their lives, hopes and dreams of a better place just over the rainbow and a little girl who needed rescuing. It is also a story of strong women who weren't afraid to stand up for what they thought was right and to fight for those who couldn't fight on their own, namely a young actress named Judy Garland. The author's research and imagination come through and she has given a powerful voice to the lovely Maud Baum.
When Maud Gage began her first year of Cornell University, her focus was only on higher learning, and certainly not the boys of Cornell. Her roommate is Josie, Josie Baum, and it is through Josie that Maud meets the man that was foretold by a somewhat silly group of young women, Josie’s brother – L. Frank Baum. A man who, one day, will write one of those beloved childhood books The Wizard of Oz. This is the story that is behind the making of both the book, and the now classic film, a film that made its young star into a bona fide Hollywood icon. This story is told in two different time frames, one in which Maud is still a relatively young girl, daughter of a suffragette, to her days at Cornell, how she meets the man who will become her husband, his gifts as an actor, their marriage and their life together, which wasn’t always easy. Although Frank was a man with many talents, they weren’t always helpful to them financially. The alternate, 1938, timeline begins with Maud, now a 77-year-old widow, visiting the MGM studio following her discovery that they are making a movie of the book her husband wrote, and she is determined to ensure that they stay true to the story he wrote. It is there that she meets the young girl cast as Dorothy, Judy Garland, and begins to take her under her wing. This timeline is more amusing and interesting in the sense that it discloses some of the things that supposedly went on behind the screens. What I loved were the little peeks at the stories that went into what would become The Wizard of Oz, even the choice of that title came from an originally innocent comment. Little snippets of conversations that led to other choices, some felt authentic, and some perhaps speculated on, but make for a good story. Facts that were “behind the scenes” decisions during the making of this movie really do give this a charming view on the making of this movie. A poignant story that also maintains an optimistic outlook worthy of L. Frank Baum, a reminder to hold onto your faith for a better day on those days when life seems unrecognizable. Elizabeth Letts is also the author of The Eighty-Dollar Champion and The Perfect Horse, and two novels, Quality of Care and Family Planning. In her writer’s biography she wrote: “ If you want to know why I’m a writer, you’d have to thank Mrs. Barclay, the children’s librarian in the Malaga Cove Library in Palos Verdes, California, and my mother who has read more books than anyone else I know, and who carted me to the library from the time I could barely walk.” At the age of thirty, she determined to try her hand at writing, and I doubt she’s turned back since but still states that reading remains her favourite “hobby.” But this mini bio was what made me want to read this one – a movie I loved when I was a young girl. Many thanks for the ARC provided by Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine Books!
I have no idea how many times I have watched The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, so when hearing about Elizabeth Letts new book, I knew it was one not to pass up. There were two timelines going on in the book. One was about Maud Baum’s life and her marriage to Frank. The other was about the making of the movie and Maud’s determination to see that the movie stayed true to Frank’s book. It was interesting to learn the story behind the story. What a pleasure it was to learn that L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was such a positive and creative soul. Throughout the book there are several stories that are the background to how Frank came to create the characters in the book. I was a bit taken aback at how Maud was portrayed during the making of the movie, but I can also see how that might have been the way it was on the set. She was an outsider among the movie people and an elderly woman as well, so often as I read, it seemed that the people involved with the movie were just placating her to keep her out of their way. I enjoyed the book and I feel like anyone who has grown up loving The Wonderful Wizard of Oz will also enjoy reading Finding Dorothy. Many thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group for providing an advance copy of which I am happy to give an honest review.
The Wizard of Oz is such a classic movie that anyone who has seen the original version starring Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale has always wondered what it was like behind the scenes filming such an iconic film. Finding Dorothy focuses on Letts's findings of Maud Baum the widow of L. Frank Baum the author of the book and the original story. Having read books inspired by movies such as P.L. Travers' Mary Poppins and seeing movies like Saving Mr. Banks and how she was so passionate about Mary Poppins and why she had to be there with Walt Disney while filming the movie to make sure her character was portrayed correctly. Maud's passion for Dorothy reminded me of that but it was also more because she developed such a bond with Judy Garland, that she became protective of Judy as well as Dorothy while filming and that just brought tears to my eyes wanting to witness this amazing friendship while filming one of the most iconic movies ever. Such a heartwarming story that is sure to leave you breathless and bring tears to your eyes. Our community is sure to love this book and we can't wait to add it to the library collection. That is why we are honored to give this book 5 stars!
What a wonderful book! At its simplest “Finding Dorthy” is the story of Maud Baum, the wife of the author of the Wizard of Oz, and her commitment to making certain the film version is authentic and honors the spirit of her husband. It weaves together the story of the making of the film with the life of Maud and L. Frank Baum. The book creates a picture of L. Frank Baum that is tender and somewhat lost. A man with vision but with little to back his vision, who repeatedly faces failure and disaster but refuses to be destroyed by them. It is his vision, failures, and disasters that are central to the story and to creating the magic of the Wizard of Oz. It is what Maud Baum insists must be captured in the film. Maud’s concern for the authenticity of the film runs deep and encompasses her care and concern for the character of Dorthy and the actress, Judy Garland who plays Dorthy. The book shows us a glimpse behind the curtain of the making of the film not unlike the glimpse we get of the Wizard of Oz when his curtain is drawn back at the end of the film. And while neither glimpse shows the magic they would like us to believe in, it is in a way its own magic. That is the magic that is created not of whimsy and fantasy but rather a magic created by holding on to beauty, love, and goodness throughout a journey that is made of hardship, sadness, and loss. This is where true magic is created. And this is the magic of Baum's’ Wizard of Oz as well as the magic that we experience and come to understand in "Finding Dorthy”. I was privileged to receive a free copy of this book from NetGalley and the Publisher Random House, Ballantine Books in exchange for an honest review.
One way I know I thoroughly enjoyed a book is that, when I finish, I can't stop digging for more information. That's exactly what happened when I finished "Finding Dorothy" by Elizabeth Letts. I needed to know more about the characters, about the production of "Wizard of Oz," about Matilda Gage. I was glad for the author's note and appreciated her recommendations for further reading. I can't stop thinking about the book. The story follows the wife of L. Frank Baum, author of "Wizard of Oz", through her early days growing up the daughter of a suffragette, then when she marries Baum and raises a family, and finally as an older woman as the "Wizard of Oz" movie is being produced. The story alternates between time but flows so beautifully. I loved how much time and research Letts put into building her dynamic characters. The descriptions were so well written that it was easy to visualize the story. I felt as though I was in the room with Maud, both at home with her in the 1880s and on set with her in the 1930s. It was well-written and incredibly enjoyable.