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for Books and Writers
by Bamber Gascoigne

L(yman) Frank Baum (1856-1919)


American journalist and writer, whose best-known book is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900). Baum's stories about the imaginary Land of Oz belong to the classics of fantasy literature. The Oz series was long shunned by librarians, and neglected by scholars of children's literature. L. Frank Baum has often been compared to Lewis Carroll - they both had a girl as the protagonist in their most famous works, but Baum's Dorothy is a sugarized version of the sceptical and cynical Alice.

"Yet the old-time fairy tale, having served for generations, may now be classed as 'historical' in the children's library; for the time has come for a series of newer 'wonder tales' in which the stereotyped genie, dwarf, and fairy are eliminated, together with all the horrible and blood-curling incident devised by their authors to point a fearsome moral to each tale. Modern education includes morality; therefore the modern child seeks only entertainment in its wonder-tales and gladly dispenses with all disagreeable incident." (Baum in the introduction to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz).

Lyman Frank Baum was born in Chittenango, New York. His father was the oil magnate Benjamin Ward Baum and mother Cynthia (Stanton) Baum, a women's rights activist. Baum grew up with his seven brothers and sisters on a large estate just north of Syracuse. "The cool but sun-kissed mansion . . . was built in a quaint yet pretty fashion, with many wings and gables and broad verandas on every side," Baum later wrote in Dot and Tot in Merryland (1901). The house, although it was large, did not have running water. Until the age of twelve, Baum was privately tutored at home.

Before publishing his first novel, Baum lived a life that makes one a writer. He spent two years in the late 1860s at Peekskill Military Academy, where he learned to loathe the rigid discipline. In 1873 Baum became a reporter on the New York World. Two years later he founded the New Era weekly in Pennsylvania. He was a poultry farmer with B.W. Baum and Son, and edited Poultry Record and wrote columns for New York Farmer and Dairyman. Baum's father owned a string of theatres and Baum left journalism to earn his living as an actor.

In New York he acted as George Brooks with May Roberts and the Sterling Comedy in plays which he had written. He owned an opera house in 1882-83, and toured with his own repertory company. In 1882 he married Maud Gage; they had four sons.

Baum returned in 1883 to Syracuse to the family oil business and worked as a salesman in Baum's Ever-Ready Castorine axle grease. His own endeavor was not successful - Baum's Bazaar general store failed in South Dakota, and the family's fortunes took a downturn. From 1888 to 1890 he ran the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer. He moved to Chicago, and tried sales positions. In 1897 he founded National Association of Window Trimmers and edited Show Window from 1897 to 1902.

Baum made his debut as a novelist with Mother Goose in Prose (1897), based on stories told to his own children. Its last chapter introduced the farm-girl Dorothy. In the preface Baum wrote that he wanted to create modern fairy tales, and not scare children like the Brothers Grimm did. "Modern education includes morality; therefore the modern child seeks only entertainment in its wonder tales and gladly dispenses with all disagreeable incident."

Over the next 19 years Baum produced 62 books, most of them for children. Father Goose: His Book (1899) quickly became a best-seller. Baum's next work was The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a story of little Dorothy from Kansas, who is transported with her dog Toto by a "twister" to a magical realm. The book, illustrated and decorated by W.W. Denslow, was published at Baum's own expense and sold 90,000 copies in the first two years. Upon his success, Baum moved to California, where he produced sequels for the rest of his life. Under the pen name "Edith Van Dyne" he published 24 books for girls, and as "Floyd Akers" he wrote six books for boys. "Schuyler Staunton" was reserved for the novels The Fate of the Clown (1905) and Daughter of Destiny (1906).

"Somewhere over the rainbow
Bluebirds fly.
Birds fly over the rainbow 
Why then, oh why can't I?"
('Over the Rainbow' in The Wizard of Oz, lyrics by Edgar Y. Harburg)

Oz is divided into four "color-coded countries" - purple in the north, red in the south, yellow in the west, blue in the east. (Ruth Plumly Thompson, who continued the series, put the blue kingdom in the west and the yellow in the east.) The capital and geographical center is the Emerald City. Dorothy is a farmer's daughter, who lives in the midst of the great Kansas prairie. A cyclone comes, their house is swept away with Dorothy and her dog Toto. Dorothy's airborne house crushes the Wicked Witch of the East. From the Good Witch of the North she gets the dead witch's magical silver slippers. On the Yellow Brick Road she befriends the Scarecrow, who desires a brain, the Tin Woodman, who needs a heart, and the Cowardly Lion, who must find his courage. The Scarecrow reasons: "I shall ask for brains instead of a heart; for a fool would not know what to do with a heart if he had one."

The Wizard promises to grant their requests, but only in the condition that they kill the Wicked Witch of the West. During their adventures their wishes are fulfilled. At the witch's castle, Dorothy kills the evil woman with a douse of water. Back in the Emerald City, she discovers the Wizard is a balloonist from Omaha, brought to Oz by ill winds. Dorothy and her friends travel to the South, experiencing many adventures. There the good witch tells Dorothy that her silver shoes could have carried her home all the time. Dorothy returns back to Kansas – "There's no place like home." Other novels in the series were The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904), Ozma of Oz (1907), Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz (1908), The Road to Oz (1909), The Emerald City of Oz (1910), The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1913), Tik-Tok of Oz (1914), The Scarecrow of Oz (1915), The Lost Princess of Oz (1917), The Tin Woodman of Oz (1918), The Magic of Oz (1919), Glinda of Oz (1920), and The Visitors from Oz, which was adapted from a comic strip by Baum and appeared in 1960. Baum's former illustrator W.W. Denslow produced stories with Oz characters in the early 1900s.

The first of the Oz books was made into a musical in 1901, but Baum was determined to see his stories also on the screen. Since the first Oz book was published, the tale has been filmed many times. The Patchwork Girl of Oz was made in 1914, and Baum himself participated in the project. In 1914-15 Baum was the founding director of Oz Film Manufacturing Company (later Dramatic Features Company), a well-equipped seven-acre studio on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles. The venture failed, and produced only two more Oz stories, His Majesty the Scarecrow of Oz, and The Magic of Cloak of Oz. The most famous film version from 1939 was directed by Victor Fleming, starring the sixteen-year-old Judy Garland. One of the most expensive productions of its day, Oz costed over $3 million, but its profist were modest. All reviews were not positive. Russell Maloney wrote in the New Yorker (August 19, 1939): "I say it's a stinkeroo. The vulgarity of which I was conscious all through the film is difficult to analyze. Part of it was the raw, eye-straining Technicolor, applied with a complete lack of restraint."

The music was the work of  lyricist E.Y. "Yip" Harburg, composer Harold Arlen, and Herbert Stothard, who did the sophisticated background score. Following the instructions of the producer Mervyn LeRoy and his associate Arthur Freed, all the songs advanced the story line or told something about the characters. Besides winning the Oscar for Best Score, Arlen and Harburg's 'Over The Rainbow' won the Academy Award for Best Song of 1939. Noteworthy, studio moguls had considered it too dull. (A History of Film Music by Mervyn Cooke, 2008, p. 155) This purveyor of original musicals has been selected to the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress.

Originally MGM wanted Shirley Temple for the key role. Judy Garland was tightly bound and corseted to look much younger and she later revealed her unhappiness while making the film. She was not the only one who suffered during the production. Buddy Ebsen, originally cast as the Scarecrow, had a severe allergic reaction from the aluminum dust used on his face, Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West, burned her face and right hand, and Betty Danko was put in the hospital after her broomstick exploded. According to the rumors the midgets, playing the Munchkins, had orgies at their Culver City hotel.

Dorothy (Judy Garland) is knocked unconscious during a Tornado. She wakes up in Munchkin Land where the good witch Glinda (Billie Burke) gives her a pair of ruby slippers and refers her to the omnipotent Wizard (Frank Morgan). She starts the journey on the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City and meets a scarecrow (Ray Bolger) in search of brain, a tin man (Jack Haley) seeking a heart and cowardly lion (Bert Lahr) in need of courage. The Wizard agrees to help them if they secure the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton). When Dorothy and her dog Toto are captured, her three companions try to save her and the witch is destroyed. The wizard proves to be a phoney, but her friends have found the qualities they sought through their own endeavors. Dorothy is then told to click her slippers together and utter the words "There is no place like home" and is returned to Kansas. When the book insisted that Dorothy actually travelled to Oz, the film reveals that the whole adventure was only her dream.

The film can be interpreted in many ways; a search for happiness at the end of the Yellow Brick Road, Oz represents Hollywood, to which teenage girls dream of running, in hopes of breaking into movies. Dorothy's journey can be seen as a young girl's last childhood experience, and when she chooses to return home to Kansas, she has matured into a young woman, or has abandoned her childhood world of imagination. Baum wanted the children to see that the traditional American values of integrity, self-reliance, candor, and courage would make them succeed despite obstacles. Noteworthy, his stories carry a pacifist plea for tolerance between people. Henry Littlefield argued in his article 'The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism' (American Quarterly, 1964) that Baum's work was a political allegory. At its center were the Western farmer-activists who wanted the government to produce more money so that they could pay off their debts more easily. (see The Historian's Wizard of Oz: Reading L. Frank Baum's Classic as a Political and Monetary Allegory, ed. by Ranjit S. Dighe, 2002) Thus the Yellow Brick Road was the gold standard, the Scarecrow was the farmer, the wicked Witch of the East was Wall Street and Big Banks, etc.

Film adaptations: Dorothy and the Scarecrow of Oz (1910); The Land of Oz (1910); The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1914); His Majesty, The Scarecrow of Oz (1914); The Magic Cloak of Oz (1914); The Ragged Girl of Oz (1919); The Wizard of Oz (1939); Return to Oz (1964); The Wizard of Mars (1964); Journey Back to Oz (1971); The Wiz (1978); The Wizard of Oz (1982); Return to Oz (1985); The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1987). The 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz was not well received. It achieved its present status after TV showings in the 1950s (see for further information The Making of the Wizard of Oz, 1978). "The idea of starting the film in black-and-white, then going into color when we reached Oz, and back to black-and-white again for the return to Kansas, was mine. For a while, though, I wished I had never thought of it. It created huge problems. The make-up had to be different for the black-and-white portions, but that was a relatively minor matter. What caused the biggest difficulty was the actual moment of transition. Each frame of film had to be handpainted to make the change from black-and-white to color a smooth one." (Mervyn LeRoy in Take One, 1974)

Some of Baum's books for adults, including The Last Egyptian (1908), dealt with other counties and places. He gathered material for works aimed at teenagers during his motoring tours across the country and travels in Europe and Egypt. Born with a congenitally weak heart, Baum was ill through much of his life. He died on May 6, 1919, in Hollywood, where he had moved to a house he called Ozcot. In Hebrew the meaning of the name "Oz" is "strength". From 1892 Baum and his wife Maud were members of the Theosophical Society. Baum believed in reincarnation but rejected some other ideas. The main lines of his thought about the mediumship was derived from the writings of Madame H. P. Blavatsky. It has been argued that The Wizard can be regarded as theosophical allegory.

The Oz series did not stop. Ruth Plumly Thompson was commissioned by Baum's publisher to write 21 titles. Other writers include Baum's great-grand son Roger Baum. The Laughing Dragon of Oz (1934) was composed by Frank Joslyn Baum, the author's son, but he did not have a legal right to publish the book. Salman Rushdie's The Wizard of Oz (1992) deals with the classic film adaptation against the background of universal symbols and myths.

For further reading: The Wizard of Oz and Who He Was by M. Gardner and R.B. Nye (1957); An introduction to The Wizard of Oz by Donald Wollheim (1965); Wonderful Wizard, Marvelous Land by Raylyn Moore (1974); The Making of the Wizard of Oz by Harmetz Aljean (1978); The Wizard of Oz, ed. by Michael Patrick Hearn (1983); 'A Notable Theosophist: L. Frank Baum' by John Algeo, in The American Theosophist, Volume 74, Number 8 (Aug-Sept 1986); The Wizard of Oz by John Fricke, Jay Scarfone and William Stillman (1989); The Wizard of Oz by Salman Rushdie (1992); Novels into Film by John C. Tibbetts and James M. Welsh (1997); 100 Years of Oz: A Century of Classic Images from the Wizard of Oz Collection of Willard Carroll by John Fricke, et al. (1999); L. Frank Baum: Creator of Oz by Katharine M. Rogers (2002); The Historian's Wizard of Oz: Reading L. Frank Baum's Classic As a Political and Monetary Allegory, ed. by Ranjit S. Dighe (2002); The Real Wizard of Oz: The Life and Times of L. Frank Baum by Rebecca Loncraine (2009); The Universe of Oz: Essays on Baum's Series and Its Progeny, edited by Kevin K. Durand and Mary K. Leigh (2010); The Road to Oz: The Evolution, Creation and Legacy of a Motion Picture Masterpiece by Jay Scarfone and William Stillman (2018); Oz and the Musical: Performing the American Fairy Tale by Ryan Bunch (2022) - - See also: Lewis Carroll 

Selected works:

  • The Maid of Arran, 1882 (play, music and lyrics by Baum)
  • Matches, 1882 (play)
  • Kilmourne, or O'Connor's Dream, 1888
  • The Book of the Hamburgs, 1896
  • Mothe Goose in Prose, 1897
  • By the Candelabra's Glare, 1898
  • Father Goose: His Book, 1899 (with pictures by W.W. Denslow)
  • A New Wonderland, 1900
  • The Army Alphabet, 1900
  • The Navy Alphabet: Verse, 1900 (pictures by Harry Kennedy; lettered by Charles Costello)
  • The Art of Decorating Dry Goods Windows and Interiors, 1900
  • The Songs of Father Goose for the Kindergarten, 1900
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, 1900 (with pictures by W.W. Denslow)
    - Ozin velho (suom. Kersti Juva, 1977) / Ihmemaa Oz (suomentanut Tuomas Nevanlinna, 2001)
    - Film adaptations: The Wizard of Oz (1925), dir. Larry Semon, adapted by Semon and L. Frank Baum Jr,. starring Dorothy Dwan - The Wizard of Oz (1939), dir.  Viktor Fleming, starring Judy Garland. "It has dwarfs, music, Technicolor, freak characters, and Judy Garland. It can't be expected to have a sense of humor as well - and as for the light touch of fantasy, it weights like a pound of fruitcake soaking wet." (Otis Ferguson in the New Republic, September 20, 1939); The Wiz (1978), dir. Sidney Lumet, written by Joel Schumacher, starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson; Under the Rainbow (1981), starring Chevy Chase and Carie Fisher, dealt with the backstage misfoirtunes of the filming of the 1939 classic. - Walt Disney's Return to Oz (1985) was based on "The Land of Oz" and "Ozma of Oz".
  • Dot and Tot in Merryland, 1901 (illustrated by W.W. Denslow)
  • American Fairy Tales, 1901
  • The Master Key: An Electrical Fairy Tale, Founded Upon the Mysteries of Electricity and the Optimism of Its Devotees, 1901 (illustrated by F.Y. Cory)
  • The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, 1902
    - Legenda Joulupukista (suomentanut Jorma Penttinen, 1993)
  • The Widard of Oz, 1902 (play, music by Paul Tietjens)
  • The Maid of Athens: A Musical Comedy in Three Acts, 1903 (with Emerson Hough)
  • The Surprising Adventures of the Magical Monarch of Mo and His People, 1903
  • The New Wizard of Oz, 1903 (with pictures by W.W. Denslow
  • The Enchanted Island of Yew, 1903
  • The Marvelous Land of Oz, 1904
    - Ozin maa (suom. Kersti Juva, 1978) / Ihmemaa Oz 2: Ozin kapinalliset (suomentanut Veera Saarelainen, 2002)
  • A Kidnapped Santa Claus, 1904
  • The Woggle-Bug Book, 1905 (play, music by Frederic Chapin)
  • The Fate of a Crown, 1905 (as Schuyler Staunton)
  • Queen of Zixi of IX, or, The Story of the Magic Cloak, 1905 (illustrated by Frederick Richardson)
  • John Dough and the Cherub, 1906 (illustrated by John R. Neill)
  • Annabel: A Novel for Young Folk, 1906 (as Suzanne Metcalf)
  • Daughters of Destiny, 1906 (as Schuyler Staunton)
  • Sam Steele's Adventures on Land and Sea, 1906 (as Hugh Fitzgerald; also: The Boy Fortune Hunters in Alaska, as Floyd Akers)
  • Aunt Jane's Nieces, 1906 (as Edith Van Dyne)
  • Aunt Jane's Nieces Abroad, 1906 (as Edith Van Dyne)
  • The Twinkle Tales, 1906 (as Laura Bancroft)
  • Father Goose's Year Book, 1907 (illustrated by Walter J. Enright)
  • Ozma of Oz, 1907 (illustrated by John R. Neill)
    - Prinsessa Ozma (suom. Kersti Juva, 1979) / Ihmemaa Oz 3: Ozin prinsessa (suomentanut Inka Parpola, 2002)
  • Sam Steele's Adventures in Panama, 1907 (as Hugh Fitzgerald; also: The Boy Fortune Hunters in Panama, as Floyd Akers)
  • Tamawaca Folks: A Summer Comedy, 1907 (as John Estes Cooke)
  • Policeman Bluejay, 1907 (as Laura Bancroft) 
  • Baum's Fairy Tales, 1908
  • Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, 1908 (illustrated by John R. Neill)
    - Ihmemaa Oz 4: Ozin velho (suomentanut Inka Parpola, 2003)
  • The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays, 1908 (screenplay)
  • The Last Egyptian: A Romance of the Nile, 1908 (illustrated by Francis P. Wightman)
  • The Boy Fortune Hunters in Egypt, 1908 (as Floyd Akers)
  • Aunt Jane's Nieces at Millville, 1908 (as Edith Van Dyne)
  • The Road to Oz, 1909
    - Ihmemaa Oz 5: Tie Oziin (suomentanut Inka Parpola, 2005)
  • The Boy Fortune Hunters in China, 1909 (as Floyd Akers)
  • Aunt Jane's Nieces at Work, 1909 (as Edith Van Dyne)
  • Aunt Jane's Nieces in Society, 1910 (as Edith Van Dyne)
  • The Emerald City of Oz, 1910 (illustrated by John R. Neill)
  • The Boy Fortune Hunters in Yucatan, 1910 (as Floyd Akers)
  • L. Frank Baum's Juvenile Speaker, 1910
  • Aunt Jane's Nieces and Uncle John, 1911 (as Edith Van Dyne)
  • Twinkle and Chubbins, 1911
  • The Daring Twins: A Story for Young Folk, 1911 (illustrated by Pauline M. Batchelder)
  • The Sea Fairies, 1911 (illustrated by John R. Neill)
  • The Boy Fortune Hunters in the South Seas, 1911 (Floyd Akers)
  • Phoebe Daring, 1912
  • Sky Island:  Being the Further Exciting Adventures of Trot and Cap’n Bill After Their Visit to the Sea Fairies, 1912  (illustrated by John R. Neill)
  • The Flying Girl, 1912 (as Edith Van Dyne)
  • Aunt Jane's Nieces on Vacation, 1912 (as Edith Van Dyne)
  • The Flying Girl and Her Chum, 1912 (as Edith Van Dyne)
  • The Patchwork Girl of Oz, 1913
  • Aunt Jane's Nieces on the Ranch, 1913 (as Edith Van Dyne)
  • Little Wizard Stories of Oz, 1913 (illustrated by John R. Neill)
  • Tik-Tok of Oz, 1914 (illustrated by John R. Neill)
  • The Tik-Tokman of Oz, 1914 (play, music by Louis F. Gottschalk)
  • Little Wizard Series, 1914
  • Aunt Jane's Nieces Out West, 1914 (as Edith Van Dyne)
  • Stagecraft, or, The Adventures of a Strictly Moral Man, 1914 (play, music by Louis F. Gottschalk)
  • The Patchwork Girl of Oz, 1914 (screenplay)
  • The New Wizard of Oz, 1914 (screenplay)
  • The Magic Cloak of Oz, 1914 (screenplay)
  • The Last Egyptian, 1914 (screenplay)
  • Violet's Dreams, 1914 (screenplay)
  • The Scarecrow of Oz, 1915
  • The Uplift of Lucifer, or Raising Hell, 1915 (play, music by Louis F. Gottschalk)
  • Aunt Jane's Nieces in the Red Cross, 1915 (as Edith Van Dyne)
  • Rinkitink in Oz, 1916
  • The Yellow Hen and Other Stories, 1916
  • Once Upon a Time And Other Stories, 1916
  • The Magic Cloak and Other Stories, 1916
  • Little Bun Rabbit and Other Stories, 1916
  • Songs of Spring, 1916
  • The Uplifters' Minstrels, 1916 (play, music by Byron Gay)
  • Mary Louise, 1916 (as Edith Van Dyne)
  • Mary Louise in the Country, 1916 (as Edith Van Dyne)
  • The Lost Princess of Oz, 1917 (illustrated by John R. Neill)
  • The Gingerbread Man, 1917
  • Mary Louise Solves a Mystery, 1917 (as Edith Van Dyne)
  • The Orpheus Road Show, 1917 (play, music by Louis F. Gottschalk)
  • The Tin Woodman of Oz, 1918
  • Mary Louise and the Liberty Girls, 1918 (as Edith Van Dyne)
  • The Magic of Oz, 1919
  • Mary Louise Adopts a Soldier, 1919 (as Edith Van Dyne)
  • Glinda of Oz, 1920
  • The Laughing Dragon of Oz, 1934 (by Frank Joslyn Baum)
  • L. Frank Baum's "Our Landlady", 1941
  • Jaglon and the Tiger Fairies, 1953
  • The Musical Fantasies of L. Frank Baum, 1958
  • The High-Jinks of L. Frank Baum, 1959
  • The Visitors from Oz, 1960 (heavily rewritten by Jean Kellogg)
  • Animal Fairy Tales, 1969 (with illus. by Dick Martin and an introd. by Russell P. MacFall)
  • A Kidnapped Santa Claus, 1969 (illustrated by Richard Rosenblum; foreword by Martin Williams)
  • The Annotated Wizard of Oz, 1973 (edited with and introduction and notes by Michael Patrick Hearn)
  • The Purple Dragon and Other Fantasies, 1976 (illustrated by Tim Kirk; selected and annotated by David L. Greene)
  • The Third Book of Oz: The Collected and Complete Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz and The Woggle-Bug Book, 1989 (edited by Martin Williams; illustrated by Eric Shanower) 
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, 1999 (Kansas centennial ed., illustrations by Michael McCurdy; foreword by Ray Bradbury)
  • The Letters of L. Frank Baum: Including Contracts and Inscriptions, 2002 (compiled by Michael Patrick Hearn)
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: the Annotated and Illustrated Edition, 2017 (illustrated by W.W. Denslow; edited by Alissa Burger)

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