Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Audio and Oz

In all my time reading about L. Frank Baum, something has always made me wonder: why didn't he ever make a recording of his voice? In the now long-gone Fairylogue and Radio Plays films, he appeared on film. It's even been suggested he may appear in the existing Oz Film Manufacturing Company films, although no one's been able to definitely spot him.

Baum, being an actor, merchant, and newspaper man before turning to writing for children must have had no reservations about his voice. And we know he was fascinated by new technology. There's even a phonograph in his Oz stories. So, why did he never commit his voice to phonograph? And if he ever did, why has it not turned up?

I am also unaware of any available recordings of Ruth Plumly Thompson. She was on television for an interview in 1963, and I read in The Baum Bugle how a tape of it was played at an Oz convention. It's debatable if it was video tape or audio tape, and goodness knows if it yet exists or where it is. (In fact, was that interview—which was filmed ahead of time according to another article—just junked after it aired, or has it been lost?)

I would be expecting less to find audio of John R. Neill or W.W. Denslow. But another lack of audio that has really puzzled me is Jack Snow. I mean, the guy worked for a radio station. Surely his voice had gone out on the airwaves. Who knows, there may be recorded audio of Jack Snow somewhere and we don't know it's him.

When it comes to the last two Royal Historians, we've had better luck. As I linked to over the weekend, Rachel Cosgrove Payes appeared in the documentary Oz: The American Fairyland, preserving a glimpse at her personality. In addition, David Maxine has informed me has an audio tape of Rachel at a convention he intends to transfer to digital audio and eventually share. (Or so I think. Hope I'm not misunderstanding.)

As for Eloise McGraw, David Maxine again helped out by recording a talk she gave at a Winkie Convention and has had it online for quite awhile! I find it odd I can't find video of her, though. Ah, well. That talk really gives you a look at her personality.

Other people associated with Oz have been luckier. Again with David Maxine, his 2-CD set Vintage Recordings From The 1903 Broadway Musical The Wizard Of Oz includes songs not from the show that feature some of the stars, including the original Scarecrow and Tin Woodman, Fred Stone and David Montgomery. Some of their recording include their corny jokes and give a peek at the humor of the day.

Fred Stone later appeared on the Maxwell House radio show in 1939, as part of the promotion for MGM's film version of The Wizard of Oz. He got to talk to Ray Bolger, and said Bolger would have been his choice to play the Scarecrow, more or less giving his blessing. Frank Morgan butts in, and makes the ridiculous claim to have starred in the original Broadway Wizard of Oz, but he doesn't know who Fred Stone is. He tells a ridiculous story, and Fred says it's very interesting. When Frank is finally caught in his lie, Fred leaves, giving a little laugh, saying, "That's not static, folks, it's the old, old Scarecrow!" (This has been an audio feature on Warner Brother's Wizard of Oz DVDs since 1999.)

Such delightful gems from the past could easily have been lost to us if people had not taken the trouble to preserve it. To me, preserving the past is important. New technologies arise helping to do this easily. Old books, photos and documents may be viewed easily by a good scan, meaning they only need to be put through one more use before being able to be preserved themselves. Video and audio were once expensive mediums but now can be enjoyed for free online. By these mediums, items that would once be rare and difficult to find and use in research may be used by all.

The internet has made research so easy in the past several years. Even if you can't find what you're looking for online in a digital form, you can find where to find it, whether in a library or where you can buy it. Thanks to the internet, my Oz collection has grown vastly over the past couple years. I recently began adding vinyl records to my collection. To be sure, I don't currently have a way to use them, but I think I can take care of that soon.

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