Monday, February 20, 2012

"We're All Together Again!"

You don't see many of Baum's Oz books adapted outside of the first three that often. Well, there was a little odd Oz item from the late 1940s that pops up in Oz record collections.

It's a set of three records that make up a radio drama style adaptation of Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz. You might think "Wow! Three records! They must have been able to dramatize everything!" But no, these records predated the wide use of micro grooves. They turn 78 times a minute, meaning each side runs for about four and half minutes. That's right. This adaptation, despite being one of the heftiest Oz record sets, runs at just under 30 minutes. That means that if it had been re-released on a Long-Playing Record (LP), it would have taken one disc and could have ten minutes left over.

When David Maxine heard I'd ordered a copy on eBay, he was surprised that my copy was "superflex" instead of fragile shellac like most records from the time, and every other copy of the set he'd seen. I don't know how rare a vinyl version of the record is, but we can tell there's at least two different versions of the 78 set out there. And it was also released on a set of 45 rpm records. So there are at least three different editions out there.

There's no date on the set. I found a listing for it on 1948. I had thought it was 1949 as the characters on the front cover are clearly based on the MGM film which was re-released that year. On the cover, you can see "© Maude G. Baum," so apparently, Baum's widow Maud had the production copyrighted in her name. Or, since none of the Oz books had slipped into public domain yet, this was part of her licensing, as she was benefiting from the royalties from the books and wasn't going to let just anybody do what they wanted with them. (That could be a topic all its own...) The inside package blurb suggests they may have wanted to do more of the Oz stories, but it's written vaguely enough so that if they didn't, the set would stand on its own.

The cast consists of Rosemary Rice as Dorothy, Billy Lynn as the Wizard, LeRoi Operti as the Braided Man, and Patricia Jenkins as Ozma and "Cousin Zev." That's a (sic) there... (My brother points out that maybe whoever wrote the blurb wrote it on a typewriter and missed a key.) Ralph Rose wrote the adaptation and Walter Rivers was the producer. Nathaniel Shilkret provided the score.

The story adaptation is rather faithful and straightforward. Like I said, it's only a half hour, so it gets off to a quick start. However, over a dozen characters have been excised. Nine of them are the piglets. There is no mention of the Mangaboos walking in the air, nor their glass houses, nor "planting," nor the Mangaboo Princess, nor Gwig. Instead they are threatened by the Mangaboo Prince, who is cut in half by the Wizard and then each piece grows into a separate Prince. (The Wizard predicts that the Princes will fight and just make more of themselves, "and the Country will go to pot.") Yes, here the Mangaboos reproduce by mitosis. They also make popping noises when they come out of the ground.

Instead of a glass mountain, Dorothy and the Wizard's company flees to a gateway to the Country of the Gargoyles. Yep, the Valley of Voe and Pyramid Mountain have been excised as well. They fight the Gargoyles until the Gargoyles go to sleep, when the Braided Man appears, and in another alteration from the book, he actually manages to help the plot along! In return for one of Dorothy's blue hair ribbons, he tells them how to use the Gargoyle's wings which help them escape.

Dorothy's company is being pursued by the Mangaboos and the Gargoyles, so they hide in a cave. However, the cave is the home of the Dragonettes, and soon the mother Dragon joins the Mangaboos and Gargoyles. But Dorothy remembers about Ozma's promise and makes the signal at four o'clock. (Since the action has been condensed into much less time than in the book, it's less of a "WHY DIDN'T SHE THINK OF THAT BEFORE?" moment.) There's a cheerful bit where the Wizard cheers about their lucky exit as the pursuing baddies enter.

Since the plot is so condensed, the controversial bits of Ozma and the Wizard talking about their pasts are not included, instead we go to Oz with one of the Ozziest songs ever: "We're All Together Again!"
We're all together again!
We're all together again!
Give three hurrahs for the Land of Oz
Where everyone's a friend!
As the piglets are not included, Eureka (who has a really sweet little voice) is not put on trial. However, Jim and the Sawhorse do have a race which is made to sound like coverage of a real horse race. For losing, Jim has to eat a bag of sawdust, as he said he would if he couldn't beat the Sawhorse.

Dorothy tells us how they spent a long time in the Emerald City celebrating. However, when Dorothy sees Aunt Em and Uncle Henry in mourning in the Magic Picture, she, Zeb, Eureka and Jim decide it's time to go home. The Wizard says he wants to stay in Oz and Ozma allows him. So, with one last chorus of "We're All Together Again!" Dorothy returns home.

Overall, this is a fun adaptation of one of Baum's darker Oz books. The songs—"I'm Still The Wizard Of Oz," the Braided Man's song and "We're All Together Again"—are actually really good. I think L. Frank Baum himself would have liked them. While there are many liberties taken and many excisions, the story flows a lot like Baum's book, so I can't complain about it being unfaithful. I'm tempted to say a lot of changes are for the better, but really, I'll have to say it's for the better when giving the story to young children. (Let's face it, the darker aspects of the book are part of what makes Oz cool.) And they even figured out something to do with the Braided Man! You would have thought he'd get the axe!

Overall, a great adaptation of the fourth Oz book!


Hungry Tiger Talk said...

I'm pretty sure that the 1949 re-release of the MGM film was the main motivation for this recording - also I suspect the picked this Oz book because of the title - hard to beat it for trying to catch the 1949 MGM wave.

Aaron Jason said...

I actually have this set. I vividly remember listening to it when I was young and loving it (though were are parts I found rather frightening). I was thrilled to find it safe and sound within my parents record collection. Oddly, I don't find it quite as scary anymore.