Saturday, August 04, 2018

A Legend In Straw: The Spirit of My Uncle Ray Bolger

As time goes on, we look back at people who created art from the past and begin to think, Who were they? How did they think? And the cast of MGM's The Wizard of Oz is no exception. Today, most of the cast is gone, but we're not so removed from their generation that we don't have people who knew them.

A Legend In Straw is written by Christianna Rickard, Ray Bolger's niece. Bolger was an Oz fan, being inspired to dance and become an actor when he saw one Fred Stone perform. Linking both of these talents was that they both played the Scarecrow of Oz. Stone had played him in the original cast of the 1903 Wizard of Oz extravaganza, and Bolger would play him in the 1939 classic film. Stone would feature with Bolger in a segment on an episode of Maxwell House's Good News radio program, advertising MGM's new film.

In later years, Bolger reprised his role in a Donnie and Marie Wizard of Oz parody, recorded several abridged Baum books for Caedmon Audio, and also recorded an abridgment of The Scarecrow of Oz for Disneyland Records. He also wrote introductions for The Mysterious Chronicles of Oz and an edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

A Legend In Straw is not a biography. Rather, it's a philosophical memoir by Christianna. She draws on her memories of her uncle who helped raise her and the lessons he taught her. She frames this around her own diagnosis with cancer and going in for treatment. In addition, she also draws on the philosophy of The Wizard of Oz as a whole, talking about the themes of the story and how they relate to our own lives.

While not a biography, Christianna does have some biographical information, but it's not thorough information, you don't get all the ins and outs of his career and life. There's also a fourteen page section of photographs printed in black and white in the middle of the book, under a new cover of Bolger as the Scarecrow in artwork by Vincent Myrand.

This isn't a long book, as Christianna makes no pretenses to stretch out her premise for longer than necessary. She presents her interpretations simply and never as "the mysterious real truth," which I find far easier to embrace.

For an interesting read about Ray Bolger from someone who knew him closely, I'd recommend this book.

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