Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The Surprising State of Hollywood and Oz

 The latest bit of casting for the movie adaptation of Wicked is that Jonathan Bailey will be playing Fiyero in the two films.

 Bailey has been acting since he was seven years old on stage, film and television, most recently getting international attention in Netflix's hit show Bridgerton. He's experienced in musical theater, so if anything, he's overqualified for a major film adaptation of a Broadway musical hit.

There is one note about the role of Fiyero I want to presence. In Gregory Maguire's Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, the character is inspired by African tribes, described as having dark skin and tribal tattoos. In the original Broadway cast, Fiyero was played by a Caucasian actor, Norbert Leo Butz. The character's depiction was largely changed, making him a spoiled and self-absorbed member of a notable family in Oz.

To be fair to the musical, the character was played by men of color in different casts, notably Idina Menzel's then husband Taye Diggs. But still, largely, a role originally envisioned as a person of color was cast with a white person. While I've heard people dismiss the importance of the role, this is the very definition of what is called "whitewashing." I had hoped they might go with a person of color for the movie, but that's seemingly not going to be the case. It might not be as egregious as a culturally important character of color being whitewashed, but it's a missed opportunity, particularly as this two-part film adaptation might be the only version of the musical some people will get to see.

Before the Wicked movies come out, Universal, the studio behind them, might have even more importance to Oz fans.

Universal's TV arm is NBC, and they're both owned by Comcast, one of the big telecommunications companies in the United States. Without checking further credits, NBC/Universal control the rights to the movie adaptation of The Wiz, The Wiz Live! and the one-season TV series Emerald City. Universal is producing the Wicked films as they are a producer on the stage show, which for a movie studio, generally means that they get to make the movie adaptation. (It's not always the case, in fact Fox helped bankroll The Wiz but turned the movie rights over to Universal.) Universal Music Group, of course, released the original cast recording album for Wicked.

If you've been paying attention to elsewhere in Hollywood, you probably know about the shakeup over at Warner Brothers as they're merged with Discovery, cancelling movies and shows in various stages of production, pulling titles from HBO Max, which they plan to merge with the Discovery+ platform in time.

Warner Brothers had bought up and has basically absorbed Turner Entertainment, who had bought up MGM's catalog of movies, which included MGM's The Wizard of Oz. Under their ownership, Warner Brothers has only made a few spinoffs from the property, notably the two Tom and Jerry crossover movies and the animated series Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz. There have recently been two new film adaptations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz announced from Warner Brothers, Nicole Cassell's film version with WB subsidiary New Line Cinema, and more recently, Kenya Barris writing and directing a new adaptation that's been buzzed as a remake/reimagining of the MGM film, set with Warner Brothers proper. There's also been an animated adaptation of Toto: The Dog-Gone Amazing Story of the Wizard of Oz announced, but it's been a long time since we've heard any news. Given the track record Warner Brothers has had, if any of these project are actually made, it'll be a surprise.

 So, why am I talking about Warner Brothers?

It's not publicly confirmed, and not expected to be as investors wouldn't want to hear this news, but the current state of Warner Brothers has been assessed by analysts as getting ready for yet another merger, expected to occur in the next couple of years. And who's most likely going to grab up WB?


Mergers haven't been great as this means redundancies and people lose jobs. In recent history, we have the merger of Disney and what was then 20th Century Fox to look back to. However, the changing landscape of the entertainment industry seems to be requiring consolidation as Warner Brothers is trying to eliminate a lot of debt. A little hint seems to be Disney poised to buy out Universal's shares of Hulu, which would help with clearing the merger as Universal would have less of a presence in the streaming market with just their platform Peacock, so buying up Warner Brothers/Discovery with their own services will be less of an issue.

But if this does happen, that would mean that before it goes public domain, the MGM film The Wizard of Oz will be controlled by Universal, the same studio who already has a handful of other notable Oz properties. It would likely be too late to affect production of the Wicked films so they could have visuals clearly meant to evoke the MGM film. It would also unite the Rankin-Bass catalog of Christmas specials which were split between the two studios, including The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, which Universal also distributes another animated adaptation of.

A big plus for theme park goers, however, could be the introduction of Oz properties to Universal's parks.A Warner Brothers park in Australia is going to be adding an Oz-themed area, but in major theme parks in the United States, Oz is absent. But with Universal also seemingly set to be finally losing their licenses to Marvel properties in parks and on screen, they will be needing to re-theme rides and attractions and there's always new attractions that get brought in. Could Oz help fill some gaps? We'll see.

As of yet, this is all speculation, but it's based on speculation by analysts in the industry. If this pans out, that means Universal will become a very important studio for Oz fans.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Two Wicked movies on the way!

Director Jon M. Chu gives us a major update on the film adaptation of the Wicked musical.

He claims that they don't want to damage the property by trimming it down by cutting songs or deleting scenes and have instead opted to expand the adaptation into two films.

Fans are skeptical. Wicked runs at a good pace, so why would a film version need to be much longer? The songs, admittedly, are mostly indispensable. Sure, there's some you could delete and write around, but if you were going to do that, why are you making a musical? And there's always the cynical outlook that by splitting it into two films, the studio hopes to double their profits, especially with a built in audience.

Personally, I'm hoping to see the film version be a very different beast than the musical. In my opinion, the dialogue might be the weakest point of the show, so doing an overhaul for film could be a big improvement.

There's elements from the Gregory Maguire novel that could come back. I doubt we'll get some of the more mature scenes added in, but maybe we'll get more details like Fiyero being a person of color and his tattoos.

Ariana Grande has confirmed she's reading the original Baum Oz books to prepare for the role of Glinda. Could it be that they want to have her grow into a character more like Baum's original? Are we going to see Easter eggs for the original series? We'll see.

As of yet, there are no further castings announced. I'm sure some roles have been cast, they're just not ready to announce them. They have confirmed, however, that the films are intended to release during the Christmas season in 2024 and 2025.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Oz's Other Christmas Cousin

 In my last blog, I called Babes in Toyland a "Christmas favorite cousin" of Oz. Well, turns out, if we're counting that, there's another one I missed.

In 1937, audiences of radio stations working with Transco (the Transcription Company of America) were treated to The Cinnamon Bear for the first time. Airing six days a week between Thanksgiving and Christmas, audiences enjoyed the adventures of Judy and Jimmy Barton, siblings who were preparing to decorate their family Christmas tree when they try to locate the silver star tree topper. Suddenly, they're assisted by Paddy O'Cinnamon, a ginger colored ornament shaped like a bear who informs them that the Crazy Quilt Dragon stole the star and absconded to the fantastic world of Maybeland. Paddy helps the siblings "de-grow" so they can ride in his airplane where their series of adventures begin.

Judy and Jimmy meet all sorts of characters in Maybeland, from talking animals to candy-loving pirates to the noble Queen Melissa to the nasty Wintergreen Witch to Santa Claus himself. Also, it's a musical.

In labeling this a "cousin" to Oz, there needs to be shared DNA with Oz. In a promotional record for the series, a producer on the show reveals the writer had been asked to come up with a Christmas-themed story in the vein of Alice in Wonderland and the Oz books. In 1937, film hadn't yet begun to roll on MGM's The Wizard of Oz so the Oz books and the original musical extravaganza were the dominant forms of Oz in the public's consciousness. In fact, the most recent Oz books were by Ruth Plumly Thompson, who had published sixteen or seventeen (depending on when in 1937 we're talking) books in the series.

The Cinnamon Bear certainly harkens back to many of Thompson's plot devices, with a long series of adventures that could easily be written out, but are enjoyable anyway. Queen Melissa feels like Ozma, as she's a ruler who has outlawed witchcraft in her domains (the Wintergreen Witch even remembers that before Melissa's rule, she could do as she pleased). In addition, she happily helps people who come to her for aid, or can send them to someone who can help. Even the Wintergreen Witch's fate feels like something Thompson would've come up with.

Being this old, The Cinnamon Bear is public domain now and available in many ways, from CDs and cassettes to audio downloads from various places. I'll link you to where to get it on Internet Archive.

I'm actually surprised that it didn't get a cheap direct to video animated adaptation in the 80s or 90s as it's begging to become an animated version. However, it has received an update: this year, in fact. A new version debuted this year as one of Audible's original podcasts, available only to subscribers. As I write, it has wrapped. It updated the storytelling style, being tongue in cheek with a little bit of a cynical edge for the narrator and Judy and Jimmy.

The remake features an all-star cast, starring Alan Cumming as Scotty O'Cinnamon (the original Cinnamon Bear was Irish, Alan Cumming is Scottish and the character was renamed and given a tartan bow instead of his original green one) and Ryan Reynolds as Santa Claus. The story is largely the same, with the last several episodes featuring Santa Claus getting the biggest changes, trying for a more epic and dramatic conclusion.

So there's actually two versions to check out!

By the way, I need to thank fellow OzCon International attendee Tim Tucker for tipping me off to check it out.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

When Oz and Christmas Collided

 People love the holidays, and people love Oz. So what if they met? Well, they have. Many ways, in fact. So, let's look at some examples. However, it has to be a notable connection between the two, or either their Oz connection or Christmas contribution has to be notable. Thanks to the many stage and film productions of Oz, and the insane glut of Christmas productions, if we were to talk about every person who's played an Oz role or covered an Oz song and also been in a Christmas production sometime, we'd be here forever.

L. Frank Baum and Santa Claus

L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its first several sequels, loved making a good Christmas for his sons. If he could make Christmas morning a production, he did. One of his sons recalled one year when he had set up four Christmas trees, one for each of them. And he loved incorporating Santa Claus into it.

Reportedly, when Christmas 1900 rolled around, Baum didn't have money to buy his family presents. As he'd published some new books that year—including The Wonderful Wizard of Oz—he went to the publisher to ask for an advance on his royalties. Instead, they cut a check for royalties owed so far on Oz. The Baum family story (always of dubious authenticity, but a good story) says that he didn't look at the check before heading home. His wife, Maud, was ironing a shirt when he got home and handed her the check. She was surprised to find it was for $1,423.98 (in today's money, that's comparable to about $40,000) and burned a hole in the shirt.

I'm sure Baum had to have written some holiday themed items for his boyhood newspapers, The Roselawn Home Journal and The Empire. However, I don't believe a complete record of these exists, and the little of what remains hasn't been reprinted much. There were also Christmas-themed entries of "Our Landlady" for The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer.

I've written extensively about Baum's works featuring Santa Claus over the years (I set up a tag for it), but I'll give you a sum up. Santa Claus, in Baum's fiction, first appeared in "Little Bun Rabbit," the last story in his first published children's book, Mother Goose in Prose. The same book also featured a story about "Little Jack Horner" and why he was so good that he remarked about it when he pulled a plum out of his Christmas pie.

Then 1902 brought The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, a novel-length biography about Santa Claus' life which would introduce the Forest of Burzee into his fairy tales, and offered the first time two of his works crossed over, as it's mentioned that Santa Claus gets the candy he delivers from Phunnyland, the setting of A New Wonderland, which would later be revised into The Magical Monarch of Mo. (In Outsiders from Oz, I reaffirmed that this is still the case with a nice little explanation.) Baum's Santa differs from the general lore that's sprung up since, as he lives in Laughing Valley, which is near Burzee. As Baum's fairy tales developed, this put him across the desert from the Land of Oz. His first reindeer did not share the names given in the classic "'Twas The Night Before Christmas" poem by Clement C. Moore. The book has been adapted for television, stage and audio many times.

Baum's Santa Claus would reappear in the short story "A Kidnapped Santa Claus" and in one of the entries of Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz. Finally, he crossed over to Oz properly in The Road to Oz when he attends Ozma's birthday party with a company of ryls and knooks. Later, he helps the Wizard send all the guests return home in bubbles, including himself, as he knows where everyone lives.

In 1905, Baum's publishers, Reilly & Britton published a set of classic children's stories titled The Christmas Stocking Series. In each volume was a short piece by Baum about the history of the Christmas stocking.

W.W. Denslow

Denslow, the original illustrator of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and joint copyright owner, of course turned out holiday themed work in his illustration work. But there's a couple that directly crossed over with Oz. Denslow put out his own newspaper page, Denslow's Scarecrow and Tin-Man, which told adventures of the pair (and often the Cowardly Lion as well). The first entry was titled "Dorothy's Christmas Tree," telling of when Dorothy was stuck in Oz and it was Christmas time.

Later, in  Denslow's The Night Before Christmas, his picture book edition of the famous poem, a toy Tin Woodman was seen peeking out of Santa's sack.

The Other Royal Historians

"Santa Claus is one of the most beautiful things that can come into a child's life." — Ruth Plumly Thompson

Scanned and provided by Marcus Mebes

While working for the Philadelphia Public Ledger, Thompson wrote many Christmas pieces for children. While working there, she established "The Santa Claus Club," which would help get toys to needy children.

While Santa Claus didn't cross over into Thompson's Oz books, she did write a poem in which Santa relaxes after his Christmas travels in the Emerald City and later an original poem in a 1966 Baum Bugle contained a Christmas Oz poem by her. References to Christmas appear in Jack Pumpkinhead in Oz, Captain Salt in Oz and Speedy in Oz. (Thanks, Nathan DeHoff!) She also wrote a book titled The Curious Cruise of Captain Santa in which a Santa who lives in the North Pole goes on a seabound voyage to discover new Christmas presents. The book was illustrated by John R. Neill, illustrator of over thirty of the Oz books and author of three of them, and published by Reilly & Lee, the official publishers of the Oz books after The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Reilly & Britton, Baum's publishers (they changed the name to Reilly & Lee in 1919), issued many reprints of classic works in their early catalog and had John R. Neill illustrate them. Two little books Neill illustrated were The Night Before Christmas and an adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. (Thanks, David Maxine, for reminding me of the first one.)

While it's hard to think of any more notable Christmas work by Neill, given his extensive work in illustration, I'm very sure he must have turned out many Christmas pieces over time. Jack Snow, however, wrote at least two Christmas stories, "The Magic Sled" and "The Animals Christmas Tree." Rachel Cosgrove Payes and Eloise Jarvis McGraw would occasionally used Christmas in their works, but don't seem to have written stories that were themed around Christmas. (If I'm wrong, I welcome correction, the comments are open.)

Oz has a Christmas favorite cousin.

Babes in Toyland
might not have begun as a Christmas show, but it quickly became associated with the holiday in its many incarnations on stage, screen, print and eventually radio and audio. The thing is, its original stage incarnation was launched by Fred Hamlin and Julian Mitchell, looking for their next big hit after their famous stage adaptation of The Wizard of Oz that became the musical version until the MGM film adaptation. Just about every screen adaptation of Babes in Toyland would have some Oz connection, from Oz fans in the cast, or actors who'd played Oz characters before, such as Oliver Hardy and Ray Bolger, or, in the case of 1985's TV version, shamelessly stealing the "it was all a dream brought about by an accident" device of the MGM film, complete with cast members doubling as characters in the young female protagonist's everyday life and characters in Toyland.


Of course, MGM's choice for Dorothy Gale, Judy Garland, sang many Christmas songs over her career. In fact, it's said her first performance was none other than a performance of "Jingle Bells."

However, there's two I want to highlight right now. The first is the song "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," which she introduced in 1943's Meet Me In St. Louis. In the scene, her character is trying to cheer up her little sister (played by Margaret O'Brien), who doesn't want to move away from their St. Louis home. Reportedly, Judy found a number of the song's lyrics depressing and with a co-star and director on her side, got the lyrics revised, notably changing "Have yourself a merry little Christmas, it may be your last; next year we may all be living in the past" to "Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light; next year all our troubles will be out of sight." Reportedly, Judy had said, "I'm not singing that to little Margaret O'Brien!" And that's how Judy Garland used her star power to make a song from a movie into a Christmas mainstay.

The other song is her cover of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" with Bing Crosby. With additional lyrics and scatting, this version is more fun and livelier than most versions. And by the way, who wouldn't want to see Judy as Dorothy and Bing as perhaps the Wizard doing a music video for this?

In addition, in 1950, Judy appeared on Lux Radio Theater to star in their adaptation of MGM's The Wizard of Oz, the only time she revisited the role of Dorothy Gale. The air date? December 25, Christmas Day.

The Animated Special

Dorothy in the Land of Oz isn't exactly a Christmas special, but the last song in it is prompted when Dorothy tells the villainous Tyrone the Terrible Toy Tinkerer that he could spread happiness with his toys instead of being a villain, pointing out that Christmas is soon, and he also lives in Oz. "Toys? Christmas? Oz? I don't get the connection," he mutters, and Dorothy launches into the sweet little ditty "Christmas, Toys and Oz." During the song, a snowy take on Oz is seen as well as Oz children opening presents.

The special was written and produced by Romeo Muller, who had written many specials for Rankin-Bass, including their first two specials in 1964, Return to Oz and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The production was made under the seemingly short-lived Romeo Muller Productions. Rankin-Bass produced a stop-motion adaptation of The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, but Jules Bass wrote the script for it under the pseudonym Julian P. Gardner.

Oz fans generally use the title Dorothy in the Land of Oz because it's available on DVD under that title, but over the years, the title was switched out for a variety of other titles and a few edits were made. A book adaptation was titled Dorothy and the Green Gobbler of Oz. The original version, which is the one on DVD, is more of a Thanksgiving special.

Santa Claus is Oz canon!

Oz fans haven't ignored that Santa Claus is Oz canon, and new Oz stories have had some connection to it, such as Robin Hess' Christmas in Oz, Richard Capwell's Santa Claus in Oz or Nathan DeHoff's "Jinnicky Saves Christmas," and Sarah Crowther reminded me that Santa Claus officiates the wedding of the Scarecrow and the Patchwork Girl in The Patchwork Bride of Oz by Gilbert M. Sprague. This is but just four examples with more short fiction and fan-written books having Christmas themes or using Santa Claus or lore from The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus.

So, are there Oz and Christmas connections I missed? Are there Oz memories from Christmas time you want to share? Sound off in the comments!

Friday, November 05, 2021

The Wicked movie has its leads!

 Recently, the Wicked musical was criticized for never having cast Elphaba with a woman of color. The actress playing the character has to wear green makeup covering her face and hands throughout the musical, so her physical appearance is already altered.

The Wicked movie, after years of development, finally made some announcements after hiring In The Heights and Crazy Rich Asians director John M. Chu: they're filming in London and they've cast their leads.

Singer and actress Ariana Grande will be playing Galinda/Glinda and actress Cynthia Erivo will play Elphaba.

 That's right, Elphaba will be played by a woman of color.

I'm not going to claim to be too familiar with the work of either. I've never been in much of Ariana's target demographic. I did see Hairspray Live! in which she played Penny, and I've blogged about Mika's "Popular Song" where she sings with him and appears in the radio/music video version which uses "Popular" from Wicked as a basis.

Cynthia Erivo starred in Harriet, the Harriet Tubman biopic from a couple years ago. Last year, she voiced Madame Moonshine, "the witchy little owl" in a Hank the Cowdog podcast, singing the song "Disorientation" alongside Matthew McConaughey. She also took part in Wicked in Concert on PBS.

There's a seven year age difference between the two, however, this is a movie, there's various makeup and digital tricks to make the actresses look younger or older as needed, and one of them is going to be made to have green skin throughout.

We're now awaiting the rest of the cast, such as who'll play the Wizard (Tara and EmKay of Down the Yellow Brick Pod have been putting forward Andre DeShields), Madame Morrible, Boq, Fiyero, Nessarose and other cast members.

Anyway, this is definitely good news for the movie as we'd had no confirmed cast members before, which didn't suggest a lot of activity on the project. If the production doesn't meet with any more issues, we should be getting it in the next few years. 2022 might be too soon, 2023 looks good, though they'll likely aim for a holiday release, so we should expect to wait two years. (It was previously slated for December 2019, before being taken off the release schedule and the date given to the film adaptation of Cats.)

Saturday, October 23, 2021

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by the Toronto Civic Light Opera Company

 You may have heard of this company before for their original musical adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, with music by the late James P. Doyle. The musical proved popular with audiences and has been revived several times over the years. (However, it has yet to make it outside of Canada, save for a two-man concert version that was performed by director Joe Cascone and his partner David Haines at OzCon International one year.)

However, that's not what this review is about.

The company was going to revive their production of Oz yet again when they had to cancel due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they decided to make some Oz happen another way by producing an audio book production of the original book.

The resulting production is now available on an MP3CD. The format is a CD that contains audio as MP3 files burned onto it as a data track. There are some CD players that can handle them, or you can play them on modern home theater disc players, or you can use a computer with a disc drive to play them or copy the files to a device.

I was provided with a review copy, so thanks, Joe!

The runtime is about three hours and twenty minutes. This is shorter than many other unabridged versions. This all depends on the tempo of the reader, but in this case, it's not one reader. They have a cast performing the dialogue with Joe Cascone reading the rest of the book. Listeners of The Royal Podcast of Oz will be familiar with this style as we've done it for several L. Frank Baum stories. It offers a faster pace to the storytelling as the reader doesn't need to change their vocal performance, another performer leaps right in and takes care of the character's voice.

There's some who might bristle at calling this unabridged as the introduction and dedication are not included. It's not the only audio book version that omits these.

In addition to the fine vocal performances from the cast, the production uses classical music and sound effects to further liven up the production.

The result is a very pleasing production. Usually when I listen to audio books and podcasts, I turn up the speed a little. This time, it was an easy listen without doing that.

The CD features a booklet, a simple four-panel (one piece of paper, folded in half) with the front cover an adaptation of a promotional poster by Denslow, some text explaining the production, photos of the cast, and a track list. The back cover features a list of the music used and a cast list.

You can purchase a copy of the CD from eBay.

Friday, July 16, 2021

The Return of The Wonders of Oz

 People who've checked out the schedule for the virtual version of OzCon International this year will have noticed a new version of The Wonders of Oz as part of the program.

The Wonders of Oz was a a low budget fan documentary series I made over ten years ago. While the enthusiasm was evident, a lot about the production left quite a bit to be desired. So it was a goal of mine to revisit the concept and produce a new version.

I actually wrote the first draft of the new version's script in 2015. I had previously mentioned to other Oz fans and my filmmaker younger brother about producing a new version of the series.

The original version had many episodes, partly because YouTube didn't allow longer videos at the time, and because I was trying to cover as many versions of Oz as possible, from the early Oz silent films and plays to Wicked as a book and musical and other versions we'd seen in the twenty-first century. For the new version, I decided to reduce the number of episodes to three, the first being about the life of L. Frank Baum, the second celebrating the other authors of the Famous Forty Oz books and other Oz stories in literature, and the third would talk about how Oz has been retold in new formats over the years, keeping it alive in the public consciousness, making it an international cultural phenomenon.

Colin Ayres, who took over chairing OzCon in 2019, started The OzConnection YouTube channel as part of a long time plan to give the convention a YouTube presence. Given that we couldn't hold the convention in person last year, he used the situation to finally launch the channel to host video content for a virtual version of the convention. Afterward, he launched new series to keep content going throughout the year.

Finally, I floated the idea of a Wonders of Oz reboot to Colin and he said he'd like to have the first episode for this year's virtual convention. So I revisited the 2015 script and did some revisions. Colin had suggested Oz R. Chase to narrate, and he agreed. Rather than do it as audio only, we had him film himself. It's not a usual format, but in this case, it gave the new version a face, and allowed me, when editing, to cut back to him speaking when I didn't have many visuals on hand to layer over it.

I reached out to several people to provide commentary to use in the episode. However, I wound up with only three: Sam Milazzo, Erica Olivera and—the biggest commentator—Gita Morena, L. Frank Baum's great-granddaughter. In the end, the first episode clocks in at 31 minutes and 9 seconds. This new episode is about twice the length of the corresponding first two episodes of the original version, especially since the opening titles and end credits were much longer in the original.

I was puzzling over how to make the new version's opening titles. I explained the original version's look to Erica, using the original map of Oz from the Fairylogue and Radio Plays, and she suggested I use it again. There was a test version of the new titles I sent to Colin which was basically a slideshow of the credits. He suggested a more dynamic version which you can see in the new version. It was created by having two visual layers: the bottom layer would zoom in on the map while the top layer would have the titles.

During the original version of The Wonders of Oz's run, Scottish artist and singer Alan Cook approached me about doing a new version of the theme song. The original theme song was "Everywhere in Oz" from 1964's animated Return to Oz, however, since my use of it in the series, I've seen one other cover call it "The Wonders of Oz," which feels like a more fitting title. Alan's new version was a little more somber than the original, but felt very magical. He gave me two versions: a demo and a full version that went over three minutes. Both versions cut some lyrics from the original, but Alan wrote a totally new second verse for the full version.

In creating the new version of the series, there was no question which version of the song I was going to use, bringing Alan's version back. The opening titles use the opening instrumental of the demo, while during the credits, you hear the beginning of the lyrics. Perhaps when we get to the final episode of the new version, we can figure out a nice way to use the full version of the song.

I put all the remaining episodes of the old version as unlisted on YouTube to drive searches to the new version as it debuts. There's some elements from the old version I still like that I didn't replicate, such as a loving quote about Baum from Ray Bradbury and finding different songs to close out each episode. The original Baum biography episodes ended with a cover of "I'll Be There" by the Escape Club, intended to be a take on Baum's feelings to his wife. I don't think the intention came through, plus given how music can be a big copyright issue for YouTube, I'm being a little more careful about what songs I use this time.

The new version will be hosted exclusively on The OzConnection for a very good reason: there are many other videos talking more indepth about various aspects of Oz. This way, The Wonders of Oz can serve as a context for these other videos, even if they're not officially connected. For example, Disney's Oz projects will be touched on in episode 3, however, the OzConnection already has a video by Eric Shanower that explores Disney's history with Oz in further detail. If people want to learn more, they can see his video. As I explained to Colin, The Wonders of Oz can serve as a view of "the big picture" of Oz as a history, while other videos on the channel can zoom in on more specific stories.

So, one episode down, two to go. This is going to be fun!

Saturday, May 15, 2021

The Royal Podcast of Oz: L. Frank Baum's Birthday 2021

The Royal Podcast returns with two short stories and two poems read by L. Frank Baum fans! 

"How the Tin Woodman Became A Fire Hero" read by Erica Olivera

"Blow, Winds, Blow!" read by Sam Milazzo
"By the Candelabra's Glare" read by PJ Scott Blankenship
"The Dummy That Lived" read by Suren Oganessian
Music by Paul Tietjens for The Wizard of Oz Broadway extravaganza, piano rolls published by the Aeolian Company: "Rejoice, the Wizard is No Longer King!", "When We Get What's A Comin' To Us," "When You Love, Love, Love," "Just A Simple Girl From The Prarie," and "Phantom Patrol." 

Saturday, May 01, 2021

Finding Dorothy

There just isn't enough historical fiction around the origins of Oz. (That presents itself as fiction, anyway.) There's been a few attempts, but a couple years ago, we got Finding Dorothy, a book by Elizabeth Letts, who makes Maud Gage, later Maud Baum, the protagonist of her novel that switches between two time periods: her early life and meeting L. Frank Baum and the lead up to the publication of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; and taking an interest in the production of MGM's The Wizard of Oz.

The book is quite enjoyable. Letts' interpretation of Baum and his wife and mother-in-law vividly come to life on the page. She quite eagerly tells her story.

The big conceit of the story is that Maud has an idea of "taking care of Dorothy." The inspiration for Dorothy comes from a doll her niece Magdalena owns, which later becomes the name of an imaginary friend for the girl that she sends off with Frank and Maud as they head to Chicago. The implication is that Dorothy becomes the heroine of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Later, when MGM is making their film, Maud tries to consult on the film, though her help isn't enlisted. She at first believes that Judy Garland isn't right for the role of Dorothy, but after talking with the young actress and singer, she takes an interest in protecting her.

There's quite some creative liberty taken with facts. I was a little concerned when Finding Oz by Evan Schwartz was listed as a reference as it was quite speculative without saying so, and no works by Michael Patrick Hearn were mentioned. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is depicted as Frank Baum's first big hit, but no mention of Father Goose: His Book or W.W. Denslow by name are made. It's odd when The Dreamer of Oz acknowledged the importance of Father Goose to the origins of Oz better. To borrow a phrase, "Father Goose walked so Oz could run," as Baum redirected his royalties from Father Goose to help fund the production of Oz. In Letts' book, the matter is re-framed as the Baums needing to scrape up $200.

The matter of the origin of Dorothy is addressed in the afterword, where Letts rejects the idea that Dorothy Gage was the namesake of Dorothy Gale as "Little Bun Rabbit" from Mother Goose in Prose predates the birth of the little girl. However, this is a case where the concept of the book requires one to accept that Letts' concept for the origin of Dorothy as a character is true. So while I might disagree (mainly "more than one inspiration could be the case"), my being a stickler needed to take a break this time.

A very apparent bending of details, which Letts owns up to in her afterword, is the filming schedule of the MGM film. More or less, Maud's visits to the set are depicted as occurring chronologically, her first being to identify the coat that Frank Morgan wore as Professor Marvel on the set with his wagon. (Maud is actually unsure if it's actually Frank's, and personally, I think the story was cooked up by the publicity department. There's a late story twist, but I won't spoil it.) The Kansas scenes were actually filmed last in the film shoot. Later, she visits the set as Munchkinland scenes are filmed, and even later visiting during the Tin Man's introduction scene, but it's known to anyone who's had to debunk the "hanging man" urban legend that the Tin Man's cottage scenes were filmed before Munchkinland.

However, if one can put aside their nitpicking over historical details that had to be fudged to tell the story, it's a good story. The relationship of Frank and Maud has been overdue for a lovely romantic retelling, and getting more eyes on the origins of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz isn't a bad thing at all. So, Finding Dorothy is recommended, as long as you remember it's a well-done piece of historical fiction.

By the way, while I enjoyed the book, I remembered a clip from the Ripley's Believe it or Not! radio program in which Maud appeared to talk about the success of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, giving a little nod to "the motion picture." Hungry Tiger Press posted it online for all to enjoy, so if you haven't heard it yet, or haven't heard it in awhile, it's still up there.

Monday, April 19, 2021

OzBusters! Why Does Water Melt The Wicked Witch?


“You are a wicked creature!” cried Dorothy. “You have no right to take my shoe from me.”

“I shall keep it, just the same,” said the Witch, laughing at her, “and someday I shall get the other one from you, too.”

This made Dorothy so very angry that she picked up the bucket of water that stood near and dashed it over the Witch, wetting her from head to foot.

Instantly the wicked woman gave a loud cry of fear, and then, as Dorothy looked at her in wonder, the Witch began to shrink and fall away.

“See what you have done!” she screamed. “In a minute I shall melt away.”

“I’m very sorry, indeed,” said Dorothy, who was truly frightened to see the Witch actually melting away like brown sugar before her very eyes.

“Didn’t you know water would be the end of me?” asked the Witch, in a wailing, despairing voice.

“Of course not,” answered Dorothy. “How should I?”

“Well, in a few minutes I shall be all melted, and you will have the castle to yourself. I have been wicked in my day, but I never thought a little girl like you would ever be able to melt me and end my wicked deeds. Look out—here I go!”

With these words the Witch fell down in a brown, melted, shapeless mass and began to spread over the clean boards of the kitchen floor.

 In those words, L. Frank Baum described a unique death scene for a villain. But why does the Wicked Witch of the West "melt" when she's exposed to water?

Well, Oz is a magical world, right? Must just be what happens to wicked witches.

Well, or is it?

We don't meet a lot of other witches like the Wicked Witches of the East and West in Baum's books. The closest are Mombi and Blinkie and her cohorts from The Marvelous Land of Oz and The Scarecrow of Oz, respectively, who are described to be old women, just like those two. There's an unseen witch who Tommy Kwikstep assists who gives him a wish, but she never reappears. In The Tin Woodman of Oz and Glinda of Oz, we meet Yookoohoos and a Krumbic Witch, but these are described as being attractive witches.

I think the key thing is that Baum describes the Wicked Witches of the East and West as being very old. Shortly after the Wicked Witch of the East is killed by Dorothy's house, her body crumbles into dust to be blown away by the wind. When Toto bites the Wicked Witch of the West, she doesn't bleed as the book says that her blood is "dried up."

So, in the physics of Oz, it seems less like the Wicked Witch of the West "melted" and more like she absorbed the water and it's making her body break down. Which sounds like one awful way to go.

But is there anything greater behind this event?

It's a long held superstition that witches and other malevolent supernatural entities can't cross running water, which features in several stories in folklore around the world and pops up in Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow when Ichabod Crane believes he'll be safe once he crosses the bridge. A story in the Ozarks, where I live, concerns a monstrous wildcat who lives in a cave who chases a man on a wagon who sacrifices meat he'd had butchered in an attempt to slow it down. Once all the meat is gone, he finally crosses a creek, stopping the wildcat in its tracks.

However, there's an earlier connection to witches and water. This one is less folklore-y and more sad. During the Witch Trials in England and other European countries, a quick and easy way to get someone you didn't like killed was to accuse them of witchcraft. A number of people would confess as they'd been tortured and they decided they'd rather die than continue to be tortured.

There were a number of ways of execution, burned, hanged, pressed to death with stones. But one that's relevant to us was drowning the accused. If they sank, they weren't a witch. But if they floated, then they were a witch.

Charles McKay's Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds discusses at length the Witch Trials, and was recently abridged by Sam Harris into Witch: A Tale of Terror. The latter volume reveals that the belief was that water was holy, partly because it could be sanctified into holy water. Thus, it would reject a witch, forcing them to float on the surface.

Too bad they didn't just weigh them to see if they weighed the same as a duck...

Would Baum have been familiar with this? McKay's book is from 1841 so it's entirely possible that Baum may have read it. I wouldn't be surprised if his mother in law Matilda Joslyn Gage read it.

However, as I said, the idea that water can repel a witch occurs in many stories, so the "melting" of the Wicked Witch of the West is easily an evolution on this idea regardless of if Baum read the book.