Saturday, August 25, 2018

The Wizard of Oz - A Music Video Tribute

I had planned that at OzCon this year, we would follow a panel with Barry Bregman and Christianna Rickard reflecting on their relatives involved with MGM's The Wizard of Oz with an original music video tribute to the movie, featuring the beloved song "Over the Rainbow" and "The Reprise" from Meco's Wizard of Oz disco album. However, things got shifted around and it wound up being one of the last things we showed on Sunday. But thanks to YouTube, now anyone can see it. It was my first time editing in Vegas and I had to learn the software while making this video.

Editing the "Over the Rainbow" part at the beginning was a little difficult in that I realized just how magnetic Judy is during it. She has a lot of presence during this song and it's hard to take your eyes off of her. So deciding when I would cut away to clips from later in the movie was a little tough. I think it works rather well and the Over the Rainbow portion works as a video all on its own.

The second half was a real challenge to time everything correctly and not linger on shots for too long. I really like the Wicked Witch montage, though.

Monday, August 20, 2018

OzCon 2018 - Wow!

Well, it's been just over a week since OzCon 2018 wrapped up. This was, without a doubt, one of the more ambitious undertakings I've ever done.

OzCon registrar Paul Dana with Friends of Dorothy author
Dee Michel
OzCon has had a lot of changes over the years. It was originally the Winkie Convention and was just a single day event, little more than a grand house party. Then the schedules and venue grew larger along with the number of attendees! By the turn of the century (and the millenium), it was a 3-day event held at Asilomar on Monterey Bay.

Numbers began waning during the 2000s, and one David Maxine (publisher at Hungry Tiger Press) was afraid that if something didn't happen, the Winkie Convention would disappear, as had other Oz conventions. In 2009, he began to create a more widely appealing slate of programs, and introduced a new item: a program book full of essays, artwork and other goodies for convention goers along with a collectible tote bag.

Sam Milazzo, James Ortiz and Freddy Fogarty enjoy an
evening meal at Innovation Brew Works.
For 2014, it was decided it was time to leave Asilomar and we moved to San Diego at the Town and Country hotel. Part of this was so it would be easier to arrange and stage a remounting of The Tik-Tok Man of Oz, the musical that served as the basis of Tik-Tok of Oz, the centennial book that year. In addition, it was the 75th anniversary of MGM's The Wizard of Oz, and people connected to the film were easier to bring to San Diego than Monterey. This was when the convention rebranded as OzCon International. The next year proved just as strategic to bring guests and even props and behind the scenes material from Disney's Return to Oz. The next two years were in Portland, Oregon.

Raymond Wohl captivates an audience as L. Frank Baum.
I'd at first floated the idea of chairing 2018 in 2015, and that wound up being how I got my name in. By the time the 2017 convention was underway, I had a co-chair in British Oz fan and collector Colin Ayres and a treasurer in the Oz Club's Susan Johnson. Fellow Oz author Paul Dana joined us as registrar, Robyn Knutson came on as Dealer's Room director, and author John Bell came on as daytime programming director. David Maxine had stepped away from heading up the convention a few years ago, but still had a lot of advice and manned the website and put together the program book.

John Coulter had his Ozzy artwork for sale in the
dealer's room!
The first guest of honor I thought of was James Ortiz, the co-creator of The Woodsman, a hit off-Broadway play that had finished running a few years ago, in which he had designed the puppets and actually played Nick Chopper himself. We had tried to get Andy Mangels—a comics writer and historian of Filmation Studios—during our second year in Portland as he lives in the area, but that didn't work out. David reminded me of Andy and we reached out to him. We also reached out to Robert Payes, son of Rachel Cosgrove Payes.

L. Frank Baum (center) poses with characters he created
or inspired during the incredible costume contest.
Our new site at Kellogg West in Pomona, California was suggested by Aljean Harmetz, author of The Making of the Wizard of Oz, so we had her as a guest of honor, but sadly, she wasn't able to attend. We had also invited fandom extraordinaires John and Bjo Trimble, but they also couldn't make it.

Barry Bregman, grandson of Jack Haley had expressed interest in our convention, so we decided to go ahead and add him. Then we invited Christianna Rickard, niece of Ray Bolger. Sam Milazzo got us in contact with local musician Kevin Wood, who we had provide live music for our Friday afternoon reception. Dina Schiff Massachi of UNC Charlotte offered to come to speak about depictions of the Tin Woodman. Finally, Raymond Wohl asked if we had any space for his show in which he depicted L. Frank Baum. We had a cancellation, so we went ahead and put him in. Robert Welch also came, returning from the San Diego years with his book about his grandfather, Arthur "Buddy" Gillespie, and a photo op booth where you could get your photo taken with a real Oscar statuette.

Your chairman and the co-chair (channeling the Scarecrow
in the moment) are photoBaumed.
Adding new elements to OzCon can be a bit rough, and we had some ideas for new additions to the convention. The handful of dealer's tables at Asilomar had flourished to a whole room for San Diego and we were glad to continue that, but this time, we put our registration table in the dealer's room.

In planning out evening programming, I saw we needed some entertainment on Friday night and had the idea of a reader's theater adaptation of the episode from The Tin Woodman of Oz in which the Tin Woodman's party visits Ku-Klip's workshop. Colin suggested that we shouldn't do a straight reading and that we should add some humor to the story. The cast we came up with on our Skype call discussing it was the same cast we had that night: Dina would narrate, Anil Tambwekar would be the Tin Woodman, Colin would be Captain Fyter and the head of Nick Chopper (prompting a joke right away with the Tin Woodman noting that his old head had a British accent), Nathan DeHoff was Woot, Paul Dana was Ku-Klip, and pulling double duty as Polychrome and the Scarecrow would be Erica Olivera, a new attendee from our Portland years, signifying change of character with swapping between a hat for the scarecrow and a rainbow flower crown for Polychrome.

A replica pair of ruby slippers on display near the lounge.
I had a little talk with some of our guests of honor about what we could do with them. Andy mentioned that he'd done karaoke parties at previous events. I'd noted a lot of Oz fans singing at conventions and had remarked that we should have karaoke event. So why not do it at the convention I would chair? Colin began to ask if we could get a karaoke machine, but I realized all we really needed was a laptop, a microphone and good speakers. Mentioning this to Andy, he confirmed it was an easy way to run karoke and with his help, we were good to go.

James Ortiz answers questions
about The Woodsman.
We didn't really want to change a lot of what had made OzCon so much fun in recent years, just bring in new elements that might be adopted in the future. If future chairmen and their teams want to continue comical readers theaters and have late night karaoke with an open bar, that's up to them.

The big day finally came. Since my role would be so important, this was the first year I flew to OzCon. Actually, it was the first time I flew. And what do you know? I loved it!

Thursday we got the dealer's room ready for business and early Friday morning, our decorator Margaret Koontz got to work and turned the whole area very Ozzy with a selection of green and silver balloons and streamers as well as reproductions of illustrations from The Tin Woodman of Oz. In fact, she even added a new contest for us by providing sheets with an illustration at the top and lines for people to write in captions.

To say OzCon went without a hitch would be over generalizing it. I can tell you that in my experience, anything you set out to do will have some issues pop up. The important thing is not that they happen but how you manage them. At the end, a lot of people told us in person and online that they'd had a great time. Things went very well.

During the post-OzCon
Disneyland Day, the Evil Queen
from Snow White peeked out
your fellow Oz fans.
James, Robert, Andy and Dina all fit in well with our attendees, quickly making many friends, while Barry and Christianna were warmly welcomed. Raymond left quite the impression on our attendees, especially when I suggested to him that he attend the OzCon masquerade in costume as L. Frank Baum, which then led to a second suggestion: group photos of L. Frank Baum and the characters he'd created or inspired! The reader's theater was hilarious after our cast revised the script, and the karaoke was a lot of fun for all. Even Margaret's caption contest sheets were full by Sunday morning.

I said "thank you" so often that weekend, and it bears repeating: thank you to Colin Ayres, Susan Johnson, Robyn Knutson, John Bell, Paul Dana, Madeline Knutson, Cindy Ragni, Eric Shanower, David Maxine, Freddy Fogarty, Anil Tambwekar, David Kroffterson, Andy Mangels, James Ortiz, Robert Payes, Aljean Harmetz, Barry Bregman and his family, Christianna Rickard, Jane Albright, Peter Hanff, the International Wizard of Oz Club, Kevin Wood, Sam Milazzo, Nathan DeHoff, Judy Bieber, Erica Olivera, Dina Schiff Massachi, Raymond Wohl, Ted Abenheim, Susan Hall, Bill Graff, Bill Thompson, Scott Cummings, Lee Speth, Margaret Koontz, Eric Gjovaag, Robin Hess, Dee Michel, Angelica Carpenter, John Coulter, Robert Welch, Gary Wood, Kevin Thomas, Karyl Carlson, Laura Gjovaag, Brian Russell, OzRoy Good, Gina Wickwar, Laura Elliott and the staff of Kellogg West and all of our attendees. And if I forgot to list anyone, please put it on my head and not my heart.

Thank you, Mr. Baum.
I spent the day after OzCon at the Disney resort in Anaheim with many of our Oz friends, using a 1-day Park Hopper ticket to experience many of the attractions at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure in my first ever visit. The day after saw Colin driving his rental car with four passengers—including myself—over to Glendale where we visited the Forest Lawn location and paid our respects at the grave of L. Frank Baum and the memorial for Walt Disney. (We also spared a thought to MGM producer Mervyn LeRoy, whose grave isn't publicly accessible.) After a lunch, we went over to Hollywood Forever in Los Angeles proper where we visited the new gravesite of Judy Garland, saw the Toto memorial as well as the graves of Mickey Rooney and Rudolph Valentino. I also spotted the grave of Hattie McDaniel.

And we'll remember you very
fondly, Judy.
From there, we split up, Sam taking an Uber to his hotel, and I took a train from Union Station back to Pomona, where I caught a bus to the Ontario airport, where I awaited my flight home. The rest of our party headed out to West Hollywood for even more fun

I still can't believe that all happened, even though I was there for it.

I plan to one day chair OzCon again, and I know next year's team will have things well in hand.

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.