I remember vividly the first time I saw The 1939 MGM adaptation of The Wizard of Oz as a child, it was a rainy autumn afternoon and I was about four, I can recall being unimpressed that the beginning was in black and white and the dreary drought ridden landscape of Kansas was not what I was expecting from its namesake. I of course quickly I changed my mind, once the whirlwind had scooped up Dorothy and Toto, transporting them to the magical imaginary land of OZ. I was almost blinded by the spectacular Technicolor world Dorothy had stumbled upon. The film defiantly re-popularised the book, and arguably this is how most know it best.
After this I couldn’t help but be excited to see our close family friend, comedian Charlie Drake perform the Lion in the Pantomime version. Lovely Charlie was very small man, only 5ft 1 in height with a flash of red hair, I remember backstage in his dressing room after the show and he had removed the heavy Lion suit, he got so hot that he looked like a beetroot for a good hour after he took it off! The big costumes, bright lights and fantastic sets are probably why I too adore the theatre today. It was here he gave me his favourite book, Down the Yellow Brick Road, which he mentions in his autobiography, Drakes Progress.
Interestingly enough the authors story began with a love for the theatre; L.Frank Baum, the creator of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz had a deep infatuation with the stage.
Lyman Frank Baum was born in 1856 in Chittenango, New York. Baum was a kind character, with a generous nature, often to his demise. His father, a rich oil tycoon helped him set up a theatre in 1880 in New York, and Baum set about writing his plays, but on tour with The Maid of Arran the theatre was burnt to the ground, ironically while it was playing the show Matches, which destroyed all his scripts and costumes. After this devastation he moved with his new wife to South Decota, which at the time was drought ridden, so his accounts of Kansas were actually based on this experience.
He had many jobs, may of which came close to bankrupting him; he ran a shop called Baum’s Bizarre, but due to his mislead generosity in difficult times he used to give people items on credit, this in the end was stores demise. After more failed attempts to establish himself financially, Baum, encouraged by his family, started to write down the nursery rhymes he had improvised and told to his sons over the years. Mother Goose in Prose was published in 1897 with immediate adoration. In 1899 he collaborated with Chicago cartoonist W. W. Denslow on Father Goose: His Book which met with rave reviews. It would be the best-selling book for that year with an estimated 175,000 copies sold. 1900 was the year that the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published to instant success, another collaboration between Baum and Denslow. It would be adapted as a musical for a long run on Broadway in 1903 to great critical acclaim. He responded to the demand for the first book by continuing a series of stories, which helped his dwindling assets from theatre costs.
Baum and Denslow had a falling out over the book, as Baum was convinced people were buying it for the story but Denslow thought they were buying it for the design and illustration. Before yesterday I didn't understand this quarrel, in my mind of course they were buying it for the words. But when you open an original copy and see the amazing illustrations you can see why this happened. The design is bold and modern, with stunning illustrations, bright single colour prints in yellow, green, red and brown. It makes me pleased to see how Christine has interpreted this design for our book Everything Oz, as there is a real harmony between the two. This falling out meant that further books were illustrated by John R Neill, who had a far more ornate approach.
Illustrations from my copy of the Wizard of Oz by Denslow
Illustrations of Oz by Neill
In 1910 the Baum family moved to Hollywood, whereupon the release and success of three further books. However Baum had to declare bankruptcy in 1911, thereafter he referred to himself as "Royal Historian of Oz" and commenced writing one Oz book per year. He started the Oz Film Manufacturing Company, which experimented with film effects for who he would write and direct, but the company folded after a year. He then started acting again with an amateur group called The Uplifters.
In 1919, after failing health he would became bedridden, suffering from a frail heart. L. Frank Baum died of a stroke on 6 May, 1919 and is buried in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, in Glendale, California.
So now its our turn to launch a piece of Oz magic into the world, with Everything Oz, our unique take on the tale, and I feel very privileged to be a little part of Oz history. Check out our newly launched website www.everythingozbook.com for more info on the book. We are delighted how it has turned out! The book contains a creative collection of 50 makes and bakes, ranging from a Dress-up Dorothy Doll and Toto's Dog Jacket to the Tin Woodman's Heart Garland, Cowardly Lion Hand Puppet and Squashed Wicked Witch Cupcakes. Everything Oz is brimming with new and innovative craft projects to eat, drink and wear, so slip on a pair of Ruby Slippers a walk to the shops to buy this book, because, because, because, because, because - of the wonderful things it does!