Welcome to my blog, featuring various pieces from my collection of Oz books, artwork and memorabilia!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Groucho in Mo Part 2

 A couple years ago I blogged about a 1960 television version of The Magical Monarch of Mo that was being considered as a vehicle for Groucho Marx. The idea never amounted to anything, and sadly died away. Since then, I've come up with a copy of the script for the show that was written by Gore Vidal. It's an interesting read, especially when combined with the promotional pamphlet that was designed to entice sponsers!

The idea put forth in the pamphlet is that Groucho would play a contemporary family man, who escapes to the Land of Mo when everyday pressures become too heavy. It says that a script is being written by Frank Gabrielson in collaboration with Robert Dwan. Gabrielson had already adapted The Marvelous Land of Oz for Shirley Temple, as well as creating a stage version of The Wizard of Oz that was used for many years by various theaters. Dwan was the director and editor of Groucho's quiz show You Bet Your Life. His role was to "...help tailor the title role for Groucho's unique and flamboyant talents...". A script written by Gore Vidal is mentioned as something that may be integrated into this concept. But the script by Vidal is really a straightforward fairy tale, and fairly faithful to the source material. There's nothing to indicate that it was intended for Groucho, or the concept outlined in the pamphlet.

In the script, we are introduced to the Magical Monarch, who is also referred to simply as Mo. He introduces us to his country, and his daughter Pattycake who has lost her temper. In Mo, we are told, everyone keeps their temper (which resembles a square cut jewel) in a locket. After Pattycake runs off to fetch an axe, in order to cut down a hat tree that has offended her by growing last season's hats, we are introduced to Timtom. He is a young hunter who is in love with the princess. When he declares his love, she cuts off his head with the axe intended for the tree. The Monarch restores Timtom's head, backwards at first, and Timtom declares his intention to marry the princess.

The Monarch's three wise men rush in and and announce that King Scowleyowe (spelt Scowleyow by Baum) has set the Purple Dragon upon the kingdom of Mo, with the demand that the Monarch surrender and grant him Pattycake's hand in marriage. The Wise Donkey is summoned and they all learn that the princess's temper was stolen by King Scowleyowe. The Monarch sets off with Timtom to restore the temper, and both are promptly eaten by the dragon.

In Act 2, the Monarch and Timtom are inside the dragon, which is filled with neatly labeled shelves of things the beast has devoured - including a television set! Scowleyowe appears on the TV and informs the monarch that his white magic will not work inside the Purple Dragon. The Monarch decides he will have to defeat the dragon with Tattletale Gray Magic, better known as psychology. Through flattery and kindness, they manage to escape the dragon.

They head off through the Haunted Forest, where they meet Maetta, the Queen of the Forest. She reveals Scowleyowe's weak point to the Monarch, and he and Timtom set off in disguise to defeat the villain. It turns out that Scowleyowe's weakness is a fondness for riddles, and after the Monarch trades a riddle for the temper, the wicked king is taken off in a straitjacket. Pattycake's temper is returned, and she and Timtom are free to marry. The script is 39 pages long, and dated July 31, 1959.

The original book by L. Frank Baum is actually a series of nonsensical stories, and the script incorporates a number of characters and ideas without accurately following any one tale. Vidal also added a number of his own touches, particularly the methods of defeat for both the dragon and Scowleyowe. There would have been plenty of additional material to draw upon if this version of the show had indeed become a series. But clearly the idea of a show based on Mo had been in the works before the idea of bringing Groucho on board, and catering to his particular talents.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Bouncing Along With Billy

W. W. Denslow covered a lot of ground in his artistic career. Newspaper artist, poster artist, designer of book covers, theater designer, children's book illustrator, and comic postcards are all among his credits. Another was innovative comic strip artist.

In 1901, Denslow created Billy Bounce. This was an early comic strip that made use of a continuing story line, rather than a simple weekly gag. Denslow played with novel layouts in the early pages, and his designs jumped across the paper.

Here is a later episode, from early in 1902. The complete date is missing as the page has been trimmed and is a bit rough. By this time the strip has become much more standard, in layout and concept, than some of the earlier examples. Denslow quit the comic later that year, but it continued for several more years under another artist.  Some of Denslow's Mother Goose characters are included in this particular episode. (Click on the picture for an enlarged image of the page.)
The strip was popular, even after Denslow gave up drawing it in 1902. Buttons were produced to publicize it, and it even inspired a brand of cigars. Two button designs are known, but it is unclear whether they were drawn by Denslow. The one I'm showing does not appear to be his work.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Toys From the Land of Oz

Back in January, I attended the opening of an exhibition at the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures in Kansas City, Missouri. The show is called Over the Rainbow: Toys from the Land of Oz, and was organized by Jane Albright. Her aim, with the assistance of 20 or so other collectors, is to show as many vintage Oz-related toys as possible.

Along with the toys are a number of other rarities, from film costumes to souvenirs from the 1903 Broadway production. The show runs through August 20th and is well worth visiting if you happen to be in the area!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

And Another Variation

Here's yet another example of a variation within the Rand McNally covers designed by W. W. Denslow. This is a later printing of Whoso Findeth a Wife, by William LeQueux. The image is the same as the original printing,  but the background is now a rich teal color, and the design has been slightly simplified.

On the original, the letter bears three seals printed in black. The newer version drops the black ink, which was a fourth color, and consequently loses the effect of the seals. The gilt ink seems to be replaced by a duller gold, and Denslow's signature seahorse has vanished.

As I've said before, the variations on these books are both plentiful and mystifying!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Lucky Little People

Here's an odd little item; in 1973 and 1974, Scholastic Publications published a series of sets of finger puppets. These were called Lucky Little People, and consisted of pages of characters that could be punched out together with a simple script for presenting a play.

I became aware of these because the first in the series was a version of Rumplestiltskin, with designs by Edward Gorey. As my partner is an avid Gorey collector, I'd known about that particular item for quite some time. But, since we never ran across any other sets, we wondered if Rumplestiltskin was the only set that had been published; it turns out we were wrong.
I've been unable to track down much information on these fragile pieces, but I now know there were at least five sets. Set #2 is a mystery as I've found no references to it. Set #3 was Famous Americans, set #4 was Hansel and Gretel, and set #5 was The Wizard of Oz. The last two sets were published in 1974.

There is no artist credit on the Oz puppets, which are colorful. A simple script was included with the set, a fairly faithful version of Dorothy's capture and the subsequent defeat of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Baseball with the Scarecrow

In August of 1906, Harper's Weekly published a small piece on a charity baseball game played by a group of prominent New York actors and managers. Among the players was Fred Stone, dressed in full Scarecrow costume, playing catcher with a birdcage over his head serving as a mask!

As can be seen from the photo, the game was a comic affair. The manager Sam Harris is shown at the plate, using the largest bat I've ever seen! Other players included George M. Cohan, Abraham Erlanger, and De Wolf Hopper. The accompanying photo shows quite an array of uniforms.

The game took place at the American League park, and featured the actors taking on the managers - the outcome of the game isn't clear, although the article states "The result of the match was vigorously contested, in spite of the fact that the umpire was attired in a suit of mail." More than $3,000 was raised and donated to a home for destitute and crippled children.
Another interesting point of the magazine is the centerfold photo, which shows Mt Vesuvius after the great eruption that took place in April of that year.

As it happens, L. Frank Baum and his wife Maud spent the first six months of 1906 on a European trip - I believe it was their first and only - and arrived in Naples during the time that Vesuvius was active. Maud writes about the event in her travelogue In Other Lands Than Ours, describing the quantity of ash and destruction everywhere. A photo taken by Baum shows Maud surveying the damage and hot lava, which burnt her shoes.

Friday, May 12, 2017

A Parrish Letter

Last week, Swann Galleries in New York sold an interesting letter written by Maxfield Parrish. It was to Chauncey Williams of the Way & Williams publishing company, and outlined Parrish's thoughts on the design and costs of illustrating Mother Goose in Prose.

Mother Goose in Prose was published in 1897, and was the first children's book published by L. Frank Baum. An earlier title, Adventures in Phunniland, was already written but would not see publication until 1900, when it was re-titled A New Wonderland.

Parrish's letter is a response to previous correspondence from Williams. In it, he strongly discourages the use of small marginal illustrations for the book. His concept was to provide a cover, frontispiece, title page and 23 chapter headings, each pertaining to a particular story. The cost of that would be $650.00, and he apologizes for the cost, which he feels will be too much. But, he points out:
"...do not think that a small thing is one bit easier to do than a big one. Those little marginal illustrations in order to leave this shop, would have to have just as much care put upon them as the gent with the little gun I sent you."
From this it seems he had already drawn the frontispiece of the book - the Little Man with his Little Gun. Another possibility mentioned in the letter was to do cover, frontispiece, title page and 4 illustrations for $250. In the end, the book was illustrated with cover, frontispiece, title page, a small chapter title which was repeated for each story, and 12 full page drawings. Parrish states that to fully illustrate the book would be cost prohibitive - but a compromise seems to have been reached. 

Another interesting point within the letter is Parrish's opinion on two of the stories. He asks that the mention of a Kodak be removed from the Baa Baa Black Sheep story, and objects to the "dime museum episode" in the Jack Sprat tale. There is no mention of a Kodak in the published book, and the Jack Sprat story vanished completely - leaving 22 tales rather than the original 23. It's interesting to note that the things Parrish objected to were the very things that Baum was trying to bring to his stories - a modern American sensibility laid over a traditional tale.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Cursed by a Fortune

I'm afraid my poor blog has been neglected for the past 8 months, but here's a new post starting up right where I left off - another Rand McNally title with a W. W. Denslow cover design.

This time it's Cursed by a Fortune, from 1897, written by G. Manville Fenn. This book has a striking cover image of a woman in a window, overlaid by a sealed will, together with a large English pound sign - all pertaining to the story within. It's a very Victorian tale of a girl who loses her father and inherits a large fortune, surrounded by guardians and relatives intent on obtaining her money through marriage. She is spirited away and kept under lock and key, but of course in the end it all comes right and she marries the poor doctor who loves her. Then she loses the fortune and everyone is happy. Except the bad guys, who are left in broken health to regret their actions.

There is no seahorse emblem on the cover, which makes me suspect this may be a slightly later printing of the book. It still uses gilt stamping and a gilt top to the pages, so it hasn't been drastically changed.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Savage Denslow

I haven't come up a W. W. Denslow binding in a rather long time. He did quite a bit of work for Rand McNally from 1896 - 1898, but aside from a handful of titles that are a little more common, the books are difficult to find. The majority of his covers are easy to recognize when you see them, due to a distinctive sense of imagery and type style. Certain elements are often repeated, such as coats of arms - in this case, the double headed eagle of the Romanovs of Russia.
This is For Her Life, from 1897, written by Richard Henry Savage. Denslow did covers for several Savage titles, of which I have 4. This particular cover is interesting for being very subtle. The book shows little wear, but the light grey used for the imagery is very pale against the background. This is a wrap around cover, and Denslow's seahorse is present - though difficult to see - in the band of grey water below the boat.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

An Ideal Dorothy

This past week has marked the 77th anniversary of the release of the classic MGM film The Wizard of Oz. The film had several sneak previews during August 1939, but the 25th of August was the official release date, and the rest is history!

A wide variety of merchandise was produced at the time, to tie in with the movie. Among the many items was the Judy Garland as Dorothy doll, from the Ideal Novelty & Toy Co. The doll was made of composition and the face was sculpted to portray Judy Garland in her memorable role. This was produced in three sizes, 14", 16", and 18".

I haven't focused on collecting movie items, but I couldn't resist this when it turned up some time ago. This is an example of the 18" size, in lovely condition, although her clothing has been replaced. Ideal also produced a soft doll of Ray Bolger as the Strawman - something else I wouldn't mind having!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Olive and Yellow

A week or so ago, I came across a copy of Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz  that I added to my collection. The interesting aspect of this copy was the endpapers, an inventive design that was later adapted into the second cover design for The Emerald City of Oz.

This copy of the book is a first state in the primary binding, but with pale olive endpapers rather than the bright yellow usually seen in this book. The difference is shown in the photo, with the olive version above the standard yellow. I've run across this before, but associated the olive endpapers with copies bearing the secondary spine imprint - interesting to see them used in a primary binding!

A similar color change occurs in Snowbound, one of the poetry books illustrated by John R. Neill and also published by Reilly & Britton. The first state used yellow as a secondary color in the illustrations, while a later state has the same olive green seen here. Just another example of the many variants to be found!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Witchcraft of Mary-Marie

The Witchcraft of Mary-Marie is one of three short stories that were added to Baum's American Fairy Tales, the 1908 revised edition of American Fairy Tales. In July of 1951, Children's Digest chose to feature a condensed version of this tale as its cover story. This was the ninth issue of the magazine, which started in November of 1950 and which had already featured writing by L. Frank Baum in at least one earlier issue.

The story was illustrated by Art Seiden, but the drawing used on the cover was by Mary Blair. Blair was a well known artist and a famous Disney designer, who drew concept art for a number of films as well as the Small World ride at Disneyland. This cover was drawn during the height of her years at Disney Studios.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Electrical Household

Here's a bizarre and whimsical drawing by John R. Neill - an assortment of animated appliances that looks like it could have come right from the land of Oz! According to the work label on the back of the drawing, this illustration was drawn for Pictorial Review, in July of 1914.

In typical Neill fashion, the appliances all have faces and, in many cases, additional limbs. In fact, this kitchen looks like it could be in a suburb of Utensia, the village of kitchen implements visited by Dorothy in the 1910 book The Emerald City of Oz.

The row of eight electrical plugs under the window looks a little dodgy to me, but clearly the modern housekeeper has been freed from much of her labor!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Lotta Faust

I recently bought a copy of the January 1905 Theatre magazine. The cover features a lovely color image of Lotta Faust in costume as Tryxie Tryfle, in The Wizard of Oz. Lotta was one of several actresses to play the role during the run of the show, and while she didn't create the part, she was probably the best remembered.

She did score a hit with the song Sammy, and came to public attention in this role. In the photo, she is wearing her second act Emerald City fancy dress, also known as the Sammy dress. The photo is tinted pink for the magazine, but according to Mark Even Swartz, in Oz Before the Rainbow, the dress was actually green which would be in keeping with the Emerald City setting.

This was clearly a popular image of Lotta. I have two different postcard versions of this shot, one printed and the other a photo card. The printed card bears the inscription — "Catherine if this play ever comes to Kingston go to it - Mamie" — a fun testimonial to the popularity of the show.
The magazine doesn't feature any articles on Lotta or the show, she was simply a cover girl for this issue. But there is an ad for the Perforated Music Roll Co. that includes Wizard of Oz Selections.

Publicists seem to have been working hard in 1905 - snippets about various actresses in the show turn up in various magazines. The Standard and Vanity Fair ran this shot with a rather ambivalent blurb concerning the performer -
She went on to appear in other shows before her early death in January 1910. According to newspaper accounts of the time, she was hospitalized for an operation to remove an abscess above her heart. The operation was sucessful, but several days later she succumbed to pneumonia. In May of that year, a memorial benefit was held for her mother and a number of performers of the day made appearances.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Denslow's Picture Books

I just picked up a copy of Denslow's House That Jack Built, one of a series of 18 picture books produced by W. W. Denslow in 1903 - 1904.

 The books were an American take on the English "toy books" that had been produced by well known English illustrators such as Walter Crane, Randolph Caldecott and Kate Greenaway.  Around the same time that Denslow was drawing his picture books, L. Leslie Brooke was producing similar stories in England.

Four of the books first appeared in 1902 as a Sunday color supplement in the New York Herald. These were then rewritten in prose and published, along with Denslow's versions of other fairy tales and nursery rhymes. There were new stories as well, including one featuring the Scarecrow and Tin Man. Denslow owned rights to his illustrations of the famous characters, which allowed him to make use of them as he pleased. This was one of the points that led to the breakup of the L. Frank Baum/Denslow collaborations.
The Scarecrow makes a cameo appearance in House That Jack Built, watching a farmer sowing his corn. The original of this illustration has found a good home in the collection of another Oz fan!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Billy Bounce

Billy Bounce was a comic page created by W. W. Denslow in 1901. The strip was innovative in its use of a continuing story line, as well as Denslow's design and use of the space on the page. In 1902 Denslow retired from the strip, and the characters were picked up by Charles W. Kahles who continued the comic until 1906. The example on the left is from the Sunday Press volume Queer Visitors from the Land of Oz, which includes a number of strips by Denslow.

Denslow returned to the character in 1906, in hopes of creating a story that could be turned into a Broadway extravaganza. The result was a rather uninspired book, written in conjunction with Dudley Bragdon.

The character was popular and inspired a variety of merchandise such as pinbacks, cigars, and a toy bank. The bank seems to have been reproduced recently, with an example I picked up shown below on the left. On the right is an advertising cut for the original bank.

While the character is largely forgotten today, an animated cartoon based on the book was created in the 1960's as a pilot for a projected series. The project never took off, but clearly someone had remembered Billy fondly!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Book Collecting

This copy of The Tin Woodman of Oz was the first Reilly & Britton Oz title I purchased for my collection. I started looking for Oz books in the early 1970's, at a time when the "white cover" editions could still be found, bearing the Reilly & Lee imprint. But at the age of 13 or so I decided I wanted to put together a collection of first editions and find the earlier Reilly & Britton versions of the books. I think it took close on 10 years before I finally began to find collectible copies of the titles - and the hunt hasn't ended! Finding this book was exciting as it was the first early copy of a Baum book that I had run across. Eventually this was replaced by a better copy, then a copy with a dust jacket.

Book collecting was quite different when I started, well before the introduction of internet book searches. It involved visiting any used book store you might run across in hopes of finding a treasure, mailing away for catalogs and book lists, getting to know dealers in hopes that you would be informed if something special turned up. Finding a title was an event, and something that might not happen again. All of that is still true today, but now a quick search with a keyboard will turn up dozens of titles without leaving your chair. Not that the challenge isn't still there - it's just a different kind of experience, and I'm glad I've had the chance to try both!

Sunday, June 19, 2016


When I was a kid, I sent away for a set of plastic Oz-kins, which I painted and then lost track of over the years - all but the Glinda figure, who survived for quite a while before eventually vanishing. I've kept half an eye out for these figures over time, and have picked up few here and there, until once again I finally have a complete set - along with a few extras!

I remember painting the figures as a kid, using the woefully inadequate brush and paint that was provided with the mail-away set. It was not a success, but the figures were still fun; particularly since they included characters that were from the book series, not just the MGM film.

The figures are an odd mix, because the imagery comes from various sources. The Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Lion are based on W. W. Denslow, while Glinda, Mombi, the Sawhorse and the Soldier are based on John R. Neill. Dorothy, Toto and the Wizard are based on the characters from the Chuck Jones Off to See the Wizard cartoon series, which these toys were promoting. Proportions vary from one to the next, and overall it's a very strange assortment!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Toy Theater Update

Last November I did a post about the toy theater I was starting to make, showing scenes from the 1903 Broadway production of The Wizard of Oz. I'm still working away at it, and have made progress - although there are still several scenes to go! It's a fun project, requiring some ingenuity and a good deal of patience, while trying to figure out the sets of the show from the handful of surviving black & white production photos.
 In my earlier post I showed the Poppy scene, which was my starting point of the project. This takes place towards the end of Act 1, and is followed by The Poppy Field in Winter. This was a transformation, with the poppy scene transitioning through a snowstorm, finally revealing the flowers vanquished by the Snow Queen, the travelers awakened and the end of the first act.
Act 2 takes place in a courtyard of the Emerald City, a bizarre architectural blend of East and West. This is a shot of the scene in its early stages, as I was starting to figure out the various panels. I roughed out the ideas on paper, before painting and cutting the final drops from canvas. The original sets for this show were extremely elaborate and complex, involving a number of drop curtains as well as flats and set pieces. For my purpose I've had to try and distill this into something a bit simpler and manageable in a small size; the backdrops of the toy theater are about 12" by 20", which limits the amount of detail presented. This scene required some freestanding set pieces, constructed of balsa and paper mache. 
Of course each scene also needs its cast of characters in appropriate costumes - the actors in the various scenes are approximately 4" tall.
Act 3 is set in The Borderland, with a color scheme primarily of lavender and white. The use of color changing LED lights provides the ability to enhance various colors in the different scenes. Once again, some freestanding set pieces were required, included a cage of wisteria vines which is used as a prison during the act - paper mache to the rescue!

The story presented on stage veered drastically from that of the original book, including an execution scene with the threat of death facing Dorothy and her companions. Fortunately a speedy resolution is achieved, and a happy ending!