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.