Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Happy Birthday, L. Frank Baum!

an adorable biography of Baum
by Kathleen Krull & Kevin Hawkes
Happy Birthday, L. Frank Baum!
Lyman Frank Baum was born on May 15, 1856 in a town outside Syracuse, New York. Before he became a writer and eventually create the book that would grant him literary immortality he tried his hand at being a salesman, a newspaperman, a merchant, and a sales clerk. He had written several unsuccessful books before The Wonderful Wizard of OZ was published in 1900. Accustomed to failure, the success of this storybook took him by surprise. He was 44 years old.

For nearly ten years he fought against his OZ brand, writing only five sequels between 1900 and 1910. The Emerald City of OZ (1910) was meant to be the last in the series; it features Dorothy, Aunt Em, and Uncle Henry all moving permanently to OZ before the magical land is cut off from the "real world" forever.

However, legions of fans inundated the publisher with requests for more. Simultaneously, Baum's fortunes were made and lost through various risky endeavors. He needed the money, and children wanted the stories. So from 1913 there would be a new OZ book by Baum every year until his death. Afterwards, other writers took over the storytelling chores. Eventually there were 40 books recognized as "official canon" by the publisher and Baum estate. Stories such as "Wicked" are not recognized as canon. Nor is Disney's recent "OZ The Great and Powerful," which follows the 1939 MGM musical more than it does the actual books.

When I was kid I had Random House trade paperback reprints of each of the fourteen original Baum stories except one: The Lost Princess of OZ. I have no idea why I couldn't find that one, but I never saw it at any bookstore. I don't think I've ever actually read it, even today!

The first book was illustrated by W.W. Denslow. After it was a success he and Baum had a falling out. All of the remaining Baum books and many more after his death were illustrated by John R. Neill.

L. Frank Baum died on May 6, 1991.

This being Wednesday Comics day, I thought I would point out that OZ has made it to comics a few different times. Most famously, DC and Marvel collaborated on a Giant Treasury book The Wonderful Wizard of OZ in 1975 by Roy Thomas, John Buscema, Tony DeZuniga, and John Romita. Its sequel, The Land of OZ was done by Roy Thomas, Alfredo Alcala, and John Romita, also in 1975. The last page of this story is a "Coming Oz-tractions" that promises an adaptation of Ozma of Oz to go on sale February 3, 1976. It never appeared.
Because the characters created by Baum are now in public domain, they can be used (and abused) without having to pay anyone for their use. However, the likenesses of Judy Garland as Dorothy or Margaret Hamilton as The  Witch are trade-marked images belonging to MGM (now Turner Broadcasting) and have to be paid for. That is why if you see OZ characters in adaptations they are more likely to resemble the book versions and not the movie versions.

Case in point: one of my favorites, The OZ-Wonderland War (starring Captain Carrot & the Amazing Zoo Crew) and the most recent adaptation, Marvel Comics' The Wonderful Wizard of OZ from 2006:

No comments:

Post a Comment