Member Blogs > Tavistock BooksL Frank Baum's Forgotten Foray into Theatre

  • Thu, 27 Feb 2014 02:00:27    Permalink
    Baum_Fairylogue_Radio_Plays

    Baum with the cast of ‘Fairylogue and Radio-Plays’ (1908)

    Though L Frank Baum is best known as the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the famed author had a rich and varied career. His accomplishments include trade magazines and newspapers, along with an oft-forgotten play based on his sequels to Wizard of Oz.

    Early Literary Aptitude

    L_Frank_Baum_CadetBorn on May 15, 1896, Lyman Frank Baum was a sickly child. Particularly fond of fairy tales and British authors like Charles Dickens, Baum spent much of his time reading. But Baum found fault with fairy tales because they were so often frightening and gruesome. He would later note, “One thing I never liked then…was the introduction of witches and goblins into the story. I didn’t like the little dwarfs in the woods bobbing up with their horrors.” Thus, from an early age, Baum resolved to write a different kind of fairy tale.

    But his first literary exertions weren’t fairy tales: Baum started his own newspaper, The Rose Lawn Home Journal with a printing press purchased by his father. Baum took the publication quite seriously, writing news pieces and editorials, along with poetry, word games, and fiction. The young man’s paper did quite well, and a number of local businesses purchased advertising space in its pages. In 1873, Baum launched two more papers, The Empire and The Stamp Collector.

    Meanwhile it had become quite fashionable to breed chickens and other fowl. Baum took up breeding Hamburgs and won several awards with his birds. He also launched The Poultry Record, a magazine devoted to breeding and raising poultry. The publication was rather successful. Then in 1886, Baum published his first book, The Book of Hamburgs: A Brief Treatise upon the Mating, Rearing, and Management of the Different Varieties of Hamburgs.

    A Love for Theatre

    Baum_Holcomb_Maid_Arran

    Baum as Hugh Holcomb in ‘The Maid of Arran’

    Baum also found time to nurture his interest in theatre. He frequently memorized passages of Shakespeare and even founded a Shakespearean troupe with his father’s financial backing. The elder Baum had made a fortune in the family business and purchased a number of opera houses in Pennsylvania and New York. He entrusted their management to his son in 1880. Baum proved quite adept, even delving into writing his own plays. The Maid of Arran, considered Baum’s first major literary work, met with immediate success.

    But with the decline of the Baum’s father’s health and two unlucky episodes with swindling employees, Baum was left virtually penniless. His wife, Maud, suggested that the family move West. They settled in Dakota territory, where Baum opened a general store called Baum’s Bazaar. Soon Baum had made a reputation for two things: storytelling and extending credit. Thanks to Baum’s generous spirit and a draught that left most of his customers destitute, the bank foreclosed on Baum’s Bazaar in 1890, only two years after it opened. Baum established The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, acting as reporter, printer, and salesman all in one. But that, too, failed in 1891.

    Return to Authorship

    In 1893 Baum decided to move his family to Chicago. The World Columbian Exposition was there, so employment opportunities were plentiful. First Baum worked as a reporter for the Evening Post, but the paltry pay was hardly enough to support a family. Next he went into sales for the china company Pitkin & Brooks. He was often on the road. His mother-in-law, noted feminist Matilda Gage, moved in to help with the Baum children. It was she who encouraged Baum to write down the fairy tales he spun for his children and their young friends.

    Baum frequented the Chicago Press Club when he wasn’t traveling. Through his connections there, he met illustrator Maxfield Parrish. The two teamed up to publish Baum’s Mother Goose in Prose in 1897. The book’s extraordinary popularity gave Baum some financial security–and just in time; soon Baum’s health precluded travel. He quit his sales job and started The Show Window, a trade magazine about window displays, and began spending more time at the Press Club.

    A Serendipitous Acquaintance

    L Frank BaumSoon Baum made the acquaintance of William W Denslow. Though the two had disparate personalities, they decided to collaborate on a companion to Mother Goose in Prose. Together they published Father Goose, His Book in 1899. The beloved book spurred Songs of Father Goose. The pair worked on a few more project, most notably The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Baum had originally submitted the story with the title The Emerald City, which publishers Hill and Company rejected. They finally agreed on a new title, and the first edition appeared in May, 1900.

    Two years later, Baum collaborated with Paul Tietjens and Julien Mitchell on an adult musical adaptation of Wizard of Oz. A major success, the production toured all over America. The country was absolutely infatuated with the land of Oz and its whimsical characters. Baum published a total of seventeen sequels and came to be known as the “Royal Historian of Oz.” The Ozmapolitan, a newspaper devoted to Oziana, was launched in 1905 to feed the public’s Oz fever.

    Baum_Bancroft_Twinkles_EnchantmentThough he indulged his audience with all these tales of Oz, he longed to delve into other projects. Baum often used pseudonyms for these endeavors, so that he didn’t have to worry about their critical reception. One notable project was Aunt Jane’s Nieces, a series for teenage girls Baum published under the pen name Edith Van Dyne. He also wrote under the names Laura Bancroft, Floyd Acres, Baum also launched a traveling film show called “Fairylogue and Radio Plays,” which was a commercial flop.

    Return to the Stage

    In 1909, the Shubert Organization approached Baum about adapting Ozma of Oz (1907) into an extravaganza. From February to April of that year, Baum worked with composer Manuel Klein using the working title The Rainbow’s Daughter, or The Magnet of Love. Loosely based on Ozma of Oz, the musical also incorporates material from “Tik-Tok and the Nome King” a short story that first appeared in Little Wizard Stories of Oz (1913).

    Baum_Tik_Tok_Man_Oz

    By 1912, the production still had not found its way to the stage. Then Oliver Morosco agreed to produce it with a few modifications. He inserted three songs he wrote (with music composed by Victor Schertzinger). Billed as “a companion play to The Wizard of Oz, The Tik-Tok May of Oz met with great success in Los Angeles, but didn’t resonate with other audiences. Chicago critics were particularly unimpressed. Though the show made money, Morosco decided not to keep producing it.

    Only an early manuscript of the musical is extant, and the play probably would have faded into obscurity were it not for the published music and advertisements. Promotional materials for the production have proven exceedingly rare; a survey of auction records and other online sources indicate only two extant playbills. One, from December 2, 1913 at the Babcock Theatre in Billings, Montana, comes from the collection of Fred M Meyer and can be viewed at the International Wizard of Oz Club website. The other, from the play’s opening night in San Francisco on April 21, 1913, is pictured here. We’re proud to offer this item as one of this month’s select acquisitions, which features a diverse collection of broadsides.

    We invite you to peruse the entire list! Should you have a question about any item, please feel free to contact us.

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