Episode 37: The Wizard of Oz

Posted 8 March 2013 by

Once a season we step away from factual subjects and focus on a fictional one. This season we traveled to the land of Oz and took a look around.

“But Chicks,” you say,”a Wizard is a man.”

To that we respond: Thank you for pointing this out. Yes, the Wizard is a man, and L. Frank Baum is a man…but Oz is full of women! Dorothy! Glinda! Ozma! Oz is a land of female rulers and strong charactered inhabitants- how could we not talk about it? (Besides, we like fantasy, okay? And there are several points in the Six Degrees of History Chicks Separation game with this subject.  Just trust us.)

W.W. Denslow illustration from The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

We’re sure several images popped into your head when you saw the title, and we will cover most of them in this episode…except three: Judy Garland, Billie Burke and Margaret Hamilton. We decided to have a separate conversation about the lives of the three female stars of the 1939 movie . That chat will be posted as a companion minicast .

In 1900 L. Frank Baum introduced the world to the imaginary land of Oz. It wasn’t the first children’s book that he had written-but it would become a series that he would work on for the rest of his life that is full of characters, settings and storylines that are still being explored today.

Born in 1856 in  Chittenango, New York, Lyman Frank Baum was the son of a barrel maker and occupational experimenter who struck it rich in the oil business- Benjamin Baum and his wife, Cynthia Stanton Baum. Frank was a sick child with a weak heart but a big imagination. He also had the gift of very indulgent parents.

Aside from a short stint at Peekskill Military Academy (where there was, literally, a yellow brick road), Frank was educated at home by tutors and  parents who helped him peruse any interests he had. When he took an interest in the printing process, his parents bought him a home printing press. Later when he took an interest in acting, they got him a theater.

Franks brief experience in a military school…not exactly his thing

Once grown, he began touring with an acting company until he met Maud Gage- daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s co-author Matilda Jocelyn Gage. Love. Within a year they were married, and when she became pregnant with the first of four sons, the acting life ended and Frank the dreamer needed to become Frank the supporter.

He did not find success as a chicken breeder, store owner, newspaper man, or traveling salesman. One day he wrote out the Mother Goose rhymes that he had been sharing with his sons and they became his first book- Mother Goose in Prose. His second was a spin-off of that one, Father Goose: His Book.

Shortly after these two successes, he wrote down the stories he had been telling his sons and the neighborhood kids about a little girl named Dorothy in a magical land named Oz. With clever illustrations by W.W. Denslow, The Wizard of Oz was a hit.

Frank brought the story to the theater with a stage version ( although the adult cast wasn’t exactly what he had in mind when he wrote the story), and this also was a success. While he had no interest in writing another Oz book, he did have an interest in putting food on the table for his family. Frank Baum was an imaginative writer, but a businessman he was not and he would earn and lose his wealth many times over the years. Within four years of the first Oz book he was publishing a second. He would write 13 sequels to the original story (including our favorite- Ozma of Oz).

Shh, don’t tell the others, but this is our favorite

But that’s not all! Frank wrote several books and plays under pseudonyms and several of those were women’s names- the most successful being a series for teenage girls, Aunt Jane’s Nieces, under the pen name, Edyth Van Dyne.

L. Frank Baum circa 1911

Frank Baum died on May 6th, 1919 at the age of 92. His last book, Glinda of Oz,  was published posthumously a year later.

But the Oz books couldn’t end! Not only was the world enthralled with the story, it was making some serious coin for its publishers. After Frank’s death another 36 books would be written by a variety of authors making up what is considered the official 40 book Oz series.

About 38 years down the yellow brick road technology caught up with the stories. After Walt Disney scored big time with Snow White, movie makers were looking for the next big fairy tale and MGM landed Oz. We geek out about the making of this iconic movie for quite a while during the podcast. We chat about trivia as well as the differences between the movie and the beloved books (Like the shoes: Dorothy originally was gifted a pair of silver shoes, but red showed up so much nicer in Technicolor.)

2.6 million dollars, five directors, scores of writers, two Tin Man actors, and a shooting schedule that stretched from 6 weeks to 23 The Wizard of Oz finally opened…

Not the first technicolor movie by a long shot and didn’t follow the books exactly (and we cover those differences in the podcast), 1939 MGM movie poster

…and didn’t quite do as well at the box-office as you would have expected. While this film lasts on mostly due to annual televised showings beginning in the mid 1950’s- the movie wasn’t a flop by any standard, but it did originally fail to be a financial success. The movie did win two Academy Awards as well as a special award for 16 year-old Judy Garland.


So you really don’t want to read all the books in the Oz series, we get that- 40 is a lot of books. Here is a really fun shortcut to the plots and characters of each book as well as all the original cover art to them. Maybe after you read these reviews you will give in and get one of the books. And another. And another. Hey, fantasy series are all the rage these days- there is a reason and Oz started them all. Mari Ness on TOR.COM

Other than the books in the Oz series, we didn’t have a lot of recommendations for this episode. We  think that the Annotated Wizard of Oz was pretty terrific, as well as the Wicked Years series by Gregory McGuire and Was by Geoff Ryman (very dark, but very good).

Annotated Wizard of Oz edited by Michael Patrick Hearn

Was by, Geoff Ryman

The Wicked Series by Gregory Maguire (also available on Audible.com and you can get a free book just by clicking the link to the far right, no, up higher…just sayin’)

And as far as movies go, get thee to the library and borrow the 3 -disc Collector’s Edition of the 1939 movie! So many special features you will be all Oz’d up in no time!

1978 brought a very interesting version of movie (it had previously been an Tony award winning Broadway play) The Wiz starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. Make your own judgement if it’s destined for Cult Movie Classic status or not.

1978 musical The Wiz

You can catch Tin Man, the Sci-Fi channel mini-series starring Zooey Deschenel, streaming on Netflix and decide if you think it’s good (and forgive Zooey for this one) like Susan, or if you can’t get past the first episode like Beckett.

Classic Oz touches sprinkled through story in semi Once Upon a Time style

Join in the serious business at the International Wizard of Oz Clubs, or join some chat with the Royal Historians and all at The Royal Website of Oz.

The Studio 360 podcast episode “American Icons: The Wizard of Oz” can be found here, or on ITunes: Studio 360

Want to read the rest of the Evil Overlord list? Find it here: The Evil Overlord List

Investigate your name’s popularity over time at The Baby Name Wizard (warning! It’s addictive!): Baby Name Wizard

Finally, there are a pair of the Ruby Slippers Judy Garland wore in the movie at the Smithsonian, but if you are looking for an Oz museum as you cross Kansas, here is one in Wamego, Kansas ( just  east of Manhattan). We have not been, but if you have let us know how it is in the comments!

On display in Washington, one pair of the movie ruby slippers

As always, our music comes courtesy of Music Alley. Visit them at music.mevio.com
(closing song – If I Only Had a Brain by Elijah Tucker)

2 Responses to Episode 37: The Wizard of Oz

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Hello Ladies!
    First off, let me say I genuinely love your podcast and I’m always excited to see a new episode. I find them interesting and informative. I love your enthusiasm for the subjects you discuss.

    Now my tiny point of contention: as you may guess from my email, I’m a big Wizard of Oz fan. I’ve seen or read just about every incarnation there is. I’ve read the scholarly criticism. I’ve written some myself. With all the various retellings it is the perfect example of the differences between modernism and post-modernism as well as being just a generally fantastic story.

    You commented in one of the podcasts that you object to people claiming that Baum meant it to be a criticism on the economics of the day (paraphrasing-it’s been a few weeks since I listened to it.) But when you were speaking it struck me that what may be at the root of that type of commentary is a brand of literary critique based on a Marxist interpretation of the novel. The novel–and it’s descendants–lends itself to a Marxist criticism with great ease. To that end it doesn’t really matter what Baum himself intended. The novel with its use of colors like green and gold and silver, glasses that make the emerald city LOOK green when it really isn’t, roads paved with yellow bricks leading to the emerald city, Silver slippers with power in them of great value, all welcome a Marxist interpretation. Gregory McGuire plays with this a great deal when he writes “Wicked”. He goes into more depth about the financial powers in oz, the rubies, emeralds, even agriculture.

    These critiques are not about Baum’s intentions. They are about ways of reading the novel that shed light on something, reveal that which may be under the surface, and make the reading of the novel that much deeper and richer.

    It is this ability to read the novel over and over and see new and interesting things there that have helped the story stay alive for so long, and have spawned further writings and re-imaginings of Oz.

    Baum may not have intended on the surface for his novel to have so many economic symbols. But the symbols are there nonetheless.

    A Marxist reading of The Wizard of Oz is not, by any means, the only way to read it. There is room for feminist readings, eco-critical readings, Post-modern re-inventions, psychoanalytical readings (especially with the dream as the framework), and many others.

    Those readings aren’t wrong or right. They are simply part of the greater dialogue. Baum doesn’t get to tell people how to read his books any more than any other author does. People read them and the text must speak for itself. A Marxist interpretation is written in those pages, and it doesn’t matter if Baum meant to put it there or not. But there is a difference (a huge difference) between a student of literature applying a Marxist critique to the novel, and someone saying “oh Frank Baum meant the novel as a critique on the economy.” We don’t know what he meant, and it isn’t our job to try and say what he meant. There is no one right way to read a book. The Literary Critic shouldn’t try and dictate a reading, but simply point a finger toward one branch of that Yellow Brick Road and say “Come see how Oz looks when you wander down this direction.”

    That is my two cents worth. For myself, I find the various interpretations and critiques delightful! Gives us more to say about a book than “It was fun.” Literary criticism is what book clubs and even pod casts like yours are built on!

    Thank you for all your work! point of contention aside, I truly appreciate you both.


    • The History Chicks says:

      Thank you for that, Elizabeth. As points of contention go, that’s very mild and kind. Excellent point and we hope people read it. Thanks for taking the time to write it!

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