During our full length Oz episode we talked about several women who were associated with Oz the stories: Dorothy, Ozma, the witches, Maud Gage Baum and others. We didn’t talk about the women associated with the 1939 MGM classic, The Wizard of Oz: Judy Garland, Billie Burke and Margaret Hamilton. Consider them now covered in this chat about the lives of the three female lead actresses from that timeless musical.
Margaret Hamilton, Judy Garland and Billie Burke circa 1939
Francis Ethel Gumm was born on June 10, 1922 in Grand Rapids, Minnesota to Francis and Ethel Gumm. What her parents lacked in creative baby naming, they made up for in show business savvy and soon “Baby” was performing with her two older sisters on the vaudeville stage run by her parents. A dalliance of Papa forced the family to move to California four years after her birth where they opened another vaudeville theater and Mama set to making her darlings stars.
The Gumm Sisters
The girls studied singing, dancing, acting and went on tour with their mother managing them. There are conflicting stories about how they changed their name to Garland- but the Garland sisters they became for one year…until the trio broke up when older sister Suzy eloped.
Francis, now called Judy,became a solo act and at 13 signed with MGM. They didn’t know exactly how to cast her- too old for little girl roles, not sexy or skinny enough for vava-voom teen roles- they found a place for her paired with Boy Teen Hearthrob- Mickey Rooney. On a grueling filming schedule, and physically curving out they also put her on amphetamines to give her energy and help her get thin, and sleeping pills to counteract those. (We all know this doesn’t end well, right?)
At the age of 16 she was cast in the role of Dorothy.(And we all know how that worked out, too, right?)
After Oz, Judy went on to make many more musicals and her own life became more dramatic than any film. First married at 19 to band leader, David Rose-that marriage ended three years later when she fell for film director Vincent Minelli. That marriage lasted for one child (Liza) and about six years. By 30 she was twice divorced, was becoming known as being unreliable and dropped by MGM.
A third marriage to producer Sid Luft, two more children (Lorna and Joey) and a career touring as a stage act followed. She did make a few more movies, had a short lived television variety show, a very bitter divorce, two more marriages before financial financial troubles really set in. On June 22nd 1969 while in London she died of an accidental drug overdose.
She was only 47.
(Deep breath) Mary William Ethelbert Appleton Burke was born on August 7th, 1884 in Washington, DC. Her father was a circus clown (no, really, he was!) and she spent a great deal of her childhood traveling with the circus…really! We know, cool. At 18 her family settled in London where she made her stage debut as an actress. By age 22 she was on Broadway. Shortly after that, Hollywood was calling and she answered. She decided that she preferred stage work and headed back to New York.
Billie Burke in Vanity Fair, 1920
It was there that she met her husband, show producer, Florenz Ziegfeld. Marriage and one child followed, but the family was plummeted into financial difficulties during the Crash of ’29. Within three years, Flo would be dead and Billie was back in movies to support her and her daughter, Patricia. (For more on Flo Ziegfeld and his show, see this post by our friends, The Bowery Boys)
Billie was usually type-cast as an upper class ditz with a high-pitched voice. She mostly appeared in comedies and musicals and in 1938- at the age of 54 we might add- she was cast to play Glinda, the good witch.
Billie at age 69…we all should age this well! Such natural beauty.
After Oz her career really didn’t slow down much. She would ultimately make over 80 movies,, have her own radio and television shows, and appear in stage productions. She retired from acting in 1960, and died from natural causes on May 14th, 1979 at the age of 85.
Margaret Brainard Hamilton was born on December 9th, 1902 in Cleveland, Ohio. She attended an all-girls school and while she made her stage debut at 18, her parents insisted that she go to college. After college she became a kindergarten teacher, married and had one son…this life doesn’t really sound like the life of a movie star, does it? She did begin her acting career on the New York stage, but once she divorced her husband and was left to raise her son alone she kicked that acting career into overdrive.
A youngish Maggie
As a character actress, Margaret thought that she stood a better chance of getting work if she didn’t sign with one studio. Instead she made a very nice living traveling between them all and asking for weekly wages. When she was cast in Oz, she was guaranteed six weeks work…which turned into 23!
Her post Oz career included radio shows, television shows, a soap opera, and a very long run as the spokesperson for a coffee company. She was a lifelong supporter of education, made over 70 films and appeared in almost as many stage productions.
Margaret Hamilton, nothing like the witch…not one bit.
Following a heart attack, Margaret died in her sleep at the age of 82 on May 16th, 1985.
For media and book links to all things Oz, please see the shownotes from the Episode 37: The Wizard of Oz
As always, music comes courtesy of Music Alley, visit them at music.mevio.com
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.
TIME TRAVEL WITH THE HISTORY CHICKS
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)