Curious trivia about the classic L. Frank Baum novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its afterlife
Surprisingly, the famous 1939 MGM film The Wizard of Oz was not the first time L. Frank Baum’s book had been adapted. It wasn’t even the second. In fact, the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz was the eighth film adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s original novel: it had already been filmed in 1910, 1914 (three times), 1925, 1932, and 1933, before the lavish movie starring Judy Garland was produced. Despite garnering positive reviews from critics, the 1939 film did poorly at the box office, despite its innovative use of Technicolour. How things have changed. It is now reckoned to be the most-watched film of all time. Salman Rushdie acknowledged the film as his first literary influence: ‘When I first saw The Wizard of Oz it made a writer of me.’
Lyman Frank Baum (1856-1919) was a physically weak child who had a heart attack while still a youth, after his parents attempted to toughen him up by sending him to a military academy. It didn’t work. He disliked the horrors in many children’s fairy tales – notably those by the Brothers Grimm – and his most famous work was motivated, in part, by a desire to provide children with some horror-free fairy-tale fiction. His parents bought him a cheap printing press and he set up his own publication, The Rose Lawn Home Journal, as well as launching a magazine for himself and his fellow stamp-collectors. His first published book in 1886, however, was a brief treatise on ‘the mating, rearing, and management’ of a breed of chicken (Baum was a poultry fancier). Before he became a writer, Baum earned extra money by selling fireworks.
When he completed The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), originally titled ‘The Emerald City’, Baum sensed he had written something of merit, and had the pencil he had used to write the book mounted and placed over his desk. The inscription announced: ‘With this pencil I wrote the manuscript of “The Emerald City”.’ Such pride turned out not to misplaced, as the subsequent success of the book – and its many sequels – demonstrates.
The story that Baum took the name Oz from one of his filing cabinets – which was labelled ‘O-Z’ – has been strenuously denied by Baum’s granddaughter, who claims that Baum’s wife also repudiated this story as legend. However, Baum himself often repeated the story as true – perhaps because of his canny awareness that a good ‘origin myth’ is often more appealing than the truth.
The line ‘There’s no place like home’ didn’t originate with the book: it’s the last line of the 1823 song ‘Home! Sweet Home!’ But the book, and the 1939 film, certainly helped to popularise it for a new audience. The film’s popularity led to some other more unusual legacies: for instance, there is a species of cat called the Munchkin cat, named after the little creatures in the book and film.
Owing to the success of the book, Baum wrote thirteen sequels including Ozma of Oz, Tik-Tok of Oz, Rinkitink of Oz, and Glinda of Oz. A musical adaptation was put on the stage in 1902 and transferred to Broadway a year later. For the stage version, Toto the dog was replaced, rather surprisingly, by Imogene the cow.
L. Frank Baum’s other books are not so well known, though they are notable for a number of reasons: although he was not a science-fiction author he managed to anticipate several technological innovations, such as laptop computers (in his novel The Master Key) and mobile phones (in Tik-Tok of Oz).
If you enjoyed these interesting facts about The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, you might also enjoy our 25 Great Facts about Children’s Books.
Image: Title page of 1900 edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Wikimedia Commons.