Thursday, July 30, 2009

1904 "Wizard of Oz" in Kentucky

Those of you who thought L. Frank Baum simply wrote The Wizard of Oz and then they made the 1939 movie out of it and that was that, don't know the half of it.

There are actually 40 "in-canon" Oz books, 14 of which were authored by Baum himself. There were five previous Wizard of Oz films (one of which was never released) prior to the 1939 version we all know and love. These present a bewilderingly fractal view of what we think of as the classic story of a girl, a dog, a scarecrow, a lion, and a tin man who seek an eccentric Wizard at the end of a yellow brick road. Most alien of all to modern-day fans would be the 1902 Broadway Musical that continued to tour the nation for many years after its NYC run.

According to the book Oz Before the Rainbow by Mark Evan Swartz, the touring version of the Hamlin-Baum-Tietjens production came to Louisville, Kentucky for a short engagement of just three days: February 15, 16, and 17, 1904. Because of the immense popularity of the Oz books and the musical, these shows were surely packed in attendance to the rafters.

What Kentuckians saw that night would be almost unrecognizable to anyone from our generation, or our parents' generation:

  • Instead of Toto the dog, Dorothy is accompanied by a giant talking cow named Imogene.

  • The Cowardly Lion is in a much more realistic lion-like costume, doesn't speak, and is only a very minor character.

  • Much of the story is taken up not by Dorothy's quest to get home, but by the misadventures of a waitress named Trixie Tryfle and her lover, King Pastoria II. (Pastoria rules Oz but also secretly works in an auto repair shop in Kansas.)

  • The Tin Man has a girlfriend named Cynthia Cynch, also known as The Lady Lunatic.

  • Dorothy is given three wishes, but strangely doesn't use any of them to wish herself back home. Instead, one is wasted accidentally, one is used to bring the dead Scarecrow back to life, and the other is used, inexplicably, to be able to learn the lyrics to a song that another unfamiliar character, Sir Dashemoff Daily, has written for his girlfriend, Carrie Barry.

  • Instead of being assisted by the Wizard and Glinda, Dorothy is sent to prison and about to be executed by beheading. A tornado arrives just in time to blow her back to Kansas.

    Most of the songs - such as "Gooda-bye Fedora", "Johnnie I'll Take You", "Sammy", "The Lobster Song", "Must You?", "Pimlico Malinda", "Football", "Marching Through Georgia", "Nautical Nonsense (Hurrah for Baffin's Bay!)", and "The Tale of the Monkey" - had little or nothing to do with the storyline, and only served to stretch the proceedings out to sprawling lengths of sometimes over four hours.

    In short, it's all nuts, completely freakin' nuts; so much so that it makes the Judy Garland movie seem positively drab and linear. Oh, to have been in the audience in Macauley's Theatre during those three nights!

    clay said...

    Amazing! We loved this entry. I knew there was at least one Oz book but had no idea about other stage productions/films. Very entertaining.

    Unknown said...

    wow, I didnt know about any of this!!! just shows how much knowledge ends up lost in the cracks. I totally have to rethink Oz now.