Wamego # 18
Oct 17, 2014 If Ever, Oh EVER, a Club There WOZ! -- Part Two
[Note: Last month’s OZTOBERFEST in Wamego, Kansas, once again underscored the fact that Oz fans are ever more fun when gathered and banded together. With that in mind, the blog for October 10th launched a brief series that attempts to commemorate and honor the long-time, extraordinary, and very best meeting place for “all-those-Oz.” Or, in other words, this is a written celebration, pure and simple, of The International Wizard of Oz Club, Inc. – both of its history and of my own as a member since I was eleven-years-old. Please see last week’s installment for Part One, and then jump right into the continuing saga below! Meanwhile, anyone, anywhere who finds a happy haven on the Yellow Brick Road is encouraged to become an Oz Club member, and I refer you to the P.S. at the conclusion of this entry.]
It was a very exciting piece of mail...!
In addition to a page-long, typewritten letter of introduction about The International Wizard of Oz Club and its activities, Fred Meyer sent along a complimentary copy of the most recent issue (April 1962) of their three-times-per-year magazine, THE BAUM BUGLE. Those twelve pages dazzled me, providing as they did a sumptuously illustrated feature article about Oz books in foreign languages and foreign lands; a description of a recent visit by several Club members to the site of the Chicago home where L. Frank Baum had written THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ back in 1899; a “mystery” Baum short story from an undated newspaper clipping circa 1901; an announcement about the Oz Club's second national convention (that REALLY piqued my interest!); and a summary of current "Oz in the News" media references.
Here's a heartfelt acknowledgement to my parents, Wally and Dottie Fricke. [Side note: I was in my forties before I realized what a therapist could do with the fact that my mother's name was Dorothy....] They needed no assistance whatsoever in comprehending the excitement that Fred's communication had caused me and were almost instantaneous in their reaction and endorsement. That very afternoon, while I painstakingly two-finger-typed a return letter, one of them made out a check for the $2.00 introductory Club dues, and then drove me to the post office to get my response and application in the mail asap.
Exactly a week later, I received another large envelope from Fred -- with a TWO-page typewritten letter, a new, hot-off-the-presses BAUM BUGLE, and several extra "back issues" that he had on hand. He was especially, Ozzily encouraging, which was (I soon would discover) a Fred Meyer hallmark; he himself had been completely Ozzified from an early age and understood my genuine ardor. His communiqué included a compliment that both thrilled me and foreshadowed my future: “I think you are the very kind of enthusiastic member the International Wizard of Oz Club likes to have.”
I’ve tried to live up to that commendation ever since.
In the first installment of this blog last June, I briefly referenced my almost instantaneous contribution to the Club magazine’s “Oz in the News” column -- and the fact that my name (ah, fame!) thus appeared for the first time in the Christmas 1962 BAUM BUGLE. That month also brought a meeting with Fred. This lasted all of five minutes, but he was willing to get off the train to occasion effect the encounter; it took place during a very quick stopover in Milwaukee while he was riding back to his teaching job in Escanaba, Michigan, after spending Christmas at home with his family in southwestern Illinois. My parents (once again, yay! Dottie and Wally!) selflessly drove me down to the old Chicago/Northwestern depot so that I could, however briefly, interact with “Mr. Oz” himself.
By that point, Fred also had encouraged my correspondence with several other Ozian biggies, among them the aforementioned Justin Schiller and Dick Martin (see last week’s blog). The logical next step for me was to make the trek to the June 1963 Oz Club Convention, held for the third consecutive year at the summer lodge home of Baum’s son, Harry Neal, and Harry’s wife, Brenda. “Ozcot,” as it was called, was a three-story, un-air conditioned, old-clapboard establishment on the shore of diminutive Bass Lake in north central Indiana. To get there from Milwaukee, one had to take a train to Chicago, transfer, and then board another train. That cost money, and while I don’t remember the fare for round-trip transportation, the convention itself cited an astronomical charge of $35.00. That total sum included the hotel room and five meals – from Friday afternoon through Sunday luncheon -- for two people.
Those were the days J
Still, it took a lot of allowance-saving and odd-job-doing across the first six months of 1963 for me to earn the necessary amount. But my mom already was committed to accompanying me, as she and Wally very much liked Fred when we’d all met; they’d also enjoyed the various letters I’d received from the other Ozzies. Dad, meanwhile, was willing to stay home and take care of seven-year-old Michael and almost-two-year-old Patty, while Dottie and I went (here it comes…) off to see the Wizard.
It was a magical, momentous holiday. On the -- comparatively! -- minor debit side: She and I had to share a bed in the airless, humid, June-in-Indiana heat. We had to share a bathroom with at least six other people billeted in rooms across the hall on Ozcot’s second floor. We had to wait until 8 p.m. (or later) for beautiful hostess Brenda to corral the cook into summoning up the two evening meals.
But…. They were delicious, as were the breakfasts and lunch. And the company was amazing. There were about thirty participants in all, of whom I was far and away the youngest. Justin Schiller and Doug and Dave Greene were college-students; at twelve, that seemed overwhelmingly grown-up to me. Otherwise, there were professional writers and artists, professors, teachers, business executives – every one of them Oz book collectors and memorabilia connoisseurs. There was L. Frank Baum’s SON, by then the only survivor of his four children, and the one who (thrillingly to me) most resembled his father.
Finally, there were representatives of Chicago’s Reilly & Lee Co., whose corporate postcard response to a John Fricke letter two-and-a-half-years earlier first had told me there was such a thing as an Oz Club. As publishers of the Oz series, they came to Ozcot to tout the autumn release of “official” title number forty: MERRY GO ROUND IN OZ. What I didn’t know until later was that I kinda instantly dumbfounded them – as well as Dick Martin, who’d illustrated the book – because, in their eyes, I was a dead-ringer for Robin Brown, the preteen boy protagonist of the story.
Across those three days, we attendees delighted in an Oz auction; an Oz sale table; a display of fan-created Oz maps; the projection of sixteen-millimeter silent Oz films from 1914 and 1925; and some individual and some en-masse endless Oz conversations. I wafted between the floor and the sky the whole time – albeit self-admittedly closer to Heaven. Every adult on site treated me as a fellow adult, and I tried to be worthy of their benevolence and their interest. (Later that summer, Fred discussed the Club and the 1963 convention in a Kansas City newspaper interview and credited my “enthusiasm” as a genuine boon to that year’s gathering. I’ve never forgotten that gracious gesture on his part….)
There was one further and, in my case, legitimately life-changing aspect to the stay. At random points, Dottie would absent herself from the ongoing Oz mania inside and sit outside in a deck chair in front of the lodge, overlooking Bass Lake. (As I recall, she was burrowing her way through Proust that summer: REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST. Given this blog, what title could be more appropriate?) By Saturday afternoon, we’d been at the conference for about twenty-four hours, and she was quietly approached by Russell MacFall, a stately and genial middle-aged gentleman who was then the night-editor of THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE and who had coauthored the first major biography of L. Frank Baum, TO PLEASE A CHILD in 1961. He spoke with my mom about the impression I was making (…!) on conventioneers and, while admitting to her that he knew I was very young to be thinking about college and career, asked if I had any ideas about potential life pursuits. She quite freely told him that my passions already were long-set and unlikely to change: journalism, theater, and music.
Mr. MacFall smiled in response and offered (as Dottie recounted all this to me later on), “Well, then. John should definitely look into Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. They excel at all three.”
That brief comment propelled me across the next six years. And although I applied to five highly-respected journalism colleges in late 1968/early 1969, I held only one as The Dream Come True.
In April 1969, I received the letter stating that I’d won a scholarship to The Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern.
Thank you, Russell MacFall, for instilling The Dream….
All on the road to Oz – and the road to and from the Oz Club.
(to be continued)
P.S. For those who don’t need to first hear the rest of the story (and good for you!), please feel free to immediately investigate -- and JOIN -- The International Wizard of Oz Club, Inc., at ozclub.org. The dues no longer remain at $2.00 per year, but THE BAUM BUGLE is now a forty-to-eighty page magazine, produced three times a year, with full color covers and an unprecedented trove of Oz news and material in every issue.
Article by John Fricke