After the nonstop Munchkin Memory Mélange of the last two months, I'd planned to taper down a bit for today’s installment by addressing some lower-key, Ozzy miscellany. There are a number of “personal favorite" Oz pop-culture references I wanted to communicate -- not because they're key, but because they were fleeting fun at the time they happened. (As the three discussed below date back to the 1960s, they're apparently memorable, too…at least in terms of whichever side of my brain was long-ago turned over to The Baum/Garland Repository.)


Then, earlier this week, there came word of a much more major, "breaking news" Oz achievement, which is definitely worth the sharing. So we'll build up to that and, hopefully, strike a decent balance between past/present -- and frivolous/fantastic – along the way.


By the late 1950s and early 1960s, I was a relentless newspaper/magazine “scanner” -- a doggedly intrepid preteen in search of any passing mention of Oz or its “Royal Historian,” L. Frank Baum. Baum authored THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ for publication in 1900 and, subsequently, thirteen others of the official forty Oz books. My eyes similarly were swiftly trained to zero-in on the words “Judy Garland.” (For any of the uninitiated [yeah… sure…], Judy played Dorothy Gale in the 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer motion picture of THE WIZARD OF OZ, which -- twenty years later -- was in the process of becoming a legendary annual TV event.)


Anyway, my patience and perseverance in reading were often rewarded, and sometimes in odd ways.

# 1) During that era, the MILWAUKEE JOURNAL afternoon paper still purveyed a six-days-per-week, four-page, tinted insert called “The Green Sheet.” It was the pulpy home of local and syndicated columnists, lighter or celebrity-oriented wire service stories, cartoon strips, a crossword puzzle, the “Ask Andy” science competition, and continuing lessons in the art of playing bridge. One of The Green Sheet’s most popular, formidable and long-term features was a unique-to-the-JOURNAL advice blog, written by veteran female scribe, Ione Quinby Griggs. Most of the letters she received and published seemed legit, as was Mrs. Griggs’s counsel-in-response.  Yet her main communication for November 1, 1963, had its own tinge of Midwestern Madness, and – at age twelve -- I was thrilled no end to see the headline: “Magic Fails for ‘Oscar of Oz’ and His Wife Often Suffers.” The corresponding article detailed the plight of a Milwaukee wife, whose husband (an amateur magician promoting himself as ‘Oscar of Oz’) insisted that she assist in his act. Unfortunately, his tricks usually floundered, and ‘Mrs. Oz’ often found herself bruised and battered. She finally was moved to write to Mrs. Griggs and ask if she was within her rights to resign her onstage assignment, as ‘Oscar’ had brought home a buzz saw to practice cutting a woman in half.


(After all these years, I forget the Griggs reaction, but I think it had something to do with paid-up medical insurance….)


# 2) At that same time in the early 1960s, there was a daily, one-panel, syndicated cartoon titled “Big George,” drawn by Virgil Partch to highlight the misadventures of a middle-aged, blowhard husband. (He was sort of a cross between a modern-age Fred Flintstone and Jackie Gleason’s Ralph Kramden.) In the February 25, 1965, entry, Partch showed a loudly-defensive Big George as he declaimed to his wife, “Whaddaya mean, ‘Not informed’? Didn’t I read ALL the Oz Books?”


(I could identify!)


#3) There’s one more vintage cartoon that especially resonated. In late 1966 or thereabouts, I was leafing through a stack of my mom’s magazines and careened into a one-panel illustration in (as I recall) GOOD HOUSEKEEPING. It depicted a couple sitting outside on the deck of their home, looking up across the horizon. In the distance, a full rainbow arched through the sky; at its peak perched the tiny, tiny figure of a woman. The accompanying caption quoted the man to his wife: “Well, if that ISN’T Judy Garland, it’s the best imitation I ever heard!”




I’d planned to incorporate one or two additional, comparable citations, but they can wait until a future column.  There was far more interesting news last Tuesday, January 20th, as herein described by journalist Andrew Pulver in THE GUARDIAN, Pulitzer Prize-honored publication of the United Kingdom. The headline says it all:


Follow the Yellow Brick Road:

 THE WIZARD OF OZ is most influential Hollywood film

Judy Garland’s 1939 musical tops academic study’s list of films of cultural significance,

with STAR WARS in second and PSYCHO in third


Pulver goes on to report that: “An academic study claims it has established that the most culturally significant Hollywood film ever made is the 1939 Technicolor musical The Wizard of Oz.

“In a paper entitled ‘Cross-evaluation of Metrics to Estimate the Significance of Creative Works,’ issued by Illinois’ Northwestern University, the study’s authors – Max Wasserman, Xiao Han T Zeng, and Luís AN Amaral – analysed the ‘movie connections’ section of the Internet Movie Database in an effort to uncover the ‘most cited’ film – and, therefore, the most influential. Their resulting table excludes any film less than 25 years older than the citee, to reinforce the sense of what the paper calls ‘lasting importance.’ THE WIZARD OF OZ, which starred Judy Garland and Frank Morgan, heads the list with some 565 so-called ‘long-gap citations,’ a considerable distance ahead of the first STAR WARS movie (released in 1977), which took second spot with 297. Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 thriller, PSYCHO, came in third with a score of 241, followed by the wartime classic, CASABLANCA, with 212. The top five is rounded out by another film first released in 1939, the sprawling Civil War epic, GONE WITH THE WIND.

“The authors acknowledge that film-makers are under no requirement to cite their influences, unlike academia, but that their statistical table of ‘long-gap citation’ – as opposed to other measures, such as Metacritic or IMDb user ratings -- correlate more closely with a more conventional arbiter of cultural significance, the National Film Registry, established by the United States Congress. Each of the top five films was added to the registry in 1989 as part of its opening induction, with the exception of PSYCHO, which was added in 1992.

“The most recent film in the table is STAR WARS EPISODE V—THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, first released in 1980 and placed at number 32, with 56 citations, while the oldest are two Universal-produced horror films, both from 1931: FRANKENSTEIN starring Boris Karloff, and DRACULA with Bela Lugosi. The former, in seventh place with 170 citations, did better than the latter, in 18th place with 90.

“Top 10 most influential Hollywood films: 1) THE WIZARD OF OZ, 565 citations; 2)  STAR WARS, 297; 3) PSYCHO, 241; 4)  CASABLANCA, 212; 5) GONE WITH THE WIND,198; 6) KING KONG, 191; 7) FRANKENSTEIN, 170; 8) THE GODFATHER, 162; 9) CITIZEN KANE, 143; 10) 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, 143.”


There’s nothing I really can add to THAT, except – as a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at
“Illinois’ Northwestern University” – I’m feeling tangentially proud all over the place!

[My sincere thanks to John Walther, Steve Jarrett, and all the others who have forwarded THE GUARDIAN link since last Tuesday. And my ongoing appreciation to The International Wizard of Oz Club, Inc. (ozclub.org), whose age-old issues of THE BAUM BUGLE -- treasured since my childhood -- enabled me to pinpoint specifics about the "Big George" and "Oscar of Oz" recollections.]


Article by John Fricke


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