Wamego#57 Oct 2, 2015
ONCE MORE OVER THE RAINBOW!
OZtoberFest 2015 Draws Big Crowds, Creates Excitement, Makes Memories
[From left: Paul Miles Schneider, John Fricke, Myrna Swensen, Johnpaul Cafiero, Ryan Jay, and Jane Albright after last Friday’s Big Reveal of new OZ Museum acquisitions.]
What a sensational weekend woz OZtoberFest 2015!
This isn’t precisely a new outcome, of course. Since 2005, there have been a dozen or so Ozzy celebrations involving The OZ Museum and The Columbian Theatre – along with the local Chamber of Commerce and numerous other establishments in Wamego, Kansas. Whether full-scale or underplayed, these occasions have enjoyed success, happy and public reaction, and – always – crowds of people, whether they’re uber-Ozzy adherents, families out for fun, or partying passersby.
[Ready for their close-up: Contestants in cOZtume for OZtoberFest 2015.]
But this year’s indoor and outdoor activities carried attendees to new levels of participation and pleasure – and they responded in force. The weather was bright and sunny as the closed-off, downtown Wamego main street played host to several thousands of every age; they -- one-and-all -- reveled in both the Oz and non-Oz aspects of the event. The latter included the annual exhibition of vintage cars; vendors, food, and live music; face-painting, games, and “inflatables” for the kids; and etc. The “Oz-tractions” held forth in costume competitions; the brightly painted Oz-graphics on the plate glass windows of many business and offices; an Oz trivia challenge developed by International Wizard of Oz Club honcho Jane Albright; an Oz scavenger hunt overseen by Oz author Paul Miles Schneider; and an especially delightful Hollywood-comes-to-the-corn-belt moment when both Jane and TV/radio film critic Ryan Jay (a fellow lifelong Oz fan) left their handprints and traced their signatures in cement for eventual placement in the interior “forecourt” of The OZ Museum’s mini-theater.
[Albright and Jay – immortalized at their “cement event”!]
The Museum itself drew hundreds and hundreds of paid admissions across Saturday and Sunday, with cross-generational partakers who ranged from full-fledged devotees to the pop culture-curious. Whatever their motivation, they pondered with Oz-struck and wide eyes the several thousand items mounted, labeled, and described in two dozen beautifully-lit glass cases. The throngs particularly were drawn to Wamego’s latest acquisitions: two original Adrian-designed Munchkin jackets, worn on-screen during December 1938 filming of THE WIZARD OF OZ at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios in Culver City (CA), as well as two replica costumes created for OZ “little people” actors Margaret Pellegrini and Clarence Swensen to don in their Oz festival appearances during the 1990s and early 2000s.
The foremost aficionados then packed themselves into the mini-theater for Ryan’s presentations attendant to the thirtieth anniversary of Disney’s RETURN TO OZ, which included his exclusive interview with “Princess Ozma” actress Emma Ridley. (That “one-on-one,” recorded last year, can now be seen on Ry’s website: http://ryanjayreviews.com/exclusive-return-to-oz-emma-ridley-ozma-interview/) Audiences also queued up to hear Friar Johnpaul Cafiero’s comments on his family’s seemingly endless Oz fascination – and the backstory as to how their massive collection has since found a wondrous home in The OZ Museum. Finally, and as ever, I much appreciated the multitude who came out to marvel at both the photo history that had been assembled to tell the saga of Adrian and his diverse costume concepts for MGM’S OZ, and the amalgamation of film, TV, and animated clips that traced many sung, danced, and acted impersonations of The Scarecrow – offered in Wamego to honor the centennial year of L. Frank Baum’s ninth Oz book, THE SCARECROW OF OZ.
[Myrna and the succeeding generation(s) of Ozzies!]
An exceptional highlight of OZtoberFest, of course, was provided by the presence of Munchkin-by-Marriage Myrna Swensen, whose 1938 emergency appendectomy precluded her appearance in the MGM film, but who later married Munchkin Solider Clarence and thus became a cherished member of the extended Oz gang. Besides presenting The OZ Museum with one of her husband’s “travelling costumes,” Myrna reminisced, autographed, and delivered a major assist in the Friday night Big Reveal, staged in the gallery of The Columbian Theatre. The wardrobe additions to the Museum’s archive were dramatically unveiled on that occasion (“pay PLENTY of attention to the garb behind the curtain!”), as were the artful rendering of -- and fund-raising plans for -- the Museum’s new façade. Cheers, gratitude, and huzzahs, also, to Corey Reeves for his co-emcee duties on such an auspicious evening.
[The suggested façade design: a $150,000 frontage renovation for The OZ Museum.]
In summation: The 2015 OZtoberFest attracted thousands of people. They traveled from the United Kingdom, from Missouri, Texas, Virginia, North Carolina, Minnesota, New England, Colorado, down the block…and who knows where-all-else. Whether peering at Oz collectibles or posing and playing with the cOZtumed characters, the omnipresent joy of the children -- and people who used to be children -- was palpable, jubilant, and inspirational.
As Oz eternally seems to be!
So…: Watch here for a posting of dates for the 2016 OZtoberFest – and join us then, please; it’s an exultant, amazing, thrilling rainbow road!
Article by John Fricke