Wamego #65 February 5, 2016
“Renaissance” Man – or Treasure Was In the Luck of the Beholder!
[Above: More than eighty years ago, composer lrene Rodgers -- and Schroeder & Gunther, lnc., of New York -- paid musical homage to Our Favorite Land in a series of (apparently) minimally-circulated piano solos. This copy was discovered in a six foot stack of sheet music in a Milwaukee used-book store, circa 1960.)
l’ve been on the roster of The lnternational Wizard of Oz Club, lnc., since l was eleven; in fact, the Club itself was only five years old when l joined up. ln terms of joy, friendship, and almost fifty-four years of magical memories, very little else in my experience comes close to matching the associations, celebrations, and sharing that has grown out of that membership.
And today’s particular reminiscence comes by dint of the fact that, earlier this week, l was browsing through some past editions of the Club magazine, THE BAUM BUGLE, and re-re-reading favorite features. Unexpectedly, my “remembrance circuits” were set alight with an article written by Paul Bienvenue -- Baum bibliographer supreme – in which he compared the collecting of decades ago with the at-the-touch-of-a-pad collecting of today. The ease of E-bay and on-line shopping has all but replaced the challenges of the 20th Century, when one sought Oz (and, in my case, Judy Garland) material, memorabilia, and ephemera at any available used book store, flea market, garage or estate sale…or Goodwill, Salvation Army, and St. Vincent de Paul store.
While today’s simplicity of purchase can’t be denied or minimized, Paul’s journalese sent me into an immediate flashback to preteen and teen days in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, when a weekly trip “downtown” by bus (a ninety-minute-or-more round trip) was an expected, accepted thing in my development. (l began such jaunts when l was seven; the world was safer then….) l’d spend time at the Central Library and Museum; at the City News magazine and out-of-town newspaper emporium (weekly VARlETY – the show business “bible” -- was a must); and, especially, at the now long-gone but vividly remembered Renaissance Book Shop on Wisconsin Avenue. There were four walls of floor-to-ceiling book shelves, three or four rows of floor-to-ceiling book shelves within those four walls; a small upstairs alcove comprising the same set-up; and a dirt-floor basement, lit by a single bulb hanging on an extension cord, with the latter draped over a careless nail embedded in the rafters. THAT’S where wooden tables provided stacks of both recent and decades-old issues of such publications as LlFE, LOOK, THE SATURDAY EVENING POST, ad infinitum.
Fortunately for any readers here, it would be impossible for me to recall ALL the purchases l made there across a decade of active collecting. And via E-bay, anyone today could probably pick up in an afternoon everything it took me ten years to amass “in person.” But Paul’s writings brought back some genuinely glorious recollections of what treasure hunting used to be about….
l remember picking up several color-plate (and even a few first) edition Oz series books at the Renaissance. There were good copies of Baum’s pseudonymous books for teenage girls (written “as” Edith Van Dyne) in both the ”Aunt Jane’s Nieces” and “The Flying Girl’ series; also his charming fantasy for youngsters, BABES lN BlRDLAND (written “as” Laura Bancroft) and his adult novel, DAUGHTERS OF DESTlNY (written “as” Schuyler Staunton; at age ten, l brought it home – for $2.50 -- in triumph, but the dramatic title alone gave my parents very nervous pause). There were two beautiful copies of THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ and OZMA OF OZ, embossed covers and interiors pristinely preserved from their first print runs in, respectively, 1904 and 1907. There was Ruth Plumly Thompson’s early assemblage of fantasy short stores, THE PRlNCESS OF COZYTOWN, and a copy of LlFE from July 17, 1939, which included a two-page spread of exclusive color Kodachrome photographs of Judy & Co. in the about-to-be-released Metro Goldwyn Mayer musical film version of THE WlZARD OF OZ.
[Above: During his career, L. Frank Baum wrote under several pen names, turning out books for all ages: children, teens, and adults. ln their day, his “Aunt Jane’s Nieces” series sold almost as well as The Oz Books; he used the pseudonym Edith Van Dyne for those ten volumes, as well as the two “Flying Girl” titles.)
Perhaps most interesting (or, at least, still preserved here in the stack-piles of memorabilia on hand), were two curiozities: a piece of 1932 sheet music, ”The Discovery of Oz the Terrible” – one of a series of six short piano solos in a TALES FROM THE LAND OF OZ series. lf l’m correctly remembering, such music was a bit of early hoztory that the other major Oz collectors of the time had yet to come across themselves.
And, finally, there was a first edition, second printing of Baum’s THE LlFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS (1902), a story that was discussed here in the blog for last December 4th. What compounded my excitement in finding my specific copy was the coincidental but beautifully hand-lettered inscription to the book’s original owner on the front-free endpaper; what were the chances that it would be THAT name? My glee was further magnified a few months later, when l was able to take the book to the annual Oz Club convention at Bass Lake, lndiana – summer home of Baum’s last surviving son, Harry Neal. SANTA CLAUS was dedicated to him by his proud father, and l had the opportunity to add his signature to my copy, as well.
[Above: The front endpapers of the herein-discussed copy of Baum’s THE LlFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS, plus the book’s dedication page, amended to me in the early 1960s by Baum’s son.]
ln retrospect, l’m profoundly grateful to Harry; to those who ran “The Renaissance”; and to my supportive, if oft-time incredulous parents. Their verbal and physical reactions on their ONE trip to the bookstore (”lt’s a fire trap!” -- “There’s no floor; it’s just DlRT” -- “Don’t step in that water hole in the floor!”) comprise another precious reflection.
But right now, my special thanks to the Oz Club, to THE BAUM BUGLE, and to Paul Bienvenue for awakening some – indeed! – extraordinary (if personal) contemplations about those wonderful, weekly mini-journeys l got to make to Oz….
Article by John Fricke