Wamego #71 May 6, 2016



 [Above: A quartet of glowing images from NBC-TV’s 1960 production of THE LAND OF OZ. From top left and moving clockwise: Shirley Temple beneficently rules as Princess Ozma; Arthur Treacher (Graves, the Butler) glowers as Agnes Moorehead (Mombi the Witch) plots, and Jonathan Winters (Lord Nikidik) frets; Frances Bergen’s Glinda is flanked by Ben Blue, Gil Lamb, Sterling Holloway, and Temple as (respectively) The Scarecrow, The Tin Woodman, Jack Pumpkinhead, and Tip; Sterling and Shirley -- Jack and Tip -- set off for the Emerald City.]


A few days ago, a fellow Oz fan gently reminded me that – on a couple of earlier occasions in the nearly two-year history of this blog – I’d referenced memories of NBC’s hour-long color TV version of THE LAND OF OZ, back in 1960. The same friend then (much more pointedly) indicated that I’d promised to discuss my recollections of and reactions to that production at some juncture in these writings.

Point[edly] taken!

Based on THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ (L. Frank Baum’s 1904 sequel to 1900’s THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ), this television adaptation launched a season of weekly programs of “The Shirley Temple Show” – twenty-five installments telecast between September 18, 1960, and July 16, 1961. The series was, in effect, an extension of “The Shirley Temple Storybook,” which had run for sixteen episodes across the twelve months of 1958.

I loved many of Temple’s old movies; I loved the fairy-tale fare of much of her 1958 programming. But I was unprepared for her return, especially the manner in which the heralding thereof reached me as a nine-year-old in Milwaukee. That being said, it was a summer Sunday in 1960 when one of our two city newspapers printed a tiny blurb that the Temple show would return on September 18th – and launch its season with THE LAND OF OZ.


I was electrified.

By then, I’d been a manic Oz fan for nearly four years. I’d discovered the 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film in 1956. (Perhaps, given hindsight, it’s more accurate to say that IT had discovered ME....) Two years later, purely by accident, I learned about the Oz Book Series; by 1960, I’d already received, read, and re-re-re-read at least a score of the thirty-nine titles. I’m pretty sure, as well, that – even then -- I was wondering why there weren’t dramatizations of those stories. I’d seen both telecasts (to that date) of MGM’s OZ…and I wanted MORE.

So the news about Shirley’s LAND was the kind of information that was thrilling, preoccupying; it soaked in through my pores – and stayed. Later that same summer afternoon, our family went to a local park for what I’m pretty certain must have been one of my dad’s regular semi-pro baseball games. I wasn’t much of a sports fan [we’ll pause here for the exclamations of surprise…], and I clearly, vividly remember spending a solitary afternoon on an adjacent playground, restlessly alternating between the swings, the teeter-totter, a jungle gym, and a small gazebo…every moment spent in trying to imagine what THE LAND OF OZ would be like, and wondering how I’d make it until September.


[Above left: The two faces of Temple – as Tip and Ozma – crown a special TV GUIDE Magazine “Close-Up” feature, heralding the return of her series and the premiere of THE LAND OF OZ. Right: Holloway, Blue, Lamb, and Temple assemble and bring to life The Gump, as vividly personated by Maurice Dallimore.]


When the hyper-anticipated 18th of that month finally arrived, I was beyond primed. I wasn’t sure how they’d turn a twenty-four-chapter novel into a fifty-two-minute TV show, and I remember being instantly disgruntled at the show’s immediate derivations from Baum’s plot – and the introduction of “original characters.” But there coexisted as well an ever-more omnipresent and wonderful level of enchantment. Baum’s basic story remained reasonably intact -- and it was, after all…OZ.

Shirley herself enacted a royal and certainly beauteous Princess Ozma and made fine work of the boy, Tip, into whom Ozma is transformed by the wicked witch Mombi. The latter was sublimely incarnated by a Cockney-voiced Agnes Moorehead, consciously or not establishing the territory she’d later conquer as the more sophisticated Endora of “Bewitched.” (Both that classic sitcom and THE LAND OF OZ were produced by William Asher.)

As “new” Ozians, Jonathan Winters gleefully, effectively chewed scenery as the ambitiously evil Lord Nikidik, and Arthur Treacher was uber-welcome in another of his classic manservant incarnations as Graves, the Butler. I was especially delighted by veteran actors Ben Blue and Gil Lamb as The Scarecrow and Tin Man, probably because their entertainment smarts, intelligent playing, and expert costuming (by Bob Carlton) so-echoed the approach to those roles taken by Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, and MGM. Sterling Holloway offered a totally endearing Jack Pumpkinhead; his singular, immediately identifiable “sound” was perfect for Jack. Legendary Mel Blanc provided equally diverting aural pleasures while speaking for The Sawhorse, and Frances Bergen (as in “Mrs. Edgar…” and mother-of-Candice) appeared as a lovely, regal Glinda the Good.

[Side note: In 1996, Peter Jones and I were working as co-producers and co-writers of an A&E cable network, two-hour “Biography” special about Judy Garland. Peter is “Hollywood royalty”; his grandfather was the respected early film star Conrad Nagel, and through family and his own work as a documentarian, Peter knew many entertainment luminaries. One day, while we were conferring in his office, Peter took a call from Frances Bergen. I quietly lit up and softly asked him to please tell her how much I’d enjoyed her Glinda, some thirty-six years earlier. She was astounded that anyone remembered, so Peter put me on the phone with her, too; a lovely memory!]

THE LAND OF OZ was successful enough to be rerun; I think it turned up again during summer 1961. Then for nearly fifty years, I had only memory to go on. (Well, that, and faint echoes of a one-time-hearing of an audio recording of the soundtrack, played at a Bass Lake, Indiana, International Wizard of Oz Club convention in the mid-1960s.) In more recent years, the original videotape has been cleanly and most brightly released on DVD -- and for those who might not want to collect absolutely all-things-Oz, you’ll find a link below to all fifty-two minutes of Shirley Temple’s Ozziness.



[Above left: Gil Lamb and Ben Blue are astoundingly draped in (what seem to be) clever recreations of the original Adrian costumes for MGM’s THE WIZARD OF OZ, designed twenty-one years earlier. Right: The DVD shell cover for the home video release of two of the Shirley Temple TV programs, including THE LAND OF OZ.]


If I wasn’t purist-ly and completely enraptured by that 1960 telecast of THE LAND OF OZ, I was dazzled and regaled. Seeing the show again now, it seems that the entertainment values of Shirley’s sojourn are even more apparent. (For one thing, I didn’t view the episode in color until the DVD incarnation -- and it do add!) But the class-act actors, the obvious/reasonable respect for Baum’s Oz, and the evocative fairy tale atmosphere certainly work their wonders for me.

To be sure, 1960 now is a far, far distant land. But I found out while watching the video and writing this piece that the nine-year-old Oz fan of that era is never far away.

At all. -- I hope you enjoy, too!  


Article by John Fricke


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