Mar 20, 2015 IS THERE ANY REAL, RESOUNDING REASON FOR RUBY-RED RUTABAGA? – Part One
[At left: The cover of the Dell Publishing Company’s TALES OF THE WIZARD OF OZ comic book. (Trust me: you could never classify this one as a “graphic novel.”) There was only one such issue, dated March-May 1962 and derived from the OZ animated cartoons and characterizations as produced in 1961 by Videocraft International, Ltd. Center and right: The title page and front cover of the Whitman Publishing Company’s TALES OF THE WIZARD OF OZ Coloring Book, also issued in 1962. Videocraft purportedly distributed one-hundred-and-fifty different OZ “short subjects,” each approximately five minutes in length. They debuted circa September 1961 and were not nationally shown but instead syndicated to various local television markets.]
They’re three sad souls – oh, me! oh, my!
No brains! No heart! He’s much too shy!
But never mind, you three.
Here’s the Wizard, as you can see!
He’ll fix that – one! two! three! --
In the funny place called The World of Oz.
Oh, The World of Oz is a very funny place,
Where ev’ryone wears a funny, funny face.
All the streets are paved with gold,
And no one ever grows old.
In that funny land lives The Wizard of Oz!
…lyric for the opening theme song of TALES OF THE WIZARD OF OZ (1961)
TALES OF THE WIZARD OF OZ…. I don’t know what brought it to mind this week, but the thought of those animated cartoons “logged in,” and it hasn’t let go. In the process of such mental “re-visitation,” I also came up short in trying to remember how I originally heard about the series. Decades after the fact, I suppose it’s not likely that I should -- yet I can offer two possibilities.
The less-likely of the two is that -- by going into the files yesterday and checking through past issues of THE BAUM BUGLE, the magazine of The International Wizard of Oz, Inc. – I now know that the existence of the OZ episodes was foreshadowed by TV GUIDE. At this point, I can’t recollect whether or not (at age ten) I already was perusing that publication on a regular basis. It seems possible; I ever was on the lookout for teleshowings of Judy Garland’s movies as transmitted via any of Milwaukee’s four (!) commercial TV stations. Anyway, if I were so-attuned back in the day, my first knowledge of the forthcoming, new Oz cartoons would have arrived through a one-line “flash” in TV GUIDE for July 8-14, 1961. Therein, it concisely stated that Videocraft was producing one-hundred-and fifty, five-minute, animated programs to be titled TALES OF THE WIZARD OF OZ.
There’s only one other probable moment of discovery, and I do recall this very well; I just don’t know if it or TV GUIDE provided the initial encounter with the news. However, I clearly remember that – simply and unexpectedly – I came upon an entry in the MILWAUKEE JOURNAL TV magazine one Sunday morning in September 1961. (I’m afraid it’s true: my eyes by then were trained to quickly scan newsprint copy and zero-in on words like “Wizard,” “Garland,” “Judy,” and “Oz.”) I definitely recall coming upon a Monday listing for 5:50 p.m., in a ten-minute time slot: WIZARD OF OZ. (At that time, the local and national news used to be dismissed in less than a composite hour, leaving time for a “fill-in” prior to other 6 p.m. programming.)
Whatever the specifics, I know that notice FIERCELY galvanized me. Then I looked through the listings for the rest of the week -- and found “more better” news! WIZARD OF OZ also was cited on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday in a five-minute slot at 5:55 p.m. My mind was racing; I know I thought of little else from Sunday morning’s newspaper scrutiny, through fifth grade classes the next day, and up until early evening on Monday.
Maybe such rabid anticipation requires a brief explanation. By September 1961, I’d been Thoroughly Ozzified for some time; the ailment initially took hold on November 3, 1956, when I saw Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) in its television debut. Across the next five years, I discovered the series of thirty-nine “official” Oz books, as well as many of Judy’s other motion pictures and her record albums. My fandom was further flamed when the MGM film again was telecast nationwide in 1959 and 1960, and the latter year also brought an hour-long, NBC-TV adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s second Oz book, THE LAND OF OZ (1904). It starred Shirley Temper, Jonathan Winters, Agnes Moorehead, Arthur Treacher, and a host of other veteran performers (and that’s got to be the subject of a future blog!). Finally, the DISNEYLAND FOURTH ANNIVERSARY TV show in September 1957 showcased The Mouseketeers as they performed three numbers from an in-the-works-but-ultimately-never realized, feature-length musical film project, THE RAINBOW ROAD TO OZ.
All of this (and any other Ozzy happening I could trace, track, or access) immediately became central to my pre-teen world. Most fortunately, every bit of that passion -- and the onset of Oz and Garland collecting -- totally was endorsed and cultivated by my parents, other relatives, and a handful of bemused friends. So, to put it mildly, the foregoing events happily fed my mania; by age ten, I was fervent, ardent, zealous, and fanatical.
Thus, the surprise and prospect of an ongoing Oz cartoon series on Milwaukee television -- five days a week! -- put me right over the top on that Sunday/Monday in September 1961
Until I saw the first two episodes….
[to be continued]
P.S. How’s that for drama?!
If anyone wants to do a bit of for-fun “homework”/research before next week’s installment – and bone up on the backstory of the gentlemen and company that gave us TALES OF THE WIZARD OF OZ -- I wholeheartedly recommend a seemingly-excellent Rankin/Bass Productions, Inc., entry on Wikipedia. It provides a fine summary of the professional teaming of Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass.
TALES OF THE WIZARD OF OZ was the second of their Videocraft International, Ltd., efforts; the first, in 1960, was THE NEW ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO, which was mounted via the same kind of “stop-motion” figurine animation already popularized by GUMBY and DAVEY AND GOLIATH. And while the OZ series was standard, 1960s-style, limited-cel cartooning, Rankin/Bass thereafter returned to the stop-motion process and surged ahead to critical, commercial, and emotional triumph with such eventually-classic TV fare as RUDOLPH, THE RED-NOSED REINDEER, FROSTY THE SNOWMAN, THE LITTLE DRUMMER BOY, SANTA CLAUS IS COMIN’ TO TOWN, THE EASTER BUNNY IS COMIN’ TO TOWN, and etc. Many of these featured the voice-over work of celebrated Hollywood and Broadway stars, including Fred Astaire, Ethel Merman, Jimmy Durante, Mickey Rooney, and Shirley Booth.
Ironically – and nicely – the Rankin/Bass partnership kinda came full circle; their final stop-motion format Christmas program was THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS, a 1985 network TV special based on L. Frank Baum’s full-length children’s fantasy book of the same name (1902). The fifty-two minute adaptation was a bit more somber than most of the earlier, lighter, and madcap R/B ventures but managed, regardless, to provide warm, moving, and evocative entertainment. Julian P. Gardner’s script condensed Baum’s account of the origin of “the Patron Saint of Childhood,” along with his descriptions of the manner in which the various traditions of toys – and holiday gifts for children -- came into fashion. Tellingly, the teleplay concluded (as did the Baum story) with the decision passed down by The Immortals of the World: after lengthy conference and counsel, they decide to bestow the one existing Cloak of Immortality upon the aged and waning Claus, so that he might live forever to continue his blessed work.
Gotta love that Baum!
Article by John Fricke