[Above: Among other joyous proceedings, 2019 marks yet another milestone for what was recently declared – out of 47,000 titles -- “the most influential film ever made.”]
Are you ready to rejoice?!
Let’s launch 2019 with a few notes about some of this year’s anniversaries – all of which will be celebrated by a large percentage of either the general populace, the greater Oz family . . . or both.
Perhaps the most far-reaching and all-encompassing of the 2019 Oz-related events will be, of course, the eightieth “birthday” of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1939 movie musical classic, THE WIZARD OF OZ. Warner Bros. now controls that film (and other MGM output, given the WB business “absorption” of the Turner Entertainment Company in 1996), and they’re starting up the OZ revelry NOW – even though the actual premiere showings of OZ didn’t begin until August 1939. In conjunction with Warners and TCM, Fathom Events has booked Judy Garland & Company in some 350 cinemas across the United States on Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, January 27th, 29th, and 30th. For locations near you, please visit: https://fathomevents.com/events/tcm2019-the-wizard-of-oz-80th-anniversary-1939/theaters -- and do it NOW, as the Fathom publicists have already confirmed that advance ticket sales are strong!
[Above: A vintage ad for the first two productions of The Oz Film Manufacturing Company – one hundred and five years ago.]
2019 also marks at least two other Ozzy cinematic anniversaries – at either end of the far reaches of history’s arc. It’s been 105 years since (back in 1914) L. Frank Baum’s own Oz Film Manufacturing Company produced and released silent movie versions of THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ, THE MAGIC CLOAK OF OZ (an adaptation of Baum’s non-Oz children’s fantasy, QUEEN ZIXI OF IX), and HIS MAJESTY, THE SCARECROW OF OZ (also known as THE NEW WIZARD OF OZ). All are available on DVD, perhaps most easily viewed as “extras” in the various deluxe packagings of the 1939 OZ, distributed by Warner Home Video. Much more recently, in 2014, many audiences enjoyed the theatrical release of LEGENDS OF OZ: DOROTHY’S RETURN, based on a book by Roger S. Baum, great-grandson of L. Frank Baum himself. The animated feature boasted original songs and an all-star voice cast, including Martin Short, Dan Ackroyd, Kelsey Grammer, Jim Belushi, Patrick Stewart, Bernadette Peters, and Lea Michele. This may only be a fifth anniversary “marker” for LEGENDS OF OZ . . . but it’s a property well worth investigating and heralding, especially for children.
[Above: The principal cast of the most recent feature-length Oz theatrical motion picture.]
Equal in their own ways to the importance and resonance of MGM’s THE WIZARD OF OZ are two centennial events for 2019. First of all, May 6th marks one hundred years since the “Royal Historian of Oz” left us -- just nine days short of his sixty-third birthday. One can’t be unhappy or depressed about such a date, however, when it’s considered what L. Frank Baum provided the world. His imagination, talent, showmanship, and ability to communicate resulted in timeless creations; the spectrum, richness, and coalescence of his gifts resulted in one of the greatest legacies in literary, entertainment, and pop culture history. So here’s to the man who started it all, and without whom there would be no wonderful world of Oz.
[Above: May 6, 2019, marks the centennial of the passing of L. Frank Baum – whose life’s work has proved to be eternal . . . and miraculously engaging and unforgettable.]
Happily, this year’s other centennial is a totally blissful occasion: one hundred years since the publication of Baum’s thirteenth full-length Oz book, THE MAGIC OF OZ. It’s one of the most captivating of the series, aligning as it does Dorothy and the Wizard on a new adventure to seek the proper birthday gift for Princess Ozma. They’re accompanied on their journey into the dangerous depths of the Gillikin Country of Oz by the ever-welcome Cowardly Lion and his compatriot, the Hungry Tiger. Both beasts are necessary adjuncts when it comes time to confront the returning and ever-nefarious Nome King. Additionally, the latter has a duplicitous Munchkin lad as his partner-in-crime, and the boy is all the more treacherous in that he possesses the magical power (in Baum’s own words) “to transform anyone into beast, bird, or fish, or anything else, and back again, [because he] knew how to pronounce the mystical word: Pyrzqxgl.” Suffice it to say that, at one point, all four of our friends from the Emerald City end up in shapes other than their own; so, for that matter, does the Nome King. Meanwhile, a second birthday-gift-expedition to retrieve a Magic Flower comes thisclose to spelling doom for little Trot from California and her peg-legged sailor companion, Cap’n Bill.
[Above left: John R. Neill’s original cover design for THE MAGIC OF OZ. (You’ll have to read the story to discover the significance of the monkey!) Above right: In a Neill color plate drawing from the original edition of the book, Dorothy comfortably rides into the famed Gugu Forest astride her dear friend, the Cowardly Lion.]
A magic word. A Magic Flower. A magical island. A magical birthday cake. A magical cast of characters; what else could the book be titled?! As is typical and wondrous, Baum’s journalese provides thrilling entertainment from start to finish and ends rapturously at Ozma’s birthday party. The merriment there is augmented by such delightful celebrities as the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman, Aunt Em and Uncle Henry, Glinda, Jack Pumpkinhead, the Patchwork Girl, the Woggle-Bug, and Tik-Tok -- among others. THE MAGIC OF OZ is well worth your time and attention, especially this year . . . and it’s most certainly available from The OZ Museum Gift Shop for your centennial pleasure!
Actually, though . . . doesn’t ALL of the foregoing (and so much more) fall under the general heading of “the magic of Oz”? How fortunate are we, the blessed beneficiaries of that uplifting, heartwarming, jubilant sorcery -- in so many of the forms and formats in which we’ve met it.
Here’s to those we celebrate in 2019 -- and evermore!
Article by John Fricke