Wamego #84 June 16, 2017
[Above: The souvenir program for the “preview premiere” of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s THE WIZARD OF OZ at Hollywood’s Grauman’s Chinese Theatre – August 15, 1939.]
For well over one hundred years, Oz collecting has been a happy obsession for countless fans. The manner in which they’ve gathered and extolled select (or any and ALL) mementos is both an ongoing and ever-more apparent phenomenon. Scores of pictures are now shared on a daily basis via diverse social networks, as people of many ages continually photograph or video – and then post -- examples of their possessions. Sometimes these are the latest, newest products; sometimes, they’re just-obtained vintage goods. Increasingly, one can see entire “Oz rooms” or private or personal “Oz museums.”
It’s always been fun…or it should be! And while I’ve never been a collector in the scramble-for-it-all sense, there are a whole lot of items that have come up or come my way, starting when I was a preteen, that have traveled with me since. This month’s blog shares four of those.
The “preview premiere” program for the opening night of MGM’s famous motion picture version of THE WIZARD OF OZ (above) was passed along through a couple of people before it reached me. I was told, however, that it originated with someone in the immediate Baum family, which makes it an even more treasured keepsake here. (Not shown in the photo is the frail, semi-transparent, “wraparound” tissue, which protected the program cover from fingerprints.)
The “antique” magazine above – SCREEN ROMANCES for August 1939 – touted on its cover the concurrent theatrical debut/release of MGM’S OZ with an exquisite painting by Earl Christy. Elsewhere in that issue, the editors provided a feature-length summary of the film plot, illustrated with movie stills.
Finally, these next two collectibles signify some age-old personal history. I won them at the same time, as they were offered in a single “lot” during one of the rabidly-awaited International Wizard of Oz Club Ozmopolitan Convention auctions, circa 1965. The incomparable Dick Martin – legendary Oz illustrator, writer, historian, collector – served as annual auctioneer during those happy years, and his underplayed hawking, drier-than-Stritch-wit, and fulsome knowledge made him both supremely “right” for the job, as well as a most entertaining and diverting showman (in what, in other hands, might have proved a somewhat drearier process).
On this occasion, fourteen-year-old me (!) was primed to add to my then-fledgling Oz archive. I’d already been amassing Oziana and Garlandiana for approximately seven years, and -- across two prior Oz Club outings -- had learned to save my money for months-in-advance to be ready for any Convention possibilities. At what turned out to be a pivotal 1965 moment, Dick picked up and brandished a 1930s Bobbs-Merrill edition of THE WIZARD OF OZ: a reprint of the first series book from an era not yet represented on my back-home-in-Milwaukee shelves. I was unsure as to whether or not I’d bid, until Dick extracted a postcard (tucked deep among the book’s pages) and commented that it had been found “with” the volume; it seemed conceivable that a previous owner had kept them together.
The picture postcard was also a vintage object, dating from 1939. Its illustrations depicted colorized photographs of both Judy Garland herself and a full-front view of the 1231 Stone Canyon Road home in exclusive Bel Air, California, which she had built for her mother (and any visiting family) around the time OZ was in production at MGM:
That clinched it. I knew I’d enjoy having a copy of THE WIZARD OF OZ book from that time period; it would be the “earliest” edition I’d own of the title. But the new-to-me Garland postcard was something unusual and seemingly otherwise unobtainable -- at least to a teenager from the Midwest in 1965. Remember, this was many, many years prior to eBay, internet sales, and the like, and while the Oz Club Conventions were special for many reasons, their auctions and sales tables were unique and paramount among these!
Before Dick started the bidding, he also noted that the front endpapers of the book were autographed, in ink or pencil, by roughly thirty people; across the top of the flyleaf was proprietarily written “Stella Royale – M.G.M.” In his own inimitable fashion, however, Dick admitted he recognized none of the signatures or names, and he honestly couldn’t/wouldn’t claim that the book belonged to anyone connected to the studio or OZ film. But, he repeated, the postcard had been tucked in the book; he was going to keep them together and sell them as a lot…and did he hear a bid of fifty cents?
[Above: The front cover label of a 1930s edition of THE WIZARD OF OZ – the same as that sold “at auction” by the International Wizard of Oz Club during their national convention, circa 1965.]
Well, I leapt right in, and against some level of competition, the price quickly climbed to a grand and grandiose total of $3.50. I had the final bid. Delighted to acquire and examine the postcard, I went on to scrutinize the interior autographs. To my surprise, I was quickly able to (at least potentially) “trace” the book – indeed! – to MGM circa 1938: one of the signatures read “Bobby Connolly,” the name of the man who’d choreographed the musical numbers in the Metro musical. Just beneath his name was another, one-word, cursive inscription, “Cowboy,” which further confirmed the association -- or at least the suspicion. The year prior, I’d purchased at the Convention auction a negative Photostat of pages of the 1939 OZ pressbook, which included material assembled at and by MGM for cross-country theaters to utilize in their promotional pursuits on behalf of the movie. A “prepared” article therein referred to one of the assistant choreographers, Arthur Appel, who (it was noted) more frequently went by the nickname, “Cowboy.”
As MGM’s OZ had been my initial, 1956 introduction to Baum, Garland, et al, I was thrilled to realize what (it seemed) I had bought. True to the then-tradition and generosity-of-spirit among Oz Club members and Oz collectors, they were equally happy for me. The book most certainly appeared to be “legit” and actually, somehow, connected to the 1939 film. (At the time, the Club was largely comprised of Oz book collectors; there were very few MGM “amassers” – and comparatively little new or old MGM-related product to amass in those innocent, pre-mass-marketing days!)
Further inspection of the other autographs across the first two pages of that copy of THE WIZARD OF OZ indicated several names that were amended by their signators with such supplementary phrases as “a Munchkin townswoman” and “one of the Munchkins of Munchkinland.” Back then, there was no means of determining what those additional words might denote; no one, even in the Oz Club, was aware of the monikers of the actors who’d played “the little people who live in this land” in 1938-39. Regardless, the book became a treasured element of my early collection, and it’s something with which I chose not to part, even a few years later when I entered college; later – after graduation -- moved to New York; and (for a while) pretty much stopped accumulating Oz and/or Garland material.
Fade out on that circa-1965 acquisition. Fade in on the fiftieth OZ motion picture anniversary in 1989 and the first edition of Steve Cox’s research-wonderbook, THE MUNCHKINS REMEMBER….” There, in black-and-white, were the names of all the original Metro “little people” participants he could track.
And there, on the interior front cover and flyleaf of my auction purchase -- of nearly a quarter-century earlier -- were the signatures of some two-dozen people who corresponded to the names referenced in his text. Among them were Margaret Williams and Jannette Fern (later Margaret Pellegrini and Fern Formica); Yvonne Moray and Olga Nardone of “the Lullaby League,” Alta Stevens, Jeane LaBarbera, Jessie Kelley, Dominick Magro, Prince Denis, IKE [Matina]…and Stella Royale herself.
Of course, none of us assembled conventioneers – fifty-plus years ago – was aware of what Dick Martin was holding when he hoisted that Oz book into the air for the consideration of bidders. My recollection is that not even Dick himself knew or spoke about the byways through which the book had arrived at the Bass Lake, Indiana, convention location as a probable sales item to benefit Club coffers. But how excited I was (then and since): first, for the postcard that Stella Royale seems to have secured as a souvenir about the star of the MGM film; second, for Ms. Royale’s private copy of a 1930s edition of THE WIZARD OF OZ itself; third, for the immediately-perceived autographs she obtained from two of the movie’s choreographers; and – eventually and historically – as an amazing souvenir of her “life in Munchkinland” back in 1938 at Culver City, California.
The combined wonder and marvel are personal emotions that have never abated….
Just like the magic of Oz itself!
Article by John Fricke