by John Fricke
[Above: Four of the major protagonists of THE SCARECROW OF OZ are evocatively captured here by illustrator John R. Neill. This color plate from the original book depicts its title character with soon-to-be expatriate Americans, Cap’n Bill, Button-Bright, and Trot, as they’ve finally made their way to Oz near the finish of L. Frank Baum’s story. They’re shown as they express delight over the house and dinner that have magically appeared for them out of nowhere -- in an otherwise unsettled region of the Quadling County. Any guesses who’s responsible?]
Each of L. Frank Baum’s first three Oz books – THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ (1900), THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ (1904), and OZMA OF OZ (1907) -- eventually became a musical extravaganza for the stage. In the process of such evolution, however, all of them were vastly rewritten and then produced under different names. His seventh Oz book, THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ (1913), was adapted a year later (using its own title) for the first full-length, silent screen movie comedy made by Baum’s Oz Film Manufacturing Company. (Please see the preceding 2023 Vlogs and Blogs for details about all of these.)
The third motion picture project undertaken by Oz Films was a happy amalgam of characters and plot lines from at least three early Oz books. Titled HIS MAJESTY, THE SCARECROW OF OZ (1914), it was even heralded as “in many respects a photo-play of the famous ‘Wizard of Oz’ . . . .” Familiar personalities from that story DID appear in the movie, but the central narrative was basically built upon a new romantic duo and their subplot. Princess Gloria and Pon, the Gardener’s Boy, were representative of the all-ages audience the Oz Film Company hoped to attract:
Thus, while the movie also showed Dorothy in her discovery of the Scarecrow, their subsequent meeting with the Tin Woodman, and in a later encounter with the Cowardly Lion and the Wizard himself, the Kansas girl also traveled with Button-Bright from THE ROAD TO OZ and wicked witch Old Mombi from THE LAND OF OZ. Shown below – just in front of the Woodman’s tin castle -- are four of these favorites: the ax-wielder himself (Pierre Couderc), Button-Bright (Mildred Harris), the Scarecrow (Frank Moore), and Dorothy (Violet MacMillan):
As in so many classic Oz stories, most everyone in the HIS MAJESTY, THE SCARECROW cast wound up in the Emerald City, with the Scarecrow on the throne of Oz, and Gloria and Pon disenchanted from Mombi’s evil magic. To prevent further mischief from the harridan, the Wizard imprisoned her in a can of Preserved Sandwitches [sic]. (Note that he’s painted out “Sand” and the final “es” of that second word so as to kick across the point.) In the still below, Gloria (Vivian Reed) stands just to the left of the Great and Powerful Oz (J. Charles Hayden):
As referenced in a couple of this year’s earlier Oz Book Vlogs and Blogs, the fare produced by the Oz Film Company quickly failed. There was, in 1914, no established (or even barely imagined) audience for family entertainment. The Alliance Programme distributors tried to send out HIS MAJESTY, THE SCARECROW once again in 1915, blatantly retitling it and terming it “a Spectacular Film Version” of the fondly remembered Broadway and touring THE WIZARD OF OZ, which had run for seven seasons a decade earlier. Such proclamation was both false and to no avail:
Yet all was not lost, and L. Frank Baum quickly manifested his customary cleverness. As he claimed in his introduction to THE SCARECROW OF OZ – his fantasy book for 1915 – “The Army of Children” who regularly wrote to him “insisted that Trot and Cap’n Bill be admitted to the Land of Oz.” The two had made many fans and friends among the youngsters who’d read about them in Baum’s books for 1911 and 1912 (respectively), THE SEA FAIRIES and SKY ISLAND. So the canny author freely adapted the plot of HIS MAJESTY, THE SCARECROW OF OZ and launched his revision with the little California girl and her aged, one-legged sailor companion. Their unexpected journey to Oz begins while they’re “row boating” off the coast of Southern California and are then suddenly sucked deep below the ocean’s surface by a gigantic whirlpool. Trot “was almost sure that unseen arms were about her, supporting her and protecting her’ – a hark back to her adventures with the mermaids of THE SEA FAIRIES. Traditional “imperial illustrator of Oz,” John R. Neill, alludes to that possibility in one of his many extraordinary pictures for THE SCARECROW OF OZ book:
Trot and Cap’n Bill surface in a small cavern, where they’re soon joined by another victim of the whirlpool -- one of Baum’s most outlandish creations. The flying, talking, strongly opinionated, but basically most congenial Ork proves a staunch and resourceful companion:
The Ork eventually enables all of them to escape the cave through underground tunnels leading to the earth’s surface. They emerge on a small island, and with the help of magic “shrinking” berries, the two humans become miniaturized, and the Ork carries them off across the ocean in search of a more popular and populated terrain. When they arrive at a vast continent, some counteractive berries restore the child and sailor to size, and they soon discover they’re in the Land of Mo, where it rains exemplary lemonade and snows buttered popcorn. (Baum’s earlier children’s fantasy about that terrain, THE MAGICAL MONARCH OF MO, had been published in 1903.) During their brief overnight visit there, Trot and Cap’n Bill are hosted by another of Baum’s amiable oddities, the Bumpy Man:
The next morning, the California duo meet – or, actually, dig out of a popcorn drift -- an old friend, Button-Bright of Philadelphia. Oz fans knew him, as referenced above, as a younger boy in the 1909 book, THE ROAD TO OZ. Trot and Cap’n Bill knew him from their previous trek to SKY ISLAND, where he’d proved to be a bright and ingenious colleague:
Continuing their adventures, the trio of Americans and the Ork escape from Mo to the adjacent Oz, flying over the Deadly Desert to get there. (The “enlarging” berries are once again of help here, but you’ll have to read the book to discover how. 😊 ) They come back to earth in Jinxland, which is part of Oz but separated from the main country itself by an impassable mountain gulf. The Ork leaves them there to fly off in search of his own native country, and the little girl, boy, and stalwart sailor are almost instantly challenged by the circumstances of their new environment. In short order, they meet the beautiful princess Gloria and Pon the Gardener’s Boy (a deposed prince) who are deeply in love with each other:
Their romance, however, is continually thwarted by her evil uncle, who has stolen the Jinxland throne from Gloria; Baum names the man King Krewl, to get his message across. Krewl wants to marry off Gloria – in exchange for vast riches -- to a disgusting old Lord whom Baum names Googly-Goo (to get across THAT message).
The two conspirators agree to engage the local Wicked Witch – here identified as Blinkie (to avoid confusion with Mombi from THE LAND OF OZ book). Promised a majestic reward of her own, the harridan agrees to magically, tragically freeze Gloria’s heart so that she can no longer love Pon and, instead, accept Googly-Goo.
By this point in the saga, Glinda the Good of Oz has read about these heinous machinations in her Great Record Book and further learns that Blinkie has already and also turned Cap’n Bill into a tiny grasshopper. (The tiny insect even has one wooden leg to match that possessed by Bill as a forcibly retired sailor.) Glinda takes action by deputizing the wondrous and worthy Scarecrow, dispatching him to Jinxland to address these issues and further protect the visitors. As shown here, that ex-straw-dinary gentleman declaratively accepts such a challenge:
Unfortunately, by the time he gets to Jinxland, Blinkie has already achieved her desired goal and frozen Gloria’s heart. John R. Neill didn’t picture that moment in THE SCARECROW OF OZ book, so here’s a frame from the 1914 HIS MAJESTY, THE SCARECROW OF OZ film, with Mai Wells as the Wicked Witch and Vivian Reed as Gloria:
[For additional Neill illustrations from THE SCARECROW OF OZ book, please see the Vlog that introduced this Blog. It was posted on November 28th on Wamego’s OZ Museum Facebook page.]
Once in Jinxland, the Scarecrow consoles the Witch’s victims and then proceeds to Krewl’s castle, demanding that the usurper relinquish his throne to Gloria, the rightful ruler. The king, his army, and Googly-Goo manage to make a prisoner of the straw man, who’s bound to a stake and sentenced to be burned in a bonfire.
Just as the flames begin to climb – and when it seems we’ve seen the last of the Scarecrow of Oz -- the Ork and a band of more than fifty of his fellow country-birds sweep in and rescue our hero. The power of the drafts caused by their propeller tails blow old Googly Goo up into a tree, while Krewl Is sent head over heels until he crashes against a stone wall. (His helplessness continues when one of the bigger Orks flies down and sits on him.)
With order restored, the Scarecrow takes the next logical step and asks the Ork army to search the country and bring him Blinkie:
Once delivered, she is sprinkled with a magic powder the Scarecrow has been provided by Glinda, and Blinkie instantly begins to shrink. She begs for the antidote, but she’s refused its curative powers until – in the Scarecrow’s words – “you give [Cap’n Bill] back his proper form” and “melt Princess Gloria’s heart.” In a manic and fascinating ceremony (excitingly detailed by Baum), Blinkie performs what she terms “an awful job” and dwindles to almost nothing before she can accomplish those tasks. When she does, the Scarecrow fulfills his promise and dusts her with a second compound.
She, indeed, stops shrinking, but that powder also eliminates all of Blinkie’s magical powers, leaving Jinxland forever free from her threats, curses, and enchantments. Krewl is given Pon’s old job as gardener, while the young lad is chosen by the new Queen Gloria as her consort.
To wrap things up, the Scarecrow, Button-Bright, Trot, and Cap’n Bill are carried by four of the Orks over the bottomless gulf to the Quadling Country of Oz, where sovereign Glinda eventually greets and welcomes them. On a subsequent visit to the Emerald City, all three of the United States citizens become delightedly, gratefully, and permanently ensconced in Oz.
All of this, of course, accrues credit to the character considered to be “the most popular man in all the land.” To underscore that claim, Baum wrote to his publishers that his wife, Maud Gage Baum, had termed THE SCARECROW OF OZ his “best work.” In turn, the Reilly & Britton Company capitalized on this statement and headlined the front dust jacket flap of some editions of the book with the acclamatory phrase, “My Best! says the Author!”
(Well, to interject a very personal opinion here, I’d say that The Scarecrow of Oz – my own favorite Oz book character --deserves no less!)
P.S. For any still wondering, ‘twas the Wizard of Oz himself whose magic provided the lodging and meals for our four travelers as they traversed Oz to reach Glinda’s palace. Of course, the Scarecrow never eats, which is why there are only three place settings on the colorful Neill plate (no pun intended!) at the top of this Blog. 😊
Article by John Fricke