It’s that once-a-year time -- if on a whole new level, thanks to 2020! But wheresoever you’re dispersed, and howsoever you celebrate the December holidays this year, may the warmth and glow of Oz -- “the land of love” – go with you.
Pending current activities and topics here, this blog has sometimes addressed and sometimes foregone a “December festival” theme. (One year, it covered instead the just-opened new stage musical, CHASING RAINBOWS: THE ROAD TO OZ. Another time, there was an ongoing series in progress that didn’t countenance interruption: eight consecutive installments of memories about the Munchkin actors from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s THE WIZARD OF OZ movie!)
For 2020, however, it seems best to herald the holiday spirit as well as is possible, and there are three Christmas tie-ins to share. The first of these is shown “up top”: a reconstruction of an original 1902 advertising poster for L. Frank Baum’s gentle, inspirational saga of THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS. The poster art was adapted from the book’s original Mary Cowles Clark cover, and sterling Oz illustrator and collector Dick Martin reconfigured it as a wrap-around design for the Christmas 1965 issue of THE BAUM BUGLE, publication of The International Wizard of Oz Club (ozclub.org). Baum’s SANTA CLAUS fantasy is evocative, beautifully of its day, and still in print in modern editions – or you can try to catch the stop-motion animated retelling done by Rankin/Bass, Inc., first televised on CBS in December 1985. Just last week, the program turned up again on the AMC (American Movie Classics) cable station and may still be in rotation there.
We now segue from a poster to the Sunday “funnies”: From August 1904-February 1905, Baum and cartoonist Walt McDougall collaborated on twenty-seven weeks of a Sunday color-comic newspaper serial, QUEER VISITORS FROM THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ. (It was designed as promotion for the concurrent publication of the second Oz book, THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ, although the plotlines had nothing in common but their leading players: the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, Sawhorse, Woggle-Bug, and Jack Pumpkinhead.) By that time, Baum and W. W. Denslow – who illustrated THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ in 1900 -- had long-since dissolved their professional partnership; the split was not without rancor. Denslow, however, was co-copyright holder of the first Oz book, and he decided to competitively launch his own Sunday comic page, DENSLOW’S SCARECROW AND TIN-MAN. It premiered in December 1904 with his pictures and original short story, “Dorothy’s Christmas Tree.” (The series continued into March 1905.)
In Denslow’s initial tale, the little Kansas Girl is depicted in the Emerald City at an unexplained juncture during her first visit to Oz. She’s, understandably, somewhat forlorn at missing the holidays in Kansas with all her friends and Aunt Em. The Scarecrow and Tin Man are compassionate, indeed, but have to have the concept of Christmas – Santa, tree, and gifts – explained to them. Once they realize how important this is to “Little Dotty,” however, they dash off to the Enchanted Forest, with the Cowardly Lion pulling the sleigh (please see above). Their initial troubles in finding a tree are solved when they discover “Jack”-in-a-Box, who’s tumbled from Santa’s sleigh in flight. Jack leads them to “a snow-covered crystal lodge” where Santa keeps pre-decorated Christmas trees, in case any are “wanted in a hurry.” Santa’s head gardener gifts the travelers from Oz with a perfect tree for Dorothy, as well as with presents for her and “her friends, the good little Munchkins.” Meanwhile, Santa himself is already off on his ’round-the-world duties, so the Tin Man is given “new furs and long white whiskers” as a deputy Santa. (“It is not as good as the real thing, of course, but it is better than having none at all,” offers the philosophical gardener.)
According to Denslow’s narrative, “The Tin Man was so well-disguised that Dorothy did not know him at first” (please see above). But he, the Scarecrow, and the Lion thrilled her with their thoughtfulness and generosity, and Denslow noted with satisfaction, “Great was the joy that night at the Emerald Palace.” Though Dorothy still missed her Aunt Em, she gratefully acknowledged, “This was the best Christmas I ever had.”
Finally, we turn to Baum’s successor as “Royal Historian of Oz.” Ruth Plumly Thompson wrote nineteen original Oz books between 1921-1939 and had two additional titles published by the Oz Club in the 1970s. Miss Thompson was an early member of the Club and contributed to THE BAUM BUGLE on a fairly regular basis. For the Christmas 1966 issue, she offered these gleeful – and utterly Thompsonian – stanzas. (They were bordered, top-and-bottom, by John R. Neill drawings of Emerald City revelers from Baum’s THE ROAD TO OZ, which are also reproduced here.)
THE WIZARD’S CHRISTMAS INVENTION
The Wizard of Oz just confided to me
He'd invented a self-giving Christmas gift-tree!
Christmas Day in the morning, it's due to appear
In the throne room - a'twinkle with bright lights and cheer!
And mixed with the tinsel and ornaments - laden
With gifts for each Prince, Princess, child, man and maiden.
For Dorothy, Ozma, for Betsy and Trot!
A clever old boy is our Wiz, is he not?
And I cannot help thinking how great it woul be
if WE had a self-trimming, gift-giving tree!
There’s nothing I can add to such holiday magic, especially as imagined, envisioned, and realized by Baum, Denslow, Thompson, and Neill – certainly the four preeminent Oz patriots while they were on this side of the rainbow. I will, however, add my gratitude to all of you who read here, whether regularly or once-in-a-while . . . or even if you just come by for the pictures! It’s a privilege to “talk Oz” with the remarkable extended family who love any or all aspects of its charms, and I thank you for making that possible.
Plus . . . a final doff of the Santa hat to Clint Stueve of The OZ Museum and Columbian Theatre – who hires me! – and to Marissa Streeter, who takes the words and art I submit and turns ’em into “The Wonderful World of Oz Blog.” 😊
Oz and Ozma forever!
(And if you’re a Dickens fan, too: God bless us – everyone!)
[Note: In 2009, ALL the color comic pages by Baum, Denslow, and McDougall were reprinted in full color for the first time since 1904 in a deluxe, hardcover, oversize (16x18 inches) volume, QUEER VISITORS FROM THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ. This extraordinary assemblage from Sunday Press also includes brief biographies of the authors/illustrators, a concise history of amazing Oz comic books, appreciations by noted Oz scholars -- and more. Visit www.sundaypress.com for information; it's a collectible no Oz fan should be with out.]
Article by John Fricke