[Above: This original poster art heralds the sensational act one finale of THE WIZARD OF OZ stage musical, 1902-1909. You’ll recognize Dorothy, the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion. Asleep on the latter is one of the show’s new characters, Pastoria, the ex-king of Oz; opposite him are two additional newbies: Tryxie Tryfle, Pastoria’s girlfriend, and Imogene the Cow – surrogate pet for Dorothy. (Toto didn’t make the cast.) This moment of the stage production depicts one of the few concepts from the 1902 musical later utilized in the 1939 MGM WIZARD OF OZ film: the poisonous poppies are about to be decimated by a snowstorm, summoned by the Good Witch of the North. (In his original book, THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, author L. Frank Baum called upon the Scarecrow and Tin Man to make a chair of their arms to carry Dorothy and Toto out of the flowers. The Lion, however, had to be rescued by being hefted onto a wooden cart – built by the Woodman – which was then pulled from the field by thousands of mice, hitched together like horses. Given such a typically Baumian solution to his own plot point, you’ll probably find it easy to understand why both the stage and movie producers opted instead for snow.)]
Happy greetings to all of you via this first of our monthly blogs for 2022 -- and welcome, also, to Judy Garland’s Centennial! Yes, this year we’ll be celebrating 100 YEARS OF JUDY, as June 10th marks the one-hundredth birthday anniversary of the incomparably talented star who played Dorothy in the 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie of THE WIZARD OF OZ.
2022 offers an additional salutation as well. We’re going to simultaneously honor 120 YEARS OF DOROTHY, as it’s been exactly twelve decades since L. Frank Baum’s little girl from Kansas began to appear in dramatizations of his book. Starting with that first appearance of “Dorothy Gale” -- on the musical stage in 1902 -- audiences have manifested pretty much nonstop enjoyment of her character ever since: in silent films, movie short subjects, and cartoons; on radio programs and television “specials”; across TV miniseries episodes and other feature films. And etc.!
This marks my ninth calendar year here as your author and guide, and I’m once again partnered with Wamego’s OZ Museum for these monthly entries of vlog and blog. Every 2022 edition will feature a different Judy Garland-as-Dorothy anecdote, plus a look back at one or more of the other entertainers who have brought that character to life in multiple mediums. We hope you’ll enjoy!
[Above: Thanks to THE WIZARD OF OZ, Montgomery and Stone became a famous show business duo, and they stayed with the show across four seasons (1902-1906). The production continued to successfully tour with two other entertainers for three more years, but the roles of the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow were then inextricably linked to their creators.]
Frank Baum’s extraordinary children’s book, THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, was published in Chicago in 1900. It was such a success that, within months, the author, his illustrator W. W. [William Wallace] Denslow, and composer Paul Tietjens aligned to craft a musical comedy for the stage, built around the OZ story and characters. By the time THE WIZARD OF OZ show opened, however (at Chicago’s Grand Opera House on June 16, 1902), director Julian Mitchell and producer Fred Hamlin had scuttled much of Baum’s plot, script, and lyrics, as well as a number of Tietjens’ melodies. Hamlin and Mitchell also created subplots of romance and Ozzy political intrigue, interpolated musical numbers by multiple songwriters to better showcase specific personalities and their fictional oddities, and subtracted roles and added new ones.
Among the jettisoned Baum creations were the Wicked Witch of the West, Toto, the winged monkeys, and the silver shoes. Added to the dramatis personae were a returning king of Oz (Pastoria); his fiancée, a Kansas waitress (Tryxie Tryfle); a conspirator who hopes to depose the Wizard (Sir Wilie Gyle); a Munchkin Maid as a love interest for the Tin Woodman (Cynthia Cynch, the Lady Lunatic); and the poet laureate of Oz and suitor of Dorothy (Sir Dashemoff Daily).
It certainly wasn’t the Oz of Baum’s book, but audiences didn’t care. From opening night – and across seven theatrical seasons to come – the Hamlin/Mitchell conglomeration was irresistible: lavish sets and costumes, knockabout songs and dances, an enormous ensemble company (including chorus girls in stage garb that was long on tights and short on skirts), and vaudeville and legitimate theater entertainers who knew how to kick it across to enraptured partisans of all ages. It’s no exaggeration to say that THE WIZARD OF OZ was the CATS or WICKED of its day, which is an even greater triumph when one considers that there was no radio, television, or internet to proclaim and advertise its glories.
The initial success of OZ was principally founded on the hijinks and hilarity offered by David C. Montgomery and Fred A. Stone, who played the Tin Woodman and Scarecrow. The former vaudeville partners were ideally cast, especially Stone. After OZ, his capering, acrobatics, “eccentric” dancing, and evident charisma led him to a further forty-year career. (Stone is perhaps best-remembered today as Katharine Hepburn’s father in the romantic drama, ALICE ADAMS -- a classic 1935 film in which his occasional in-character bursts of energy and frustration are welcome indication of the Stone dynamism.)
[Above: Anna Laughlin as the very first Dorothy Gale in theatrical history.]
However, for all the omnipresence of the man of straw and the man of tin, the onstage WIZARD OF OZ most definitely required a Dorothy. The producer and director found her in Anna Laughlin, an ideal and multitalented miss of sixteen (or eighteen, depending on a claimed birthdate of October 11, 1885, or a newspaper list that notated births of two years prior and references instead October 11, 1883). Born in Sacramento, CA, Ms. Laughlin began working at age seven; while still a preteen, she excelled as a “child elocutionist” in her native state and was soon thereafter on tour with stock companies in such then-fashionable theatrical staples as UNCLE TOM’S CABIN (she played “Little Eva” from 1893-94) and LITTLE LORD FAUNTLEROY. Anna also appeared at San Francisco’s Grove Street Theatre in ROSEDALE and made her New York debut on October 22, 1894, in A MAN WITHOUT A COUNTRY. Following a stint in EDITHA'S BURGLAR, she travelled for two seasons in vaudeville (her act included impressions of famous stage stars), journeyed for two more seasons with the Wilbur Opera Company, and finally made her Broadway debut at the Casino Roof Garden in THE CASINO BOY, followed by THE BELLE OF BOHEMIA. After London and Great Britain appearances with the latter show, Anna returned to New York for THE CASINO GIRL at the Knickerbocker Theatre, and then performed in THE NEW YORKERS before being paged to play in THE WIZARD OF OZ.
[Above: Fred Stone, Anna Laughlin, and Dave Montgomery in some of their act two costumes for “Songs of All Nations.” The mid-show divertissement was designed as pure entertainment, and as was then the fashion, several members of the principal cast did individual specialty numbers that had little or nothing to do with the story or their characters. The sequence was alternately known as the “Ball of All Nations” or “Dance of All Nations.”]
OZ turned out to be a three-season stint for Anna Laughlin, and she continued with the production until late April 1905. While there were returns to Chicago, Boston, and theaters in and around New York for “popular demand” engagements, the show was on tour across much of that time. It made Baum’s story and characters ever-more-famous, but it was wearing on the costumes, the scenery, and especially the crew and cast. In addition, long-running entertainments of that era often jostled their musical numbers a bit, whether to keep things fresh for the performers and audiences, or in an effort to create a more pleasing or show-stopping moment for the production. Among Anna's revolving songs throughout her tenure as Dorothy: "When You Love, Love, Love," “An Afternoon Tea,” and "When We Get What's A'Comin' to Us" (all of them trio routines, also featuring the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman), the cakewalk number "Rosalie" and "The Different Ways of Making Love"(duets with Cynthia Cynch, the Lady Lunatic), "Carrie Barry," “Under a Panama,” “The Sweetest Girl in Dixie,” “Honey, My Sweet,” and "I'll Be Your Honey in the Springtime." (THE WIZARD OF OZ onstage -- as might be ascertained from these song titles -- didn't much depend on its musical numbers to further the plot. Of those referenced above, only "When We Get What's A'Comin' to Us" had particular Ozzy references.)
Dorothy was only one of three major female characters in the revamped OZ, yet Anna – with her diminutive stature and the character’s perceived innocence – more than stood out against any competition. Amy Leslie was then the renowned and critically adept theater journalist for the Chicago DAILY NEWS; she complimented even Ms. Laughlin’s very first performance in 1902 and defined her as "pretty as a doll and dressed exactly like one, all grace and spirit, earnest absorption, and modest intentness. [She] was a twinkling little star all by herself. Her songs were made delightful by her personality, her dainty feet, cunning ways, and true small voice and by her cunning simplicity. Her comedy was trim and fetching, and she shone a charming figure in every scene."
Seven months later, when the show opened on Broadway, New York critics were quick to enthuse as well. Anna was “a really graceful dancer" who "displayed more dramatic ability than any other member of the cast.” That being said, there were also dissenters in both towns; Laughlin was perhaps more piquant personality and terpsichorean than vocalist, and some reviewers found her initial songs “painful at first,” with “nasal tinny tones.” Her delivery was categorized as that of "emery-paper calibre" that could "ignite any match"; she sang her songs "as if she were about to choke”!
However, Anna’s undeniable charm made her second only to Montgomery and Stone as an audience favorite. She also had personal reasons to rejoice during her stint in OZ; soon after celebrating her second anniversary as Dorothy Gale, she married diamond merchant/jeweler Dwight Vanaman Monroe on July 12, 1904. (Per publicity at the time, he was initially her “stage door Johnny” and so taken by her performance that he saw the show every night for four weeks from the same seat in the auditorium.)
[Above: Detail from the first page of a lengthy program list of characters and performers for THE WIZARD OF OZ stage production, circa 1903.]
With barely time off to have a daughter (Lucy Monroe, born in 1906), Anna continued her theatrical success: THE LAND OF NOD (1905), HIS MAJESTY (1906), THE TOP O’ TH’ WORLD (1907), MAMA’S BOY(1912), and WHEN CLAUDIA SMILES (1914). She also had a solo variety show in 1909, and during this era, one critic summed up her appeal: "Miss Laughlin is such a demure, pretty, and winsome little body that her appearance alone is sufficient to please the most hardened playgoer or vaudeville attendant . . . but when combined with her truly artistic singing, it is a treat that none can fail to enjoy.” Between 1913-1915, Anna also appeared in more than a dozen silent films, including the short subject, THE REBELLIOUS PUPIL, and the full-length features NORTHERN LIGHTS, THE GREYHOUND, THE AMAZING MR. FELLMAN, WHAT HAPPENED TO FATHER, and (in 1916) THE CROWN PRINCE’S DOUBLE.
After such a continuous, stringent schedule, the actress enjoyed what she later termed “the happiest years of my life. [I] quit the stage without a regret . . . .” The Monroes reveled in their quiet years together until his passing in 2021. He left Laughlin in comparative comfort, and when she did undertake a brief Broadway comeback four years later, it was as a dramatic actress in THE FALL GUY. Reflecting on her return, Anna admitted, “I would not be back now . . . only my husband died,” and she modestly referenced her current assignment and performance in an interview at the time: “[This] part could play itself. I mean by that that any actress of fair ability could do well in it. I have been fortunate in being able to find such a role, for maybe in time, people will forget I was a dancer and remember me as an actress.”
Anna’s final years were much spent with her daughter, who had become an admired and well-known singer. Unfortunately, they were sadly estranged for a time, and as a result, the emotionally bereft Anna took her own life in New York City on April 5, 1937. In a touching and upbeat gesture of reminiscence, however, the Chicago TRIBUNE obituary the next day harked back to the 1902 premiere of Baum’s stage musical and proudly noted the very first “acting” Dorothy Gale: “Miss Laughlin was a great favorite with Chicagoans when she appeared at the Grand Opera House with Fred Stone and Dave Montgomery in the long engagement of THE WIZARD OF OZ.”
Now for that centennial gal! As promised in this month’s vlog, our January visit with Judy discusses her initial exposure to THE WIZARD OF OZ.
[Above: A four-year-old and her father: “Baby” Frances Ethel Gumm – nine years before she became Judy Garland – poses here with her beloved Frank Gumm; detail from a family snapshot circa 1926.]
As early as 1939, MGM circulated press quotes about Judy Garland’s Oz recollections and specifically the memory that her father had read the Oz book to her. The anecdotes varied a bit, and such daughter/dad Ozian bonding occurred either at home or backstage at the countless theaters to which “The Gumm Sisters” and/or their parents (“Jack and Virginia Lee”/ “Frank and Ethel Gumm”) toured between 1924 and 1935. Whenever she summoned them up, however, the remembrances must have been especially poignant for Judy. Her father had died in November 1935 of a swift and virulent case of meningitis, just six weeks after she signed her MGM contract.
She nonetheless and happily reminisced about him, adding that THE WIZARD OF OZ “was always my favorite story, only I never dared even dream that someday I'd be playing Princess Dorothy on the screen.” That last statement indicates that Frank Gumm may have also read later titles in the Oz series to her, and that Judy herself was aware that THE WIZARD OF OZ was far from the only Oz book; Dorothy wasn’t crowned a princess until OZMA OF OZ, which is volume three.
Confusing the situation a bit, however, Judy then told a 1967 radio interviewer that "I'd never read any of the Oz books, and I didn't quite understand [the plot of the film] until they played me the score. Then I began to believe in the stories I’d never read.” (Of course, one can align the earlier and later statements and interpret that coalescence as the fact that SHE never read the books herself – but they were read TO her.)
In a lovely bit of additional OZ philosophy, Judy later found a contemporary way to relate to MGM’s adaptation of Baum’s character and story. She turned sixteen on June 10, 1938, just two months prior to beginning preproduction work on THE WIZARD OF OZ. By August, she was posing for reference photographs and Technicolor test footage, modeling multiple possibilities for Dorothy’s costume and hair style and working with Norman Taurog, the first of the five directors assigned to the picture. The film’s principal photography was finally completed the following March, and Judy was sent “back East” on a multi-week personal appearance tour. While enjoying a record-breaking Broadway stint at Loew’s State Theatre, she discussed her new-found maturity and current age with journalist Robert McIlwaine. The girl’s statements demonstrate a press agentry savvy in that she’s “plugging” her forthcoming film. Yet her choice of words also reveals her natural intuition, savvy, and the realization that she’s just spent more than six months as the centerpiece of one of the most expensive films ever produced across Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s fifteen year history. After her own decade-plus in vaudeville – beginning at age two in 1924 and continuing until mid-1935 – and after seven movie “shorts” and ever-more-important roles in six feature films, she’d hit a remarkable and enviable professional AND personal peak and realized it...at age sixteen:
“It’s a lot like THE WIZARD OF OZ. When you’re growing up, you can hardly wait for the time to pass, and things seem so dull and slow. Then one day, you wake up, and there you are, just where you’ve always wanted to be, and it’s wonderful . . . [I]t’s like that in the picture. The cabin [sic] I live in is just plain and drab . . . it’s all black and white. Then one day, it’s blown to the Land of Oz, and when I open the door, the lovely color of everything is like fairyland. You can’t imagine what a contrast it is. That’s about the way that it feels to me now that I’m sixteen.”
[Above: Frances Ethel Gumm and “Terry” in their most famous motion picture roles.]
Many thanks to all of you for diving into 2022 with us! Please check out this month’s vlog for additional Garland and Laughlin art (the link’s accessible on the OZ Museum Facebook page), and we hope you’ll be with us again next month for more about Judy – and about the three young ladies who first appeared as Dorothy in the movies. 😊
Mr. Fricke wishes to thank the following people and publications for exemplary aid in assembling the foregoing information:
Sean P. Duffley, “Anna Laughlin Speaks Out,” THE BAUM BUGLE (Spring 2005)
Amy Leslie, “The Wizard of Oz,” The Chicago DAILY NEWS (June 1902), quoted in THE BAUM BUGLE (Autumn 1994)
David Maxine, “Dorothy’s Oz Book,” HUNGRY TIGER TALK blog (April 22, 2011)
“Ray” (blogger): https://annalaughlinblog.wordpress.com/
Mark Evan Swartz, OZ BEFORE THE RAINBOW (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000)
Briscoe, Johnson, THE ACTORS’ BIRTHDAY BOOK (New York: Moffat, Yard and Company, 1907)
[Note: THE BAUM BUGLE is the journal of The International Wizard of Oz Club, Inc.: ozclub.org]
Article by John Fricke