[Above: Back in 1908, eight-year-old Romola Remus of Chicago was the first to portray Dorothy Gale on the motion picture screen. In that process, she posed for both silent movies and still pictures, all of which (as seen here) were then hand-colored before Oz author L. Frank Baum displayed them to audiences as part of his multi-media production, the FAIRYLOGUE AND RADIO-PLAYS. Romola is joined above by Frank Burns (the Scarecrow), George E. Wilson (the Tin Woodman), Joseph Schrode (the Cowardly Lion), and -- as Dick Martin and David L. Greene phrased it in THE OZ SCRAPBOOK (New York: Random House, 1977) – a “strange beast with . . . white main and whiskers.” Their mystified semi-conclusion: It “may or may not be the Hungry Tiger.”]
We’re now in the second month of our 2022 celebration of Judy Garland's centenary, and there's no question that she's considered THE Dorothy Gale of the silver screen by billions of world-wide movie fans. At the conclusion of this month’s blog, you’ll read about several people who first personally met Judy "as" Dorothy -- costume and all -- away from the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios.
Several decades earlier, however, there were multiple other actresses who preceded Judy in motion pictures and also portrayed L. Frank Baum’s preeminent heroine. We’re going to discuss the first three of them now; it’s all part of our 2022 charter to honor Ms. Garland and simultaneously salute some of the little girls, young ladies, and women who’ve assayed the role of Dorothy Gale in diverse mediums across the past one-hundred-and-twenty years.
[Above: A real dog was cast as Toto in the first Oz movies, the 1908 FAIRYLOGUE AND RADIO-PLAYS. As that canine poses here with Dorothy, one gets the sense of how petite the eight-year-old Romola Remus must have been at the time.]
1908: THE FAIRYLOGUE AND RADIO-PLAYS
The first “movie Dorothy,” Romola Remus, was born on April 7, 1900, and it would have been around the time of her eighth birthday when she played in L. Frank Baum’s production of the FAIRYLOGUE AND RADIO-PLAYS. In a lengthy 1984 reminiscence, Ms. Remus remembered that her mother took her to Chicago’s Selig Polyscope Company to audition for the project, which was conceived and executed by Baum himself as an elaborate, expensive combination of hand-tinted silent film footage, slides, and his own “in person” lecture/narration – all with live orchestral accompaniment. Once engaged, Romola was paid five dollars per day, and as she gleefully recalled, got to skip school to do the work; later in the year, she made personal appearances with Baum when the completed presentation played in Chicago. The RADIO-PLAYS were not Romola’s first movie experience, as she’d begun some five years prior, augmenting those early film assignments with stage roles and a variety act. She eventually progressed to vaudeville and night club engagements as a young adult.
Romola Remus Dunlap was regarded as an accomplished piano, organ, and voice instructor in her later years, and she played organ at Chicago’s Twelfth Church of Christ Scientist from 1975 until just prior to her passing on February 17, 1987. Her funeral followed a written scenario, THE FINAL CURTAIN, which she had herself prepared to include parting words for her friends and an organ rendition of the “Romola Waltz,” which she’d composed in the 1920s.
[Above: L. Frank Baum -- “the Wizard of Oz Man,” bedecked in white – served as emcee of the FAIRYLOGUE AND RADIO-PLAYS in 1908, after having already overseen production of that multi-media extravaganza earlier in the year. Shown with him, left-to-right, bottom-to-top: Joseph Schrode (the Cowardly Lion), Frank Burns (the Scarecrow), George E. Wilson (the Tin Woodman), William Gillespie or Will Morrison (Tip), Maud Harrington or Delilah Leitzel (Ozma), Paul de Dupont (the Nome King), Bronson Ward, Jr. (Jack Pumpkinhead), Grace Elder (Chick the Cherub), Wallace Illington (Tik-Tok), Clarence Nearing (Prince Evring), Burns Wantling (the Hungry Tiger), and Romola Remus (Dorothy).]
I need to offer a personal interjection here. From June 15-17, 1984, those of us attending the Ozmopolitan Convention of The International Wizard of Oz Club (ozclub.org) at Castle Park, MI, had the superlative treat of meeting/experiencing Romola Remus. Her presence was extraordinary, both because she’d been the first motion picture Dorothy Gale, and because she was one of the few people then alive who had actually known and worked with L. Frank Baum, the “Royal Historian of Oz” himself. Seeming decades younger than her eighty-four years, the self-described “once-a-ham-always-a-ham” Romola pretty much decimated convention attendees when she opened Friday’s entertainment with a near thirty-minute vaudeville turn as a singer/pianist. In turn, she was delighted by the ovation she received and later wrote, “I felt so very joyous and close to the folks that evening – sometimes these experiences go deeper than words can express.”
There was even greater excitement the following evening when she recollected – at length – the RADIO-PLAYS and her association with Frank Baum. Seeing herself in some of the slides made seventy-six years earlier, she felt “a very strange emotional experience . . . like [looking at] a distant relative.” Yet she was happily moved and offered, “Mr. Baum would have been pleased if he had been here tonight. I thought a great deal of L. Frank Baum, and I think he liked me, too. He used to call me his ‘little Dorothy’,” and often brought Romola “little presents . . . a doll or a box of candy. He never talked down to me; he talked to me as an adult.”
The RADIO-PLAYS movies were shot using natural light, and Romola recalled wearing little make-up. She didn’t know the Oz stories prior to being cast as Dorothy, so when it came time to film, “I did what I was told. Mr. Otis Turner directed, [but Mr. Baum] superintended everything. [He] went from one set to another to give directions to everyone – but always in a calm voice. Not aggressive, very calm. But when he gave an order, they respected it.” There were no written scripts; instead, the cast would be read a specific section of one of the Oz books, and they’d then reenact the sequence in front of the camera.
[Above: Among her latter day appearances, Romola served as 1985’s Grand Marshall of the Oz Festival Parade at the Mt. Holyoke College Summer Theatre in South Hadley, MA. She is seen here signing autographs for fans as well as in an informal close-up.]
When the RADIO-PLAYS production was booked in Chicago in autumn 1908, Romola remembered that she was called upon to appear with Baum in what were classified as special “Dorothy matinees.” She said that he would “have the children [in the audience] come up on stage to shake hands with me” at the conclusion of the show. “Then he’d go into the lobby and autograph his books.” Ms. Remus particularly recalled the author’s impact during the performances themselves, noting that Baum “had a wonderful rapport with the audience. When he came onstage, you could feel that magnetic rapport. He was dressed all in white . . . very genteel, with a reserved manner, but without being cold. He had warmth and graciousness. I think he loved people very much.”
1910: THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ
The next cinematic Oz adventure came when Colonel William F. Selig relocated his company from Chicago to Los Angeles in 1909; a year later, they released four one-reel film adaptations built around Baum characters and episodes from his stories. Each was about twelve or thirteen minutes in length, and of the Selig titles -- THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, DOROTHY AND THE SCARECROW IN OZ, THE LAND OF OZ, and JOHN DOUGH AND THE CHERUB – only the first is thus far known to have survived.
The Dorothy of that film is now thought to have been nine-year-old Bebe Daniels, born on January 14, 1901, to parents who were “theatricals.” She made her stage debut at four in THE SQUAW MAN and then toured in Shakespeare’s RICHARD III; within a year she was working with such highly regarded producers as Oliver Morosco and David Belasco. She starred in her first film, A COMMON ENEMY, when she was seven, and Selig’s THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ followed that. In subsequent decades, it’s estimated that Ms. Daniels made upwards of two hundred motion pictures. Known for her early screen work with comedian Harold Lloyd, she later signed with Paramount and made the transition from ingenue to leading lady roles, appearing with Rudolph Valentino in MONSIEUR BEAUCAIRE in 1924. The switchover from silent features to “talkies” saw Bebe score at RKO Studios in the musical, RIO RITA, and she wrapped up her screen career in the mid-1930s after a brief tenure at Warner Bros. As Mrs. Ben Lyon, she moved to London in the late 1930s, where she and her husband enjoyed outstanding success on radio. They were still living there when Bebe died on March 16, 1971.
[Two views of Bebe Daniels, the second Dorothy Gale of the screen: In the 1910 THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ film, Bebe/Dorothy and the Scarecrow (possibly Robert Leonard) can be seen here in company with Imogene the Cow (right) and Hank the Mule in Kansas-- just prior to the cyclone. The second, more formal portrait photo dates from 1933, when Ms. Daniels posed in conjunction with her starring role in what would become a classic Hollywood musical, FORTY-SECOND STREET.]
In addition to her retroactive fame as a screen Dorothy Gale, Bebe Daniels is unquestionably best remembered today as temperamental theatrical star Dorothy (!) Brock in the 1933 “backstage/let’s put on a show” motion picture musical, FORTY-SECOND STREET. That film gave her the opportunity to introduce the soon-to-be-standard song, “You’re Getting to Be a Habit With Me.” Later, a plot point enabled her character to suffer a broken ankle just prior to opening night; in turn, Daniels’ Brock then embodied multiple show business legends by encouraging her replacement (played by the young Ruby Keeler) to “Go out there -- and be SO SWELL. . . that you’ll make me hate you.”
The Turner Classic Movies channel shows FORTY-SECOND STREET on a regular basis. (Don’t miss it!) Meanwhile, thanks to YouTube, the 1910 Bebe-Daniels-as-Dorothy can be enjoyed here:
https://youtu.be/IweQXll3R8s although Oz fans will notice any number of plotline discrepancies. Among them: Dorothy meets the living Scarecrow in Kansas, prior to the tornado; the Wicked Witch is given a character name, Momba (similar to Mombi, the name of the Wicked Witch in Baum’s second series’ book, THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ); and there are moments of silent song-and-dance, as well as an appearance by Imogene the Cow. These last would seem to be in homage to – or exploitation of -- the 1902-1909 success of THE WIZARD OF OZ stage musical.
1914: HIS MAJESTY, THE SCARECROW OF OZ
Despite the financial losses incurred by the expensive FAIRYLOGUE AND RADIO-PLAYS – which eventually forced him into bankruptcy – L. Frank Baum remained ever-entrepreneurial, creative, and theatrical. By 1910, he and his wife Maud Gage had relocated from Chicago to Hollywood; they built a home there, and over their first few years as California residents, they watched the movie industry grow up (sometimes literally) around them. As a result, and with a group of local businessmen friends, Baum launched The Oz Film Manufacturing Company, and in 1914, they built their own studio on Santa Monica Boulevard between Gower and Lodi Streets.
The intent was to create feature-length movies of Baum’s children’s books, and a small nucleus of actors was assembled to assay the leading roles. Prominent among them was Violet MacMillan, then twenty-seven years old, and an established stage performer. She’d been born in Grand Rapids, MI, on March 4, 1887, and in the course of her career appeared on Broadway, on tour, in vaudeville, and in more than two dozen motion pictures (the latter between 1914 and 1920). She retired from show business circa 1922, and she and her husband eventually returned to Grand Rapids, where Violet died on December 29, 1953.
[Above: The versatile Violet MacMillan is shown in her first two film assignments for The Oz Film Manufacturing Company. In THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ, she played Ojo the Munchkin, and then went directly into production of THE MAGIC CLOAK OF OZ as King Bud of Nolan. Even in male garb, Miss MacMillan exemplified the show business appellation frequently ascribed to her: “the Daintiest Darling of Them All”!]
Apparently, her Oz work marked Ms. MacMillan’s initial screen appearances, but the studio was quick to cast her in important roles in their first three productions. It was an era when girls and young women frequently took male roles in entertainment vehicles, so Violet played Ojo the Munchkin Boy -- stalwart young companion to the title character -- in THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ. She thereafter segued to the role of mischievous King Bud in THE MAGIC CLOAK OF OZ, which was actually based on Baum’s non-Oz fantasy, QUEEN ZIXI OF IX (published in 1905).
Finally cast as a girl, Violet then became the third screen actress to play Dorothy Gale. The film was HIS MAJESTY, THE SCARECROW OF OZ, and its plot was later used, in greater part, for Baum’s 1915 addition to the Oz book series, THE SCARECROW OF OZ. Unfortunately, there was no market for “family entertainment” motion pictures at this time, and the Oz Film Company floundered in its search for both film distributors and an audience for its product. After booking problems with THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ, THE MAGIC CLOAK OF OZ went basically unreleased for several seasons, and HIS MAJESTY, THE SCARECROW OF OZ finally went into theaters and nickelodeons under the title, THE NEW WIZARD OF OZ. In this manner, it was hoped (mostly in vain) that patrons would consider the movie a worthy interpretation of Baum’s first Oz book (1900) – or of the triumphant stage musical derived from it two years later.
The Oz Film Company next produced a couple of adult dramas -- THE LAST EGYPTIAN and THE GREY NUN OF BELGIUM -- in an effort to widen the company’s appeal. Neither of those properties included suitable roles for Ms. MacMillan, so the studio chose to showcase her in four one-reel shorts: A BOX OF BANDITS, THE MAGJC BON BONS, THE COUNTRY CIRCUS, and IN DREAMY JUNGLETOWN. (The first two of these were adaptations of short stories from the 1901 Baum book, AMERICAN FAIRY TALES.) Each was a fantasy, and they were packaged – without overwhelming success – as VIOLET’S DREAMS. Little more than a year after its launch, The Oz Film Company was shuttered, but the omniscient Baum ideal of creating motion pictures for a family and children’s audience would be fully realized (to say the least) some two decades later by Walt Disney.
[Above: Had it been a musical, HIS MAJESTY, THE SCARECROW OF OZ might have encouraged Violet MacMillan to sing the 1914 equivalent of “I Enjoy Being a Girl.” The third screen Dorothy may be seen here at the far left in the penultimate moment of Baum’s fantasy feature. Among those to her left: Frank Moore (the Scarecrow), Mildred Harris (Button-Bright), Pierre Couderc (the Tin Woodman), Vivian Reed (Princess Gloria), and J. Charles Haydon (credited as J. Charles Hayden; The Wizard of Oz).]
All three of Violet MacMillan’s Oz titles are available -- in prints of varying quality -- on YouTube, and any curious fans might be directed to these sometimes highly imaginative, sometime stiff and stodgy (and of-their-times] titles:
THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ: https://youtu.be/qCb7WNIy7wc THE MAGIC CLOAK OF OZ (in a surviving, somewhat truncated version): https://youtu.be/Ld6B3tQN6wg HIS MAJESTY, THE SCARECROW OF OZ: https://youtu.be/Uu0xmlTcilU
. . . And finally, the anecdote of the month about Judy Garland, our Centennial Gal:
The following incident occurred several months after the 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer production of THE WIZARD OF OZ went into nationwide release and was later reported in the press and (specifically, in detail) in MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE for October 1940: “A little girl in a Santa Ana Hospital could tell you how warm Judy’s heart is. The little girl was dangerously ill, and in her delirium, she talked constantly about Dorothy in THE WIZARD OF OZ. The child’s mother wrote Judy a little note and told her about it, and asked Judy if she would be kind enough to send the child an autographed picture of herself as Dorothy. She thought that when, or if, the fever broke, it might help her little girl through the crisis if she could find a picture of Dorothy where she could see it. Judy did better than that. She took the autographed picture to the hospital herself. And when the little girl came out of the fever, there was the living Dorothy standing by her bed. The doctors say there is no doubt but that the child’s recovery – certainly the rapidity of her recovery – is due in substantial part to Judy.”
In some of the various retellings of the foregoing story, Judy is described as actually being in costume as Dorothy. Whether or not she was, the oft-confirmed tale is one of several involving “Miss Garland as Miss Gale,” and in the course of these next two accounts, Judy was indeed in full OZ wardrobe, hair, and make-up for the occasions:
At some point across the same months as THE WIZARD OF OZ shooting schedule, big-band leader Artie Shaw -- one of Judy’s major teenage “crushes” -- was hospitalized in serious condition. The distraught sixteen-year-old took one of her few filming breaks to visit him in the hospital, and Shaw never forgot coming out of a near-unconscious state, looking toward the foot of his bed, and seeing the glowing, encouraging Technicolor visage of Dorothy Gale.
Around the same time, Judy was enjoying the intelligence, devastating wit, and musicianship of companionable pianist/composer Oscar Levant. He was dazzled by her gifts, brightness, and savvy and wanted to introduce her to some of the Hollywood elite she’d yet to meet. So either during lunch or after she finished work, Oscar drove Judy from MGM to the home of two of his best friends, lyricist Ira Gershwin and his wife Leonore. As a result, they also first met Judy in complete Dorothy Gale regalia.
Imagine, then, waking up – or looking up – to see this:
At such a moment, even Toto/Terry would be kind of extraneous!
[It’s worth noting that, fourteen years later, Ira Gershwin would team with THE WIZARD OF OZ composer Harold Arlen to write the new songs for Judy’s remarkable screen comeback, A STAR IS BORN (1954). These included a combine of melody and lyric that became “The Man That Got Away,” a number second only to “Over the Rainbow” as a Garland theme.]
Well, once again, many thanks for being with us this month, and we hope you’ll return for the vlog and blog in March. We’ll be discussing the silent screen Dorothy who married the Scarecrow when filming of their version of THE WIZARD OF OZ was completed (!) . . . plus offering a look-back at the immediate magic of Judy’s rendition of “Over the Rainbow” and what it came to mean to world-wide audiences in the 1940s.
All good wishes in the meantime!
Article by John Fricke