by John Fricke
[Above: Walt Disney’s passion for Oz extended to his acquisition of the movie rights to as many of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books as he could buy. In 1957, Disney celebrated the fourth anniversary of his Anaheim, CA, theme park with a special edition of the DISNEYLAND TV program, and the show hit its peak with a preview of his intended film, THE RAINBOW ROAD TO OZ. Three songs from the score of the motion-picture-to-be were performed by The Mouseketeers, then scheduled to star in the Technicolor, live-action feature. Shown here with Walt, behind the scenes, are Annette Funicello as Princess Ozma, Doreen Tracey as Scraps the Patchwork Girl, and Darlene Gillespie as Dorothy Gale. Ultimately and unfortunately, neither the script nor the songs for RAINBOW ROAD were thought strong enough to compete with those from the 1939 MGM Judy Garland motion picture, which had been telecast for the first time the preceding November. As a result, Disney scrapped his project.]
As I sat down to write this final blog in the official 2022 series, my chronological age suddenly swept over me and my memories – and by that, I mean that my “pop culture” recollections date back to the early and mid-1950s. 😊 Thus, out of nowhere, my mind leapt back to the five-afternoons-per-week television series, THE MICKEY MOUSE CLUB (ABC-TV, 1955-59) and its closing theme song: “Now it’s time/to say good-bye/to all our company . . . .”
Well, OUR company across these past twelve months has been led by the magical, incomparable, legendary Judy Garland. We’ve celebrated her centennial year in each of the audio/visual and written postings for 2022, and she is still (and apparently always) THE “Dorothy Gale” for posterity, given her performance in the 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film classic, THE WIZARD OF OZ. Judy, of course, hasn’t been alone here; she’s been joined in these blogs and vlogs by nearly a score of other actresses who’ve also appeared – on stage, on radio, or on motion picture or television screens – as Dorothy, starting 120 years ago.
As any Oz aficionado could tell you, it would have taken far more than a mere twelve installments to herald all the girls and young women who have “played” Dorothy in professional forums across these past twelve decades. However, I do want to swoop through as many more as I can this month, before coming back to Judy for our grand finale. (And one more thought before we begin: Please feel free to cite those actresses who’ve appeared as the “little girl from Kansas” that we somehow bypassed here since January, especially if they’re your own personal favorites. You can tell us their names -- and your reasons for liking them -- on the OZ Museum Facebook page, in the Comment section under the posting of this blog.)
[Above: The Soldier With the Green Whiskers (Caryl Roberts), the Tin Woodman (Fred Osbourn), the Scarecrow (Donald Henderson), and Maryeruth Boone (Dorothy) in THE LAND OF OZ. Further information just below!]
In chronological order, I think it’s important not to omit:
* Maryeruth Boone, who played Dorothy in the 1932 two-reel short subject, THE LAND OF OZ (originally announced as THE SCARECROW OF OZ). Loosely based on L. Frank Baum’s second Oz book, THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ, this United Productions release was conceived by entrepreneur Ethel Meglin, who built the story and roles around child students from one of her dance academies in Southern California. In Mrs. Meglin’s adaptation, Ms. Boone’s Princess Dorothy returns to the Emerald City, is captured by General Jingur’s army of revolt (note the Meglin re-spelling of Baum’s character name for Jinjur), and is ultimately dispatched to an unnamed wicked witch. Apparently, the hag in question is old Mombi; once imprisoned by her, Dorothy encounters Mombi’s ward, Tip.
* Jumping ahead nearly thirty years to 1961, the now famed Rankin/Bass animation crew had one of its earliest production successes with the cartoon series, TALES OF THE WIZARD OF OZ, which began syndicated television airings in the United States that September. Each three-to-five-minute short featured wildly (and sometimes irreverently) modified and public domain Baum characters from the first Oz book, while simultaneously incorporating slapstick, silliness, and contemporary references. (In one episode, the Wicked Witch of the West wants to impress a late-night TV, Dracula-type host – “I am the Count!” -- and visits her hairdresser to get the “Jackie” look, i.e. an allusion to Jacqueline Kennedy, then the first lady of United States.) Dorothy was voiced by young Corinne Conley, although there are reports that credit some of that work to Susan Conway, who would materialize as the girl from Kansas in the next Oz effort by Rankin/Bass.
[Above: Corinne Conley, the TALES OF THE WIZARD OF OZ “Dorothy voice” -- both as herself and as pictured in character guise on the cover of a coloring book, one of the tie-in products that helped promote the TV cartoon series.]
* Despite its rather haphazard approach to classic Oz, the Rankin/Bass factions were next enlisted by NBC to produce a full hour animated special for telecast on February 9, 1964. As this was a musical, Susan Conway did Dorothy’s lines, but Susan Morse was the character’s “sing-in.” The latter’s mature-for-a-child sound appears to have been predicated on MGM’s “little-girl-with-the-great-big-voice” herself, and if not a Garland, Ms. Morse made nice work of several of the relentlessly catchy songs. These included the opening “Oz Just Can’t Continue Without Me! I Want To Go Back! I Want To Go Back! I Want To Go Back!” and the finale, “Kansas Can’t Continue Without Me! I Want To Go Back! I Want Go Back! I Want Go Back!” 😊 (The production’s music was credited to Gene Forrell, Edward Thomas, and James Polack.)
[Above: Susan Morse is shown with the RETURN TO OZ characters – more carefully delineated and drawn than they were in the earlier Rankin/Bass TALES OF THE WIZARD OF OZ animations.]
* Speaking of cartoons, a feature-length Japan THE WIZARD OF OZ appeared there in 1982; a year later, it was reedited and redubbed in English and shown on American TV. Its stateside “name” value was derived from the vocal participation of Aileen Quinn as Dorothy and Lorne Greene as the Wizard; the latter was universally known as “Pa” Ben Cartwright on the long-running color TV series, BONANZA, and Ms. Quinn had just successfully assayed the title role in the film adaptation of the Broadway musical, ANNIE. She had three songs to sing in this version of OZ (with new lyrics by Sammy Cahn and Allen Byrns): “It's Strictly Up to You,” “I Dream of Home,” and “A Wizard of a Day”:
As the twentieth century came to a close – and as the twenty-first century got underway – “Dorothys” continued to proliferate:
* Singer/songwriter Jewel headed the cast of THE WIZARD OF OZ IN CONCERT: DREAMS COME TRUE, a 1995 television performance of the MGM musical score and script excerpts, videotaped at Lincoln Center in New York City as a benefit for the Children’s Defense Fund. Jewel’s intermittently effective costars included Jackson Browne (the Scarecrow), Roger Daltrey (the Tin Man), Nathan Lane (outstanding as the Cowardly Lion), Natalie Cole (Glinda), Debra Winger (the Wicked Witch of the West), Joel Grey (the Wizard), Lucie Arnaz (Aunt Em) and the Boys Choir of Harlem (The Munchkins). Well intentioned and for a fine cause, the show pleased some while proving to many others that pop vocalese and a hasty rehearsal schedule (mostly) couldn’t compete with MGMemories.
[Above: Jewel as a country/pop/coy Dorothy.]
* Pop star Ashanti brought a solid vocal instrument, alternating sincerity, and a belly-shirt to her version of Dorothy in THE MUPPETS’ WIZARD OF OZ in 2005. There’s more about that production in the blog for June 2021, as well as the backstory about the pieces of the production’s set owned by Wamego’s OZ Museum. 😊
* For the animated LEGENDS OF OZ: DOROTHY’S RETURN (2013), Lea Michele most definitely had the pipes -- as they used to put it in the show business trade paper, VARIETY. Unfortunately, most of the few viewers attracted to the feature felt the material, songs AND script, were a bad let-down for Michele and the rest of the all-star cast.
[Above: Lea at the LEGENDS OF OZ Los Angeles premiere and “in character.”]
Finally, for those who fancy “dark Oz,” these will be mentioned in passing: Zooey Deschanel’s “Dorothy” in the SyFy Channel’s TIN MAN (below, in 2007) and that of Ardria Arjona in NBC-TV’s EMERALD CITY (also below, 2017).
“Ah . . . ,” I now hear some of you saying. “What about the Dorothys in . . .” the ABC-TV movie showcase of 1967-68, OFF TO SEE THE WIZARD? The DIC Saturday morning WIZARD OF OZ series? The 52 episodes of Oz animation done by Cinar? The Australian feature-length live-action pop-rock film, 20th CENTURY OZ? Tom and Jerry’s THE WIZARD OF OZ and BACK TO OZ? THE WIZARD OF OZ ON ICE? THE WIZARD OF OZ LIVE!?, the Andrew Lloyd Webber version of THE WIZARD OF OZ? the Boomerang DOROTHY AND THE WIZARD OF OZ? LOST IN OZ? THE OZ KIDS? Not to mention all the “dream fantasies” in such sitcoms as THAT 70s SHOW, wherein Mila Kunis goes to Oz – clad in a Denslow-drawing-like Dorothy dress (just below), thus avoiding MGM copyright infringement. This, of course, was several years before she’d play the Wicked Witch of the West in OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013), which makes Mila one of THE first actresses since Judy Garland’s daughter, Lorna Luft, to play both roles; please see the blog from last July, if you’re interested in details!)
And to answer your questions about all the Dorothys we missed, I’ll let you in on our advance planning: We’ll (maybe) tackle those – and others -- as sidelights when Judy turns 200.
And speaking of Judy Garland . . . !
First a bit of history: In 1940 -- within a year or so of the highly attended, first release of THE WIZARD OF OZ – Judy had done some warranted grumbling to reporters. It was good-natured and the customary Garland sense of humor infused her choice of words, but there’s no question that she’d about had it with MGM’s insistence that she often play younger-than-her-age on-screen. This had begun in 1937 and would continue through 1941 (when Judy herself was fifteen-to-nineteen); it became a definite burden when she was required to go out to meet the public. “You should see the disappointed looks I get when people lay eyes on me in person! They expect someone in gingham, with braids, to come out singing ‘Over the Rainbow.’ I think some of them are pretty angry with me, too . . . for not dressing like ‘Dorothy’ and not being eleven or twelve. They’ve [even] written in about it!”
There’s no question, though, that Judy was also increasingly grateful for the deeply personal bond that audiences established between themselves and Garland/Gale. As early as 1944 – just five or six years after filming OZ – there was a greater maturity and calm to Judy’s outlook. She’d already come to realize how important THE WIZARD OF OZ was to millions of people, many of them doing war work at the time. Her appreciation and awe also acknowledged the manner in which “Over the Rainbow” had become internationally cherished, thanks to her recording of that song. In reflecting on the increasingly troubled and still unsettled world situation (and with what had been going on in her own personal and professional lives in the early 1940s), she confessed, “I wanted to stay like Dorothy. . .. Life wasn’t as complicated then [when I made that picture]. But I can’t help growing up. No one can. Time won’t stop, and life won’t stand still. But I have a feeling if I look backward once in a while at Dorothy -- if I am off [the] beat in any way -- I’ll get ‘back on the soundtrack’ again. Dorothy and I thought a lot alike when I made THE WIZARD OF OZ. I like to think we still do.”
From then on, her embrace of Baum’s heroine and “her” song would strengthen annually for the rest of Judy Garland’s life. There are many quotes from the 1960s that could be shared here, but there’s one anecdote in particular that forever epitomizes the protection, regard, and reverence that Judy carried with her when it came to Dorothy, THE WIZARD OF OZ, and that song about the rainbow.
[Above: On the first episode of the 1963-64 TV series, THE JUDY GARLAND SHOW: No “Over the Rainbow” . . . but definitely “Keep Your Sunny Side Up” (above), “When the Sun Comes Out,” “Too Late Now,” “Who Cares?,” “Maybe I’ll Come Back,” duets with Mickey Rooney and Jerry Van Dyke . . . and one of the single greatest renditions of “Old Man River” in history.]
Nearly twenty years after the 1944 quote above, Judy was in the midst of preparations for her weekly TV series. During one of those days of preproduction, she was jovially approached by singer Mel Torme, musical advisor and special material composer/arranger for the show, as he offered her an idea for the program’s first taping. Torme later reported:
“We [he and the writers for the CBS-TV THE JUDY GARLAND SHOW] got a little surprise -- and one of our deepest insights into Judy’s personal appraisal of her own professional assets -- when we suggested doing a rather funny bit built around ‘Over the Rainbow.’ She regarded us with pure astonishment.
“‘You’ve all got to be kidding,’ she said sternly.
“‘Uh . . . no . . . no, Judy, we thought it would be pretty funny if --- ’
“‘There will be NO jokes of any kind about “Over the Rainbow” she said evenly. ‘It’s kind of . . . sacred. I don’t want anybody, ANYWHERE, to lose the thing they have about Dorothy and that song!’”
Torme concluded, “Judy’s precise assessment of the importance of that song in her life always remained with me. . .. To her, ‘Over the Rainbow’ was nothing short of holy, and she regarded it with gratitude and awe.”
In summation, then . . . . After twelve months of writing about her here and elsewhere – and after sixty-seven years of a lifetime wherein my appreciation and my own “gratitude and awe” for Judy Garland have only grown and grown – what can I say? That girl was better for the role of Dorothy, the script of THE WIZARD OF OZ, and the song, “Over the Rainbow” than anyone else could have possibly been – then, since, now, and pretty much into eternity. In turn, the part, the story, and the music and lyrics had been better for her than they could have been for any other.
What’s lovely (and so much more) is that we all have come to know that SHE knew it, too.
[Above: 1939: Judy and Terry during a photo session for OZ publicity pictures.]
So, happy 100th birthday to Miss Garland! And it’s a greeting that comes with heartfelt thanks for your extraordinary body of work -- and for the intelligence, the wit, the sensitivity, the gifts, the unbridled joy and energy, the heart, the soul, the unparalleled sharing, and the blessings that made it all possible.
As so many used to yell at the footlights during the encore section of your live shows:
“We love you, Judy!” 😊
Article by John Fricke
Article by John Fricke