[Above: Front and back covers of the (obviously fragile!) paper sleeve for the circa-1956 reissue of the Golden Record children’s single of two songs from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s THE WIZARD OF OZ. Golden Records -- and its subsidiary, Little Golden Records -- were a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.; the label was conceived and founded by Arthur Shimkin.]
Last month, this blog looked back on some vintage WIZARD OF OZ coloring books, dating mostly from the 1950s and 1960s. The retrospective of such classic (if minor) material garnered an appreciative reaction from those who collect, as well as those who simply enjoy such era-typical artwork.
With that in mind, here’s another hark-back to childhood for those who came of [Oz] age across the same years. “Baby Boomers” were possibly the first youngsters to enjoy an actual onslaught of phonograph recordings specifically produced for their pleasure. One such release appeared in 1950 when Mitch Miller and His Orchestra joined forces with The Sandpipers vocal group to deliver their rendition of “We’re Off to See the Wizard” for the Golden Records label. At the same time, vocalist Anne Lloyd delivered a briskly-tempoed “Over the Rainbow” for a single of its own -- also with Miller’s aggregation in back-up. (It’s probably no coincidence that the MGM WIZARD OF OZ film had been reissued to theaters in the United States in 1949.) Meanwhile, the two illustrations above depict a circa 1956-57 release of the same material with an alternate “jacket” illustration to represent “Over the Rainbow.” (That for “We’re Off to See the Wizard” merely changed its original 1950 red background color to green.) It’s worth noting, too, that 1956 marked the initial nationwide CBS telecast of MGM’s OZ, which gave rise to even greater popularity and omnipresence for its Harold Arlen/E. Y. Harburg songs among a new, young fanbase.
[Above left: The Cricket Records recording of “Over the Rainbow” was first released in 1953 at both 78rpm and 45rpm (revolutions per minute -- per the speed[s] of a record player). Above right: A single of two songs drawn from a later Cricket Records production.]
“Over the Rainbow” was also sung by “Bobby Leslie & The Cricketones with full cast and orchestra conducted by Warren Vincent” on a 1953 Cricket Records release. Looking back at that rendition in 1979, Oz journalist Todd A. Balog quietly commented that it was “simply another of the many versions of a song . . . producers seem to forget was loved as a Judy Garland standard. Renditions like this don’t help us to forget her; they make us appreciate her all the more. Oh, well.”
In 1959, Cricket Records went all-out and produced a full-length, 33 1/3 rpm album, in which The Hanky Pank Players told the semi-complete story of THE WIZARD OF OZ via original script, three Arlen/Harburg songs, and four original numbers. The latter featured words and music by Sid Frank and Judy Stein. Shown above is an offshoot of that assemblage: a 45rpm single that offered a classic MGM number on Side 1, with “The Thank You Song” -- one of the Frank’n’Stein (sorry…) contributions -- on Side 2.
[Above left: The 1965 “learn to read” combination of OZ story and recording from Little Golden Books. Above right: A 1975 variation of Disneyland Record’s THE WIZARD OF OZ retelling – in Italian. Across the bottom of the cover illustration, children are encouraged to “See the pictures! Hear the record! Read the book!”]
Art Carney – the unforgettable “Ed Norton” comic actor of THE HONEYMOONERS television series – spoke the narration for a version of THE WIZARD OF OZ released as a 33 1/3 rpm Golden Records album in 1957. The original long-play vinyl also included the two earlier Mitch Miller & Co. songs, plus “Ding-Dong! the Witch is Dead” and “The Merry Old Land of Oz.” This compilation was later edited and/or rereleased in numerous formats, including the 1965 composite “READ and HEAR A LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK and a special GOLDEN RECORD” (shown above). The accompanying twenty-four-page OZ abridgement was charmingly illustrated by George DeSantis.
Walt Disney’s interest in Oz and the Oz books dates back to the 1930s. He tentatively promoted and announced for production a 1958 feature-length, live-action musical comedy, THE RAINBOW ROAD TO OZ, which would have showcased TV’s The Mouseketeers; this never came to fruition. By the mid-1960s, however, Disneyland Records was heavily exploring the ever-more-popular Oz franchise. Across the next few years, they marketed album adaptations of L. Frank Baum’s volumes, THE SCARECROW OF OZ and THE TIN WOODMAN OF OZ, as well as an original THE COWARDLY LION OF OZ tale – each in a lavish storybook/record-album format. Their additional vinyl retellings of the first Oz book, THE WIZARD OF OZ, went on to appear in numerous versions and different languages; the cover for one of those is pictured above, and it also included a twenty-four-page booklet.
As has been cited, all of these products date back forty or more years; most have not been reissued on compact disc, nor “streamed.” Vinyl records, of course, were phased out of the general marketplace more than twenty years ago. Of late, though, there have been numerous reports that they’re making a comeback, and those who collect Oz might well welcome a resurgence of such product -- and the three-speed phonograph machinery on which to play it! Some of these recordings are, of course, not much more than curiOZities, but each is its own bit of mosaic in the greater portrait of Oz: a pop culture phenomenon that has been increasingly prevalent and glorious since 1900!
Article by John Fricke