Wamego #115  Jan 17 2019

[It’s the very first meeting of two of the most popular characters of Oz -- as depicted in a full-out and jolly Dick Martin illustration for the 1961 Reilly & Lee Co. picture book edition of L. Frank Baum’s THE WIZARD OF OZ.]

A couple of months ago, this blog looked back – in a semi-affectionate, somewhat appreciative, slightly condemning, and tongue-in-cheek manner – at the weird dust jacket artwork created for eleven of the Oz series books by Roland Roycraft in 1959. The Reilly & Lee publishing company of Chicago employed his cartoon-like style in an effort to update the outward appearance of those decades-old titles, and the results were colorful and contemporary. They were also, to some extent, unquestionably jolting, unattractive, and less respectful and Ozzy than the public seemed to prefer.

Fortunately, a blessing that combined personal style, craft, comprehension, talent, and happy homage was waiting in the wings. Native Chicagoan Dick Martin (1927-1990) was a lifelong Oz fan, savvy collector, and expert commercial artist; he’d already approached the R&L offices about compiling and picturing an Oz project for them circa 1957. At that point, however, they weren’t interested, and Dick instead channeled his decorative art, exemplary research, and design/assemblage skills into a project with fellow L. Frank Baum enthusiast and rare book dealer, Alla T. Ford. The result: a privately-published, compact volume that was absolutely majestic in terms of rare content, THE MUSICAL FANTASIES OF L. FRANK BAUM.


[Above: THE MUSICAL FANTASIES OF L. FRANK BAUM (1958) included a concise biography of the first “Royal Historian of Oz,” a then all-encompassing bibliography, some rare artwork, and three previously unpublished and practically unknown Baum stage scenarios. None of these musical comedy extravaganzas were ever produced, but the Ford/Martin anthology offered the opportunity to read Baum’s three-act written synopses for both THE MAID OF ATHENS (1903) and THE KING OF GEE-WHIZ (1905), as well as the complete first act script – with song lyrics – for THE PIPES O’ PAN (1909).]

By late 1959, however, Baum’s first Oz title, THE WIZARD OF OZ, had slipped into public domain, and new editions were annually appearing from sundry publishers. (His second, THE LAND OF OZ, would similarly fall out of copyright in 1960.)  Additionally, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1939 movie musical of THE WIZARD OF OZ had enjoyed two highly-rated national telecasts in 1956 and 1959, bringing Baum’s characters to one hundred million people in the process. Finally, Reilly & Lee itself was then being absorbed into the Henry Regnery Company, whose primary interest in the vintage firm positively centered on the thirty-nine Oz series books on the R&L roster. Regnery executives recognized a golden opportunity to hype Oz to a whole new, young audience – and they were more-than-ready to listen to someone who could authoritatively guide them into innovative merchandising.

Re-enter the indefatigably Ozian Dick Martin, whose passion for Baum and Oz (and all of their combined wonders of publication and product) was matched by his coalescence of artistic gift, humor, intelligence, and joy. For the next three decades – in company with Reilly & Lee, the International Wizard of Oz Club, and diverse other forums -- Dick illustrated, wrote, coauthored, designed, published, edited, and created a classic floodtide of Ozzy books, periodicals, activity projects, bibliographic research, and scholarly (albeit always entertaining) treatises. As countless friends, Oz and otherwise, could attest, his corresponding life was private but equally invested in generosity, enthusiasm, kindness, and care.


[It was Dick’s idea to gather Baum’s 1904-1905 short stories, “Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz” into book form in 1960. The buoyant and oversize result, THE VISITORS FROM OZ, was naturally and providentially “pictured by Dick Martin.”]

There’s no way one could even summarize Dick’s output in one blog, so I’m herein concentrating on the initial Oz work he accomplished for Reilly and Lee.  In 1960, the publishers summoned him back to the company to pursue his idea for a picture book of Baum short stories about Oz that had been syndicated in newspapers, once a week, for more than two dozen installments in 1904-1905. An uncredited Jean Kellogg consolidated and adapted a selection of the original Baum texts, and Dick provided bountiful full color or black-and-white illustrations for literally every one of the book’s ninety-six pages. The next year, he designed the dust jacket for Reilly & Lee’s Baum biography, TO PLEASE A CHILD, and -- picking up where Roycraft left off – also drew new paper cover wrappings for ten titles of the Oz series.

1961 proved to be a most prolific occasion for Dick, and his primary assignment came when he was given the design and illustrative job for four Oz picture books. These were “adapted for younger children by Jean Kellogg” from the full-length Baum texts (although this go-round, she was fully credited), and the first four titles of the Oz series -- THE WIZARD OF OZ, THE LAND OF OZ, OZMA OF OZ, and DOROTHY AND THE WIZARD IN OZ – thus enjoyed and were emblazoned by bright, brisk, stunningly hued examples of Dick’s work. Once more, every page was enlivened by his Ozzy knowledge, affection, and seeming elation in having the opportunity to represent his boon companions of many years.


[Glowing pictures from the Dick Martin Oz picture books: Their friends are concerned as Dorothy and Toto fall asleep in the Deadly Poppy Field in THE WIZARD OF OZ; Mombi the Witch is delighted to discover that the magic Powder of Life proves potent when used on Jack Pumpkinhead (whose creator, the boy Tip, is equally pleased) in THE LAND OF OZ; Dorothy discovers Tik-Tok the Clockwork Man, locked in a small cavern in the Land of Ev in OZMA OF OZ; and the Wizard, Dorothy, and her cousin Zeb encounter an underground den of dragonettes in DOROTHY AND THE WIZARD IN OZ.]

While Reilly & Lee fully endorsed Martin’s self-proclaimed “wild and wooly” approach to the picture books, such energy almost cost him the plum assignment of 1963. MERRY GO ROUND IN OZ – by Eloise Jarvis McGraw and daughter Lauren McGraw Wagner – was the first official addition to the Oz book series in a dozen years, and all concerned desired a traditional approach to any depictions of the legendary land and its denizens. Martin willingly curbed his more spirited impulses and – without losing wit or wonder – created a most handsome volume to the euphoria of authors, publishers, and fans.


It was in 1962, in between his picture book and MERRY GO ROUND assignments, that I first began to correspond with Dick Martin. I was eleven, in Milwaukee; he was in nearby Chicago, and his by-mail responses – on stationery emblazoned with drawings of Oz characters -- were all this preteen (but already veteran) fan could wish. We initially met at the Oz Club Convention in Bass Lake, Indiana, in June 1963, and that clinched (or at least launched) an admiring association – certainly from my side – that endured until Dick’s premature passing in early 1990.


[When Bools of Wonder reprinted MERRY GO ROUND IN OZ in 1989, they commissioned a brand-new wrap-around dust jacket from the book’s original illustrator. This is the front panel of Dick Martin’s design; it proved to be one of his final, most potent, and most radiant images of Oz.]

His warmth and curiosity about my Oz and non-Oz lives were ongoing, vigilant, compassionate, and never obtrusive. Our conversations covered a thousand topics; he rejoiced in my acceptance to Northwestern in 1969, he traveled to Milwaukee with Club members John Van Camp and Jim Haff in 1977 to attend one of my first formal concerts (forty-three songs with an eighteen-piece orchestra!); and we reconvened at dozens of Oz Club and social events across more than twenty-five years. The last letter I had from him arrived in late summer 1989, when he wrote to offer unsolicited and warmly manifested praise for the first book I wrote: THE WIZARD OF OZ: THE OFFICIAL 50th ANNIVERSARY PICTORIAL HISTORY.

Dick seemed to me to be one of those men who was as secure as one could be in terms of his talents and persona in the mid-to-late twentieth century. As it’s now exactly thirty years since he passed, I wanted to briefly write about and celebrate him here this month, and (with absolute glee!) to post and share some of his work. I thank you for reading and “looking,” as highlighting Dick’s glorious and wondrous pictures is my genuine and sincere means of honoring a man who was steeped in -- and selflessly cared about -- Oz.

He munificently shared his many exceptional qualities with innumerable people: as a great friend, ceaseless champion, wise counselor, dry humorist, and sparkling and blessed artist. I am vitally grateful to have been one of the compatriots of Dick Martin.


[An autograph from the illustrator gives personal piquancy to the inside front cover of THE WIZARD OF OZ picture book of 1961.]

 John “Jnoz” Fricke 😊


Article by John Fricke


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