Wamego #114 Dec 13, 2019
THE RPT “FOND MEMORIES SHELF” OF OZ!
[Above: To launch the 2019 holiday blog, we opportunely share a portrait of one of the preeminent symbols of the season: the red-clad, fur-trimmed, white-bearded gentleman in his gift-piled sleigh, pulled here by a team of magical reindeer and shown as they set out each and every Christmas Eve. This tender color plate by Mary Cowles Clark was one of her many illustrations for L. Frank Baum’s affectionately written fantasy, THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS, originally published in 1902.]
Pretty much everybody knows that L. Frank Baum “discovered” Oz and wrote fourteen full-length books about it -- plus stage musicals, film scenarios, and thirty short stories! After he left us in 1919, however, the mantle of the magic kingdom was bestowed upon a second “Royal Historian of Oz”: an indefatigable – and indefatigably inspired – young writer named Ruth Plumly Thompson. Her nineteen books in the Oz series, published between 1921 and 1939, were later augmented (in the 1970s!) by two further titles; as such, she holds the record for having written more Oz “official” books than any other author.
But there was more. Across two decades – from 1957 until her own passing in 1976 -- RPT (as she self-referenced herself) also proved to be a glowing “Correspondent to the Emerald City” for The International Wizard of Oz Club. In the halcyon days of the organization’s publication, THE BAUM BUGLE, Miss Thompson more than lived up to her billing and provided the magazine with reminiscences, personal and professional history, and jolly poetry. The Christmas 1960, 1961, and 1963 issues each contained a special treat: a new, Thompson-penned, holiday AND Oz-related “versification.” One of these was reprinted here in Wamego’s December 2017 “Wonderful World of Oz” blog. Another appeared last Christmas in a different, monthly Oz entry I offer elsewhere.
Now, just below, you’ll find the third – in the supremely energized and cheery Thompson verbiage. As ever, she speaks to both the enthusiasms and the hearts of her readers . . . of all ages:
[Above: Though still a teenager in this early portrait, Ruth Plumly Thompson had already begun her professional writing career. In addition to Oz work, she eventually penned countless magazine features and five other books for children. One of these was a continuation of the St. Nicholas legend: THE CURIOUS CRUISE OF CAPTAIN SANTA.)
“The Wonderful Land of Oz”
Old friends are kindest –
Old books remind us
Of other and happier days.
Storied countries are part of us
Deep in the heart of us
Seen through a magical haze.
Such a country is OZ.
Gayest land ever known,
Believable – wonderful
Strictly – our own.
The Scarecrow, Tin Woodman,
The Wizard and Scraps,
Jack Pumpkinhead –
All of those comical chaps
As they were way back when
We ourselves were a blithe
And adventurous ten!
And, with thousands I know,
Though I speak for myself,
The Oz books rank first
On fond memories shelf.
-- RUTH PLUMLY THOMPSON
[Above: This extraordinary parade of Ozians was drawn by the incomparable John R. Neill for the endpapers of Baum’s 1915 book, THE SCARECROW OF OZ, and it includes four of the five characters referenced in Ruth Plumly Thompson’s poem above. Here, however, is a key to the entire pictorial line-up, from left to right: Jack Pumpkinhead, Pon the Gardener’s Boy (later Royal Consort to Queen Gloria and King of Jinxland), The Wizard of Oz, Button-Bright (the young Philadelphia boy who settled in Oz AFTER adventuring with – among others -- Dorothy Gale of Kansas, Trot and Cap’n Bill of California, Polychrome the Rainbow’s Daughter, the Shaggy Man, and others), Trot herself, Tik-Tok the Machine Man, the Woozy (at top, peeking over the fence), Dorothy, Princess Ozma, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Woodman.]
Fond memories, to be sure – and many (many, many) of us take them down from the shelf on a daily (or hourly!) basis. It’s been one-hundred-and-nineteen years since L. Frank Baum first discovered the marvelous land and wrote about it in THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ book (1900). It’s been eighty years since Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer gave us The Movie – along with Judy, Frank, Ray, Bert, Jack, Terry, Billie, Maggie, Charley, Clara, Pat . . . and the Winkies, the Winged Monkeys, the Emerald Citizians, and (especially!) the Munchkins. Not to mention that song about the rainbow -- and those shoes.
The books and MGM film stand at the pinnacle of hoztory. But then, please and for a moment, consider all the other “official” and additional Oz books and stories. All the other cinematic, television, and stage incarnations that flaunt – sometimes happily and sometimes not -- the country and its characters. The toys, dolls, games, and products, ad infinitum.
The peanut butter! <shudder>
To paraphrase an old pop song: “Ain’t no shelfing high enough!” for all these doting recollections; the physical AND emotional catalog of Oz is immense and immeasurable. In calendar year 2019 alone (and this is a majorly truncated summation): The MGM film has appeared in movie theaters across the country in both January/February and within the last month. It’s been on cable TV (TNT and TBS) at least four times in the past couple of weeks. In October, we celebrated the latest addition to Wamego’s extraordinary OZ Museum: a prop Winkie spear from the 1939 motion picture. There was the glory of the early summer San Diego County Fair, with its five weeks of Oz theme, extraordinary decorations, and presentations – plus the cross-country, separate, and ongoing Oz festivals and their attendees: an annual total that now reaches well into the tens of thousands. Finally, tens of thousands more thrilled to the new stage musical about the preteen and teenage Judy. CHASING RAINBOWS: THE ROAD TO OZ has its sights set on Broadway after a rapturous autumn engagement at New Jersey’s famed Paper Mill Playhouse. The production reaches its ebullient finale when the sixteen-year-old Garland character sings “Over the Rainbow” on the OZ soundstage at MGM. Meanwhile, CHASING RAINBOWS includes many other Harold Arlen melodies from the OZ score -- and two of E. Y. “Yip” Harburg’s lyrics, as well.)
As some of you have heard (or “read”) me say over the years, Oz has been part of my day-to-day life for many decades. I can’t help but feel certain that 2020 – and every successive annum – will produce further exciting projects, announcements, and Ozzy Good Times.
But . . . whichever aspects of the magic you most enjoy, may your pleasure(s) be inestimable. May they carry you back in merry ways to the time you were “a blithe and adventurous ten” – or younger. And may you never lose sight of the fact that Oz is FUN . . . and if it isn’t, we’re doing it all wrong.
[Not (ever!) to be forgotten – as if she’d let us. Here’s rambunctious and revered Scraps, the Patchwork Girl, who is also cited by Miss Thompson in her musings above. For our December 2019 purposes, let’s just assume that the glasses that Scraps so cavalierly brandishes above are full of eggnog and VERY good cheer!]
My fervent and festive thanks to Ruth Plumly Thompson for speaking for countless millions – decades ago and ever since. My sincere gratitude to those of you who find your way here every month to peruse our mutual caring and sharing.And my sincere good and very best wishes to EVERYONE for a blessed, healthy, and joy-oz holiday season – however, wherever, and with whomever you celebrate!
Article by John Fricke