TREASURES FROM THE OZ MUSEUM WITH JOHN FRICKE - AUGUST
[Above: The extraordinary Fairuza Balk and a (you should pardon the expression) key element in Dorothy Gale’s RETURN TO OZ -- via the Walt Disney Studios in 1985.]
There was much excitement among Oz enthusiasts in early 1984 when The Walt Disney Company announced that production had commenced on a new, feature-length, live action motion picture titled OZ. Three decades earlier, the company had purchased screen rights to L. Frank Baum’s thirteen Oz books (all those after THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ), and despite many rumors and one definite attempt to create a credible film, nothing concrete ever materialized. (For stills from -- and further back-story about -- Disney’s 1957 attempt to visit Oz, please see this month’s TREASURES FROM THE OZ MUSEUM vlog on the Museum’s Facebook page. And if you care to see just about as far as Walt & Company actually got – with an accompanying throng of Mouseketeers, including Annette, Darlene, Bobby, Doreen, Cubby, Karen, et al! -- here’s a link to the finale segment of the DISNEYLAND FOURTH ANNIVERSARY TV SHOW from September 1957: https://youtu.be/kJjhqBb3qGI )
Twenty-five years after that, however, the rumors again ramped up. This time, they were true and on track; by summer 1984, Disney was ready to start priming advance anticipation and word-of-mouth among card-carrying Ozians. The International Wizard of Oz Club, Inc. (ozclub.org), then held several major annual conventions, and in June, July, and August, marketing consultant Craig Miller traveled on behalf of Disney to – respectively – Castle Park, MI, Pacific Grove, CA, and Wilmington, DE to present Club conventioneers with a preview of OZ (as the film was then titled). Miller spoke intelligently and convincingly of the wonders of the forthcoming movie, shared OZ buttons and posters, offered a slide show that detailed some sequences of the story, and presented a brief, behind-the-scenes video. It was a superlative “primer.”
[Above: This poster was offered as advance OZ promotion to Oz Club members by Disney-adjacent publicist Craig Miller in summer 1984. It had already served as the basis for industry trade paper ads earlier that year.]
By spring 1985, television promotion had become part of the heralding. PBS-TV stations throughout the United States debuted an hour-long documentary, THE WHIMSICAL WORLD OF OZ, which purported to celebrate the entire phenomenon. More than half its running time, however, focused on the about-to-premiere Disney film, which had been retitled RETURN TO OZ. Such Disney focus wasn’t a bad thing; the clips and “back-stage” glimpses were genuinely tantalizing. Outstanding among the on-screen principals was Fairuza Balk, a superlative child actress who’d celebrated her tenth birthday while making the movie; she was the “new” Dorothy Gale. (Personal note: I remember how much I immediately liked her speaking voice in the documentary’s RETURN TO OZ movie snippet in which Dorothy manifests devastation at finding remnants of Oz in ruins. Billina the Hen was her unconcerned companion at that moment, but the Kansas girl went right to the heart by exclaim-explaining: “No, Billina, you don’t understand. This WAS the Yellow Brick Road.” Dorothy’s intonation seemed perfect, with almost a musical lilt and variations – and the emotion rang true. Balk didn’t sound at all like a contemporary, blasé preteen of the mid-1980s, and her approach seemed to suit both Dorothy Gale and any audience’s expectations for that character.)
[Above: By spring 1985, the RETURN TO OZ film poster was being displayed in theaters to trumpet its status as a “coming attraction.” The visuals raised happy hopes for the movie itself.]
Across some of the time described above (and beyond), I was editor-in-chief of THE BAUM BUGLE, then-as-now the Oz Club’s magazine. As such, I optimistically reported much of the foregoing information in its pages. Then, just prior to seeing the film, I was permitted a copy of the RETURN TO OZ script. The dark approach to story-telling in the opening Kansas sequence (primitive electroshock therapy and all) was overwhelming, although the rest of the writing showed promise and a number of ingenious conflations of elements from the “real” Oz, i.e., Baum’s second and third books, THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ and OZMA OF OZ.
Then, however, RETURN TO OZ opened -- in June 1985. As most fans know, it was not well-received, whether critically, financially, or in terms of attendance. There WERE wondrous visual moments, expert performances, and (mostly) astounding special effects. There was also, however, a sorry lack of leavening humor; perhaps even more unfortunately, the film’s editing seemed to purposefully eliminate a number of the emotionally touching moments that had been included in the script. Although the movie had its adherents – more of whom have been garnered in the intervening decades – RETURN TO OZ was not the popular or creative success that so many of us had hoped it would be.
[Above: His ongoing pseudo-mother/son relationship with Dorothy – upon which Jack Pumpkinhead both insisted and doted – was one of the few and emotional saving-grace resonances of RETURN TO OZ.]
Present Day 2019-2021
. . . and a little more from that script!
Let’s return to the “7th Draft/7th February 1984” script of RETURN TO OZ, where its title page also offers that it’s “Based on stories by L. Frank Baum/Screenplay by Walter Murch and Gill Dennis.” On page one, the setting is Dorothy’s bedroom in Kansas; it’s past one o’clock in the morning, and the child is weary, sleepless, and wide awake. Two pages later, she sees the reflection in her bedroom mirror of the starry sky outside. Suddenly there appears – what? -- a meteor? a shooting star? streaking down from above.
By page five, it’s the next day, and Dorothy and Billina are in the barn. The little girl searches for eggs, while the hen is “pecking at something in the mud. She claws at it, then TOSSES it in the air with her beak. It lands near the trough. DOROTHY picks it up: a rusted key, covered with dirt. THE KEY emerges more clearly as DOROTHY brushes it off. She pokes the dirt from the center of the thumb-piece, revealing a circle with a diagonal shaft through it. She traces the circle with her finger . . . O . . . and then the diagonal . . . Z . . .DOROTHY
Dorothy immediately and excitedly takes the key to her Aunt Em, who dismisses it as “the key to the old house before the tornado. I must have turned it a thousand times.” The girl, however, knows better and protests, “It’s from Oz, Aunt Em! . . . They sent it to me. I think I saw it fall last night . . . My friends are in trouble, I just know it.”
By page ten, the faux-charming and faux-sane Dr. Worley is “turning the KEY Billina found over and over in his hands” as Dorothy tries, in vain, to explain Oz to him. Eventually, “he walks to DOROTHY and returns the KEY. She puts it in her pocket,” and it’s a good thing, too. On page thirty-one, the girl is trapped in a narrow, dead-end alley in the debris of what had been the legendary Emerald City of Oz, and she is cornered by the threatening Wheelers. “DOROTHY, in desperation, turns and tries to climb the ruined wall, but it is too smooth and massive. However, in the wall, she sees the OUTLINE OF A DOOR . . . [and] A KEYHOLE IN THE DOOR. She digs in her pocket and quickly pulls out: THE KEY!
“. . . She inserts it, turns it, there is a CLICK! and THE DOOR SWINGS OPEN . . . DOROTHY and BILLINA dart inside and pull the door shut! THUNK! The Wheelers arrive at the door a blink too late! They HOWL with rage and disappointment.”
The story and film of RETURN TO OZ, of course, continue from there. As usual, however, Dorothy Gale has already made a practical and perceptive deduction: the key that Billina found near the Kansas trough was, indeed, a message to her. From Oz. For help.
Well . . . .
That key has now made a RETURN TO KANSAS – but you won’t find it in a barn, wedged in mud, beneath a trough.
It’s one of the new TREASURES FROM THE OZ MUSEUM. 😊
To quote from the catalog for Profiles in History’s HOLLYWOOD: A COLLECTOR’S RANSOM AUCTION 109, December 17, 2019 -- December 19, 2019:
Lot 1300/Fairuza Balk “Dorothy” Key from RETURN TO OZ. Disney (1985). Vintage original metal key prop painted by Disney Studio to resemble polished brass. Features a circular bow with a diagonal line running through it, creating an “O” and “Z”. Approximately 3” x 1”. This key is a highly recognizable prop seen repeatedly throughout the RETURN TO OZ film.
Vintage fine to very fine condition.
The 2019 purchase of the RETURN TO OZ key (for $5,000) was made by Clint Stueve as Executive Director of The OZ Museum and The Columbian Theatre in Wamego. It’s been kept under wraps, literally and figuratively, until NOW -- and the current plan is to introduce/unveil it at the Museum during OZtoberFest! on Saturday, October 2.
Just above, we flashback one last time, to early 2020. Here you see Clint Stueve and OZ Museum curator Chris Glasgow -- judicious, joyous, careful, and eager (there’s an amalgamation to imagine!) as they unwrap the just-arrived package that brought them the key to Oz. It was at long last back in the state where Dorothy Gale – not forgetting Billina the Hen – had found it. (Of course, Fairuza Balk found it on a set at Thorne-EMI Elstreet Studios in England, but that’s merely fact.)
Long may that key serve as a reminder of the many magical moments in Disney’s RETURN TO OZ. And long may it bring joy to Wamego visitors as one of the TREASURES OF THE OZ MUSEUM!
Article by John Fricke