[Above: This is the jacket worn by Eugene David in 1938, when he appeared as one of the "five little fiddlers" of Munchkinland in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's THE WIZARD OF OZ. As shown above, the long tails at the back of the jacket have been gently, momentarily tucked up so as to provide a contrast to the images below.]
According to the original text in THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ (1900), Dorothy and Toto spent their first evening in L. Frank Baum's magical country as guests of a wealthy Munchkin named Boq. Yes, that name would later be used as the nomenclature for a principal character in Gregory Maguire's WICKED -- both book and musical.
But this isn't a blog about that. 😊
In Baum's recounting, Boq and friends had gathered to celebrate the fact that Dorothy's cyclone-borne farmhouse had ultimately fallen on and destroyed the Wicked Witch of the East -- thus freeing all Munchkins from her bondage. The little people welcomed the girl from Kansas and provided her with dinner and entertainment; according to the Royal Historian of Oz, the latter was led by "five little fiddlers [who] played as loudly as possible."
Welcome to this month's blog!
Thirty-eight years later, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer began preparations for their multi-million-dollar Technicolor movie musical of THE WIZARD OF OZ. One of the first production numbers discussed for the picture was that involving the Munchkins, and it was to be built upon a grandiose enlargement of the idea of Boq's house party in Baum's book. MGM composer/lyricist Roger Edens outlined the initial ideas for the routine, which included a list of singing and dancing "tribute[s]" to Dorothy. These greetings were to be offered by an amalgamation of Edens’ new and original Oz characters: the "august justices," the "army & navy," the "fire department," some "dancing girls” -- plus (tahdah!) Baum’s "five little fiddlers." Circa March 1938, Edens wrote all the music and six pages of lyrics for this presentation, the last part of which was a complete "swing" song to be sung by the violinists. In the process, the musical Munchkins were to note, "You can be hilarious/On a Stradivarius/Tune it up and carry us away." (They would go on to offer, "If the bow you buy fits/If your flowing tie fits/Be a Jascha Heifetz and say . . . " – along with "You can make a beany/Out of every meany/If you learn the Paganini way . . . . " and "Watch what you're doin'/You're facing ruin/Be a Menuhin and say . . ..")
By May 1938, however, it was decided that Harold Arlen and E. Y. "Yip" Harburg would write the complete OZ score. All of Edens' music and lyrics for the Munchkins were discarded, and what remained were the rather different Arlen/Harburg variations of Edens’ litany of random welcoming committees: the soldiers of the army, the "august justices" (who became the Mayor, the Coroner, and the city aldermen), and "the dancing girls" (the Lullaby League trio).
AND L. Frank Baum's own "five little fiddlers"!
Please review the frame grab above. Just seconds before this moment in the movie, the orange-and-cream-clad violin quintet can be seen as they emerge from the throngs of Munchkins. Then, once they step out of the crowd, they follow closely on Dorothy's ruby-red heels and "play her" to the border of the country.
Well . . . one of the five red/orange-and-cream jackets you see in that picture is among the primo Treasures of The OZ Museum!
Two months ago, this blog celebrated the Munchkin solider jacket worn in THE WIZARD OF OZ by Lewis Croft. You can read about it -- and the November 24, 2014, Bonhams (NYC) auction at which it was purchased for The OZ Museum -- via this link: https://ozmuseum.com/blogs/news/munchkins-soldier-jacket-blog
At that same time and auction, however, Wamego's representative won the following item, as described here in the Bonhams catalog:
“A MUNCHKIN FIDDLER'S JACKET FROM ‘THE WIZARD OF OZ’ . . . Orange and cream felt jacket with round collar, puffed sleeves, long tails with striped contrast lining, and orange and white bows with pom-poms [sic]. Bearing a label inscribed in black ink, ‘Eugene David.’ . . . Five men wearing these jackets play white fiddles and dance right behind Dorothy as she skips up the yellow brick road . . .."
According to Clint Stueve, Executive Director of The OZ Museum and Columbian Theatre Foundation, the purchase price for the fiddler’s coat was $10,000, and the cherished item was sent to Wamego via Fine Arts Shipping. The Museum then incurred an additional cost -- approximately $2,500 -- for the subsequent restoration and conservation of the wardrobe; this process was overseen by Melanie Sanford of Conserving Threads. (Stueve also remembers that the Croft soldier jacket commanded a higher price at the auction, but its restoration cost was smaller. Conversely, the fiddler jacket "was more damaged, so its purchase price was lower, but its preservation costs were higher.")
[Above: In these front and rear views of the fiddler’s jacket, the tails are proudly unfurled.]
But there's more to the story! Ron Baxley, Jr. -- http://rbaxley37.wix.com/ronbaxleyjrofoz -- is known to many fans as a longtime author of Oz fiction. As a journalist, however, he has (among other writing assignments) worked under contract as part-time correspondent/reporter for the Orangeburg, South Carolina, TIMES AND DEMOCRAT newspaper. Back in summer 2015, Ron placed an article with them about Eugene David and his brother Eulie that was then picked up in other area press, as well as by Munchkin aficionados everywhere:
“BARNWELL, S.C. – They were not Munchkin-sized ruby slippers or silver shoes. But the work shoes the Savannah River Plant (SRP) in Aiken County found for two former M.G.M. THE WIZARD OF OZ Munchkin actors . . . were, according to Savannah River Site (SRS) archives, the smallest work shoes the plant had ever ordered . . ..
"The David Brothers . . . happened to work at the Savannah River Plant . . . and lived in Barnwell, S.C. for part of their lives in the 1950s while [employed there] . . ..
“According to the SRS archives . . . [the brothers] used small work shoes -- custom made-to-order by the Thom McAn Company in a child’s size 11 ½ for Eulie and a child’s size 12 ½ for Eugene -- in their job[s] . . . as Pipe Craft welders. SRP is now SRS and is owned by the Department of Energy . . ..
"[Both] performed in the M.G.M. 1939 classic film, THE WIZARD OF OZ. Eugene played one of the five fiddlers . . . where Eulie played one of the soldiers who marched during the 'Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead' sequence . . .."
According to archival records, the David brothers worked at SRP circa 1953-1954. Baxley continued, "Not only did their size allow them to be Munchkin actors in the classic film, but it [later] helped them get into areas the other construction workers could not get into . . .. Both men were . . . under four feet tall, and Eulie weighed seventy pounds where Eulie weighed eighty . . .. [Both] put in a full day’s work with welding torches, working alongside men much taller than they were. [They] would crawl into pipes too small for average men and use their welding equipment within them.”
[Above: With a normally sized coworker on hand for contrast, the David Brothers posed on the job, circa 1953. Photo courtesy the Savannah River Plant Archives.]
"Eugene and Eulie David were welders for fifteen years, worked in the Navy shipyard in Charleston, SC, during World War II, and worked at the construction project of SRS during part of the Cold War from 1951-1954. They were also employed at one point at Oak Ridge and the Chemstrand Plant in Pensacola, Florida, and at several steel welding firms in Columbia, SC. Like many little people, they toured with a fair or circus and -- for three years after the film -- Dodson’s World Fair Shows. [According] to the SRS archives, they toured the East Coast as far North as Canada but gave up show business for the welding trade . . ..
"Like some other little people, the David Brothers had specially adapted cars with extensions for the brakes, clutches, and gas pedals. They also had child-sized chairs at home, which they shared with their own children, and bought clothing from the boys’ departments of clothing stores. This . . . also according to SRS archives."
[Above: Someone in the Metro Costume Department misspelled his first name, but this tag in the Adrian-designed OZ wardrobe offers incontrovertible proof that Eugene David did -- indeed! -- "bow" his way down that famous path back in 1938!]
As may be understood, the Munchkin fiddler and soldier jackets are carefully preserved and only exhibited in rotation under the lights of The OZ Museum cases. This means, of course, that only one of them is on display at any given time. Here, however, is a JOYOUS ANNOUNCEMENT! Both of them AND a surprise "new addition" OZ movie costume -- watch this space in the months ahead for further details -- will ALL be on display together in Wamego for the special occasion of OZtoberFest! on Saturday, October 2nd.
Please visit the The OZ Museum Facebook page for ongoing announcements. 😊
Finally, I want to express my sincere appreciation to Ron Baxley, Jr., for his intensive research and enthusiastic reportage. It's been of immeasurable, invaluable help in this attempt to tell some of the back-story of one of the genuine Treasures of The OZ Museum.
Article by John Fricke