[Detail from an MGM art department matte painting of the Emerald City, as seen by Dorothy and her friends as they prepare to escape the poppy field in the 1939 movie musical, THE WIZARD OF OZ.]
Keep straight ahead for
the most glor-
on the face
of the earth or sky!
Those are the words specifically selected by lyricist E. Y. “Yip” Harburg for the song, “Optimistic Voices,” and they provide both some excellent interior rhymes AND an accurate description of the capital of the Land of Oz. Although even some of the most rabid fans think of that number as “You’re Out of the Woods,” it – under any title (and with music by Harold Arlen and Herbert Stothart) – paints a vivid, melodic picture of the glories of the Emerald City for any who see the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie of THE WIZARD OF OZ. What does an even better job of kicking across the color, magic, and aura of the “jolly old town” is the image from the film shown at the top of this month’s blog: an extraordinary crayon drawing, which was meshed with “live” film footage of Judy Garland and Company as they approached (what they thought at the time was) the conclusion of their Ozian journey.
Today, the MGM visual concept of the Emerald City is perhaps the most popular (and certainly the most familiar) in terms of the perceptions of the general public. But before and since Metro, there have been countless other depictions of the legendary center of Oz -- the first of these offered by W. W. Denslow in the original illustrations for L. Frank Baum’s THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ book in 1900.
There were two “exterior view” Emerald City drawings done by Denslow for that volume, and both are shown above. He drew a distant vision, as seen by Dorothy & Co. in their initial approach, and then a closer view of the surrounding wall and city gate, with the spires and towers of the town rising above. (The latter picture, as presented here, comes from a 1963 adaptation of Denslow’s work, clarified for a new edition of THE WIZARD at that time by artist Dick Martin.)
Throughout his first six Oz books. Baum wrote extensive descriptions of his crowning, fantasy “headquarters,” perhaps none more succinct, declarative, and informative than this one, from THE EMERALD CITY OF OZ (1910):
“. . . the Capital City of the Land of Oz . . . is built all of beautiful marbles in which are set a profusion of emeralds, every one exquisitely cut and of very great size. There are other jewels used in the decorations inside the houses and palaces, such as rubies, diamonds, sapphires, amethysts, and turquoises. But in the streets and upon the outside of the buildings, only emeralds appear, from which circumstance the place is named the Emerald City of Oz. It has nine thousand, six hundred and fifty-four buildings, in which lived fifty-seven thousand, three hundred and eighteen people, up to the time my story opens.”
(Well, if Baum didn’t know, who would? 😊)
As one may surmise, the difference between the MGM Emerald City and the real Emerald City (!) is that the latter is surrounded by a huge wall; once inside, there is an entire town, with streets, homes, shops, offices, oz cream parlors, and etc. After one walks through this radiant terrain, one comes to another wall, which encloses the actual palace, its gardens, fountains, statues, and similar décor.
An artistic sampling of one area between the city and palace entrances was provided by John R. Neill, who took up the assignment of picturing the Oz books with the second title in the series, THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ (1904). Here he represents the swarming, all-female Army of Revolt, commandeered by the redoubtable (if self-proclaimed) General Jinjur; they are shown in the process of conquering the Emerald City, during which they would ultimately topple the Scarecrow from the throne of Oz:
Jinjur’s actions were, of course, misguided and ultimately thwarted by the end of the saga, but they did, in a roundabout manner, lead to the discovery and ascent of the Rightful Ruler of Oz: the sublime Princess Ozma. (It’s worth noting – according to Baum’s hoztorical and tongue-in-cheek feminist tale-telling – that Ozma’s “first act was to oblige the Army of Revolt to return to her every emerald or other gem stolen from the public streets and buildings; and so great was the number of precious stones picked from their settings by these vain girls, that every one of the royal jewelers worked steadily for more than a month to replace them in their settings.”)
Another, panoramic view of Ozma’s palace – with the trees of its parks and gardens in the foreground – was offered by Neill as the backdrop of the endpapers of Baum’s DOROTHY AND THE WIZARD IN OZ (1908). Two prime favorites look on from either side, while Dorothy, at left, is shown with Eureka, the obstreperous pet kitten who caused a good percentage of trouble across the arc of that book’s plotline. On the right, Ozma is pictured with one of the Wizard’s Nine Tiny Piglets – and the petite porker shown here may well be the purported prey Eureka was put on trial for murdering.
(Read the book! 😊)
For THE ROAD TO OZ (1909), Neill drew some of his most detailed and evocative art. Below, Dorothy and Toto (near the foot of the Emerald City palace staircase) are welcomed back to Oz by a descending Jellia Jamb, chieftain maid-in-waiting to Ozma. Though difficult to see at book-page size, the decoration and ornamentation of the fairyland capital is obviously ever expanding. In the bottom right-hand corner, Dorothy’s other traveling companions from that tale can be seen as they peek from behind -- or cluster around -- an imposing statue of the Wizard himself: little Button Bright in his sailor hat and garb, Polychrome the Rainbow’s Daughter in her flowing robes and Juliet cap, and the ever-Shaggy Man. (Notice, too, that the crows of Oz have foregathered to celebrate the Wizard, much as they once tended the Scarecrow in his Munchkinland corn field!) Courtiers bow to acknowledge Dorothy’s return in the bottom left-hand corner; this book marked the fourth visit to Oz by the little girl from Kansas. Featured among others in the busts that line portions of the staircase are Dorothy, Billina the Yellow Hen, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Woodman. (And is that a returned-to-favor Eureka?)
Finally, there were several different Neill covers for Baum’s sixth OZ book. The first, below, was done as an oil painting, and publishers Reilly & Britton had the green portions of the art reproduced in metallic ink for the first printing of the title. Much of THE EMERALD CITY OF OZ involved a tour of extraordinary magical nooks and villages within Ozma’s kingdom, conducted by the Wizard for Dorothy, her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. The three of them, plus Toto, have arrived to permanently reside in Oz, and all but the hound are illustrated here in the famous Red Wagon, as it’s pulled through the streets of the capital by the even more famous Sawhorse. Paying homage, on either side of (and above) the travelers, you’ll find Glinda, Ozma, Jack Pumpkinhead, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Woodman – each enjoying some of the various architectural marvels of Ozzy city planning.
The second printing of THE EMERALD CITY OF OZ boasted a Neill cover drawing of Ozma, adapted from the endpapers of DOROTHY AND THE WIZARD IN OZ (as seen in art # 5-6, above). In 1929, however, he drew a completely new portrait, and this art (below) depicts the wondrous Princess of Oz in the guise which has since been frequently and colloquially referenced as the “sexy Ozma.” Keep in mind, please, that a picture is worth a thousand (or, in this case, many more) words, so no more need be said – except, of course, that the illustration was included here because there are delightful views of several of the Emerald City dwellings dotted along the background.
(To paraphrase Margaret Hamilton in the 1939 OZ movie, I’ll let you think about that a little first . . . . 😊 )
When Neill wrote three Oz books of his own in 1940-1942, his magical pen-and-ink grew even more astoundingly expansive when sharing the visual wonders of the Emerald City. Those images – and several others attendant to this topic – will be discussed and offered here in a forthcoming “The Wonderful World of Oz” blog.
Many thanks for reading!
Article by John Fricke