[Above: Here’s a toast, once again and always, to the creative genius of A. Arnold “Buddy” Gillespie. With his special effects team at MGM in 1938-39, he created a most realistic tornado – this at a time when all they had to “go on” was a selection of black-and-white photographs and personal accounts of those who had experienced and survived such storms. There also existed a few seconds of silent, semi-distinct, black-and-white tornado film footage, taken in Cuba in 1933, but it’s uncertain as to whether or not Buddy and his coworkers had access to this.]
Like many of you reading here, my introduction to Dorothy & Company came via television and a showing of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1939 film version of THE WIZARD OF OZ. It made an immeasurable impression on my five-year-old imagination, and to this day, I can (or, at least, I think I can) remember details about that event. Certainly, in my case, the magnetism exerted by the characters, cast, songs, and story led to more than cursory curiosity. That night, They Took Hold -- and never let go. For those who might require proof of such a statement, please note that all of this happened sixty-four years ago this month, and here I sit today, happily whipping out Wamego’s “Wonderful World of Oz” Blog # 125!
There’s another aspect of that evening, however -- non-Oz, non-Judy Garland, and non-MGM – that has also stayed with me across these decades: an obsession with tornadoes. Ever since my first glimpse of the movie “whopper” – “to speak in the vernacular of the peasantry” (and Professor Marvel), I’ve been instantly drawn to any newspaper or magazine photos of these diversely-shaped storms. In more recent times, it’s increasingly exciting to see them in frequent film and video footage. (I’ll this time speak in the vernacular of Richard Rodgers: “Somewhere in my youth or childhood,” I might even have become a meteorologist. Truth be told, though, I didn’t want to study weather and atmosphere and all; I just wanted to know about tornadoes. 😊 )
[Above: W. W. Denslow drew just one picture of the tornado for the first edition of Baum’s THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ (1900), but it captured the sweep and lift of the cloud. When the book went into the public domain in 1956, Russell H. Schultz did his own homage to Denslow’s art for the title page of Whitman’s 1957 reprint.]
The arc from Oz to tornado fascination isn’t quite as much a quantum leap as it might seem. Some of the scientific spokesmen on The Weather Channel have made sporadic but regular declarations of being led to their careers by childhood awe of the Kansas sequence in Metro’s movie. In 2007, their network programming included an original five-part miniseries, hosted by Harry Connick, Jr., and recounting the 100 BIGGEST WEATHER MOMENTS in history. Amidst all the natural disasters, Metro’s muslin-and-chicken-wire protagonist came in at number fifty-five, and veteran climate savant Jim Cantore was among ten who offered comment: “That’s the first tornado I ever saw – and to me, it’s still the best one.”
Of course, for some (one?) of us, such obsession nicely cross-pollenates with the first Oz book. I have to confess that every time – since age six -- I’ve picked up a new edition of THE WIZARD OF OZ, the first thing I’ve done is look to see how (and if) the illustrator has depicted Dorothy’s “transportation.” So, with that in mind, I thought it might be fun for this month’s blog to take a look at how different artists have approached that challenge over the last 120 years. There are innumerable images from which to choose, of course; these were selected pretty much at random, with a bit of an eye toward hoztory along the way!
“Cyclone” is the word L. Frank Baum chose to describe the Kansas storm in his story, although he clearly meant “tornado.” Shortly after THE WIZARD OF OZ book first appeared in 1900, Professor Willis L. Moore, then Chief of the United States Weather Bureau, wrote Baum’s publishers to urge them to correct the inaccurate usage. He received a response from Frank K. Reilly of The George M. Hill Company, offering that the change would be made in the next edition. This, however, was never done, and any who purchase a copy of THE WIZARD OF OZ reprinting Baum’s original language will find that “cyclone” remains, again and again – as colloquial and as factually incorrect as ever. (MGM got around the issue in the movie by having Bert Lahr exclaim, in idiomatic fright, “It’s a twister! It’s a twister!” Later on, however, the screenwriters were loyal to Baum, and Judy Garland’s Dorothy explains to Toto, “We must be up inside the cyclone!”)
In terms of cyclonic art, it took nearly forty years for editions of THE WIZARD OF OZ to carry anything but the original 1900 illustrations by W. W. Denslow. As tie-ins to the debut of MGM’s film in 1939, there were some story and paint book abridgements of the text with new pictures -- not to forget an independent, impertinent, and illegal Russian rewrite of the story, adapted by A. Volkov with passing credit to Baum. N. Radlov’s drawings follow Volkov’s new text, and as the author cavalierly changed the tornado/cyclone to a hurricane (in landlocked Kansas!), Radlov’s sketchy art shows that sort of wind. The Volkov & Radlov WIZARD was eventually retranslated and circulated in multiple languages and countries; the latter’s hurricane picture – from a 1955 Yugoslavian edition, CAROBNJAK IZ OZA – is below. With it is the Oskar Lebeck cyclone drawing from Grosset & Dunlap’s 1939 WIZARD abridgement, published in conjunction with the release of the MGM movie. Oddly, Lebeck’s work looks a bit like the storm in the unsuccessful 1925 Chadwick Pictures WIZARD OF OZ film.
Meanwhile, Bobbs-Merrill had published or licensed the full text of THE WIZARD OF OZ since 1903, but the amount of Denslow’s art they included significantly diminished over the years. (Eventually, they had to have his pictures copied, as the printing plates had worn out.) In 1944, they finally hired Evelyn Copelman to completely re-illustrate the book; the title page of the new edition noted that her work was “adapted from the famous pictures by W. W. Denslow.” It’s clear, however, that Ms. Copelman’s inspiration was largely drawn from the MGM movie, as can be seen in her tornado below
Among other F. Bignotti drawings, his sweepingly colorful tornado first appeared in the Italian IL MAGO DI OZ in 1956. This edition was popular enough to be reprinted several times over the next few years; the reproduction below dates from 1962.
As noted above, the United States copyright for Baum’s THE WIZARD OF OZ text expired in 1956. As a result, a number of newly-illustrated versions of the story appeared in succeeding years; these incrementally increased in the 1960s with the ever-more-popular annual network telecasts of MGM’s motion picture. Among the occasionally hastily assembled editions, Roy Krenkel did some unusually detailed and graceful black-and-white line drawings for a 1965 paperback, and his cyclone is indication of this:
Across the 1960s, pop art gradually came into brief fashion. It was sometimes entirely avant-garde in its approach; on other occasions, it might meld both the traditional and the experimental. Brigitte Bryan’s Kansas storm conception – for a 1969 WIZARD OF OZ book – offers a touch of both . . . and a little bit more!
A “Peter Pan” company release presented THE WIZARD OF OZ in story-and-song on either a 45rpm vinyl or cassette recording. It was accompanied by a paperback booklet, illustrated on all twenty-four pages by George C. Peed. Three of his pictures feature the OZ tornado; it’s seen through the Kansas farmhouse door and window; again while ripping up the barnyard and carrying off the house; and finally (as below), in its apparent refusal to leave the story, grabbing the chance to appear even in Munchkinland.
(Lyrics for – or lyric fragments of – the songs in the “Peter Pan” package appear in the text of the booklet and “derivative” doesn’t really begin to say it. The opening number rejoices that “We’re on our way/We’re on our way/To visit the Land of Oz/The most exciting/Delighting, inviting/Visit there ever was/’Cause it is, it is, it is, it is/The home of the Wonderful Wiz/The Wiz, the Wiz, the Wiz/The wonderful Wizard of Oz.” Dorothy and her arrival are greeted with “We’re a happy bunch of Munchkins/We’re here to welcome you/To the Land of Oz, and why?/Because we like you, sure do.” Recalling both Garland and Fievel, the Kansas girl here has an emotional solo while trapped in the Wicked Witch’s castle: “Somewhere, there’s sunshine and laughter/Somewhere, birds sing all day through/Somewhere, oh, that’s where I wish I were/Somewhere out there with you.”)
Jos. A. Smith painted a more traditional twister for a handsome Random House WIZARD OF OZ in 1984, although one must marvel at a funnel cloud considerate and dexterous enough to appropriate a farmhouse in this fashion – while still keeping it from complete obliteration.
Finally, a 1999 “Jewel Sticker Book” from Grosset & Dunlap gives us Jerry Smath’s rip-roaring tornado. The storm somehow seems to selectively pick its souvenirs as it drills a path across the Kansas horizon.
(A final note: Ardent Oz fans may notice that – in some of these artistic interpretations -- the Gale farmhouse seems less and less the modest one-room domicile Baum so carefully describes in his own first chapter of THE WIZARD OF OZ!)
Finally, my apologies to any/all of you who might have found this twister fixation a little too bizarre – even for a John Fricke entry! Here’s a counter-proposal: Let me know YOUR favorite moment in THE WIZARD OF OZ story, and I’ll represent diverse drawings of it the next time we assemble a similar, art-oriented blog!As always, though: Many thanks for reading. 😊
Article by John Fricke