The Man Behind The Wizard of Oz: Ten Curious Facts
161 years ago today L. Frank Baum, best known as the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was born.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was the best-selling children’s book for two years after its initial publication in 1900. But it was just one of the 55 novels, four ‘lost works’, 83 stories and 200 poems that Baum wrote. So for his birthday, we thought we delve a little into the varied and fascinating life of Lyman Frank Baum.
Ten interesting, curious and shocking facts about L. Frank Baum:
He didn’t like the name Lyman, which was his father’s brother’s name, and preferred Frank, hence the pen name L. Frank Baum. But this was only one of several pen names he wrote under, using the pseudonyms Edith Van Dyne, Laura Bancroft, Floyd Akers, Suzanne Metcalf, Schulyer Staunton, John Estes Cooke, and Capt. Hugh Fitzgerald.
At 20, Baum took on the national craze of breeding fancy poultry. He specialised in raising the Hamburg.
Baum always dressed as Santa Claus at Christmas for his family. He also put on great firework displays for Fourth of July.
Baum loved the theatre, and in 1880 his father built him one in Richburg, New York, for which Baum set about writing plays. During a production of Baum’s ironically titled parlour drama Matches, the theatre burnt down, destroying the building as well as the only known copies of many of Baum’s scripts, including Matches.
While working as a journalist editing local newspaper The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, Baum twice urged the extermination of all America’s native peoples. On the second occasion, 3rd Jan 1891, he wrote:
The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extirmination [sic] of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries, we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth.
There has been some debate on whether or not these editorials were to be interpreted literally or were an attempt to generate sympathy for the Indians through obnoxious argument promoting the contrary position. In 2006, two of Baum’s descendants apologised to the Sioux nation for any hurt that their ancestor had caused.
In 1897, Baum wrote and published Mother Goose in Prose, a collection of Mother Goose rhymes written as prose stories and illustrated by Maxfield Parrish. The moderate success of Mother Goose was appropriated to promote a breakfast cereal.
The first stage version of The Wizard of Oz differed greatly from the book. It was aimed at adults, Toto was replaced by Imogene the Cow, and The Wicked Witch of the West was eliminated entirely from the script. Tryxie Tryfle (a waitress) and Pastoria (a streetcar operator) were added as fellow cyclone victims, and the plot became about how the four friends were allied with the usurping Wizard and were hunted as traitors to Pastoria II, the rightful King of Oz.
Baum’s wife, Maud Gage, was the daughter of Matilda Joslyn Gage, a famous women’s suffrage and feminist activist. His contacts with suffragists of the day seem to have influenced his second Oz story, The Marvellous Land of Oz. In this story, General Jinjur leads the girls and women of Oz in a revolt, armed with knitting needles. They succeed and make the make the men do the household chores. A female advocating gender equality is ultimately placed on the throne.
In 1900, Baum published a book about window displays in which he stressed the importance of mannequins in drawing customers. From 1897, he had edited a magazine for advertising agencies focused on window displays. The major department stores had created elaborate Christmastime fantasies, using clockwork mechanisms that made people and animals appear to move.
Baum worked in a variety of jobs including a clerk, a shop owner (he opened a store called ‘Baum’s Bazaar’, where his habit of giving out wares on credit led it to bankruptcy), a travelling salesman, an actor, a journalist, and of course a writer and author.
We’ll finish with the introduction from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz:
Folklore, legends, myths and fairy tales have followed childhood through the ages, for every healthy youngster has a wholesome and instinctive love for stories fantastic, marvelous and manifestly unreal. The winged fairies of Grimm and Andersen have brought more happiness to childish hearts than all other human creations.
Yet the old time fairy tale, having served for generations, may now be classed as “historical” in the children’s library; for the time has come for a series of newer “wonder tales” in which the stereotyped genie, dwarf and fairy are eliminated, together with all the horrible and blood-curdling incidents devised by their authors to point a fearsome moral to each tale. Modern education includes morality; therefore the modern child seeks only entertainment in its wonder tales and gladly dispenses with all disagreeable incident.
Having this thought in mind, the story of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was written solely to please children of today. It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out.
L. Frank Baum
Chicago, April, 1900.
You can read the whole of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz on project Gutenberg, as it’s available in the public domain.
This post was written by Holly Newson