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The Forgotten Early Film Adaptations of L. Frank Baum's "Oz" Series

I enjoy educating others about film history and the early years of cinema.

The Oz film series was based on books written by L. Frank Baum.

The Oz film series was based on books written by L. Frank Baum.

Influence of L. Frank Baum

Most movie watchers are familiar with the MGM film The Wizard of Oz (1939), starring Judy Garland as the young protagonist Dorothy Gale. Many know that it was based on the 1900 children's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.

However, fewer may be aware that the novel was the first in a series of over 40 books, and that film adaptations go back much further than 1939. Much like the books, these films feature a colorful cast of characters and fantastical plotlines that never made it into MGM's version.


"The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays" (1908)

A unique combination of live actors, film, and magic lantern slides, The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays (1908) first opened in Grand Rapids, Michigan in September of 1908, and ended its run in New York City that December.

L. Frank Baum, the author of the Oz series, was one of the actors in the show, while actress Romola Remus was the first to ever portray Dorothy Gale on film. Despite being critically acclaimed throughout its tour, the show cost more money than it earned and led to Baum filing for bankruptcy three years later.

The film was colored in a process known as "radio-play," while the "fairylogue" portion of the title refers to travelogues, a popular type of documentary film at the time. Footage has been lost due to the film decomposing, but some production stills remain, as does the script for Baum's narration.

The production featured the first original film score ever to be documented. The score was composed by Nathaniel D. Mann, who had previously worked on the music for the stage adaptation of the first Oz book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

"The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" (1910)

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910) was based partly on the novel of the same name and partly on the 1902 Broadway musical adaptation, though no songs from the musical were used in this film.

The film begins with Dorothy, her dog Toto, her cow Imogene, and her mule Hank in her home state of Kansas. Dorothy comes across a scarecrow in a cornfield and discovers that he's alive. A tornado suddenly brews and transports them all to the Land of Oz.

In Oz, Dorothy meets the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man, and Eureka the Cat. Despite being foiled by the wicked witch Momba, Dorothy and her friends make their way to Emerald City, where the Wizard steps down as ruler and appoints the Scarecrow his successor.

Much of the costumes and makeup in the film resemble those from the Broadway musical. Imogene was a character created for the musical, while Eureka is from the fifth book in the Oz series called Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, published in 1908. Momba was based on a witch named Mombi from the second Oz book, The Marvelous Land of Oz, published in 1904.

The end credits for this film have been lost, so the cast and crew are unknown. Some historians believe the director was Otis Turner, who had previously worked on The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays (1908). It's also been speculated that Dorothy was played by Bebe Daniels.

The only thing that's known for sure is that the film was produced by the Selig Polyscope Company.

The Lost Sequels of 1910

Selig Polyscope Company promptly followed up The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910) with two sequels, both of which have been lost. Remaining records say that Otis Turner directed both films, and that actress Marcia Moore portrayed Dorothy.

The first sequel, Dorothy and the Scarecrow in Oz (1910), had the same title as the fourth book in the Oz series. However, according to the catalog synopsis published in the journal The Moving Picture World, the film had the same plot as the first Oz book: Dorothy and her friends—the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion—travel through Oz in search of the Wizard, so he may grant their wishes. It does include some elements from the fourth book, such as the character Jim the horse and a kingdom called the Land of the Mangaboos.

The synopsis of the second sequel, Land of Oz (1910), describes a plot resembling that of the second book, The Marvelous Land of Oz. Dorothy and her friends arrive in the mystical Emerald City, only to get caught in the midst of a rebellion led by General Jinjur, a young girl looking to overthrow the monarchy.


The Oz Film Manufacturing Company

In 1914, L. Frank Baum became one of the founders of the Oz Film Manufacturing Company. The company purchased a seven-acre plot of land, where they built the country's most advanced movie studio for its time, setting the stage for elaborate special effects.

Baum served as the company's president and provided the film rights to his novels. The vice-president, Louis F. Gottschalk, composed music for the films they produced.

The studio made four feature films, three of which took place in the land of Oz. These films featured the work of actor-director J. Farrell MacDonald, actresses Violet MacMillan and Vivian Reed, animal clown Fred Woodward, and French acrobat Pierre Couderc. Reed also served as the company's mascot, the character Princess Ozma.

Unfortunately, the films were box office failures, as adult audiences dismissed them as children's films. The company tried making a more adult-oriented film, The Last Egyptian (1914), which was based on a lesser-known Baum novel. The following year, the company also made Violet's Dreams, a series of one-reel films for children, starring MacMillan in the title role.

Baum turned the studio over to his son, Frank Joslyn Baum, who renamed it Dramatic Feature Films. He produced a film, The Gray Nun of Belgium (1915), which failed to find distribution. The company went under just a few months later.

In 2009, MGM released the 70th anniversary edition DVD of The Wizard of Oz (1939). Extra features included three films made by the Oz Company: His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (1914), The Magic Cloak of Oz (1914), and The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1914). A later film, The Wizard of Oz (1925), was also included.

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"The Patchwork Girl of Oz" (1914)

The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1914) was based on the 1913 novel of the same name, the seventh book of the Oz series. L. Frank Baum also wrote a musical state adaptation of the book, which was unfortunately never staged.

The protagonist of the novel is a Munchkin named Ojo, who discovers that his neighbor, Dr. Pipt, and his wife, Margolotte, practice magic. Ojo interferes with one of their experiments and accidentally creates the Patchwork Girl, named Scraps. She clumsily knocks over a liquid that turns Margolotte and Ojo's uncle into statues, so Ojo and Scraps set out to find ingredients for the antidote.

The film omits the characters of the Glass Cat and the Shaggy Man, but also adds four new characters: a donkey named Mewel, an ape-like creature called the Zoop, Dr. Pipt's and Margolotte's daughter, and her boyfriend, who also gets turned into a statue. The Zoop also appears in The Magic Cloak of Oz (1914).

The special effects of this film are modest, as it relies more on dancing, acrobatics, and slapstick humor. The Patchwork Girl was played by French acrobat Pierre Couderc, as filmmakers could not find an actress skilled enough for the role.

"His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz" (1914)

Loosely based on the first Oz book, the film His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (1914) was adapted as a screenplay by L. Frank Baum himself. He added several new characters and a new plotline, both of which became the basis for the ninth Oz book, The Scarecrow of Oz, published the following year.

The new Oz characters, who made their debut on film rather than in novel form, are King Krewl, Princess Gloria, and Pon. True to his name, King Krewl is the dictator of Emerald City, who wants to marry off his daughter, Gloria, to an old courtier. But Gloria is in love with Pon, the royal gardener's son. Krewl employs Mombi, The Wicked Witch of the North, to cast a spell on Gloria that will make her stop loving Pon and consent to the arranged marriage.

Mombi was originally introduced in the second Oz novel, The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904). She later appeared in the nineteenth book, The Lost King of Oz (1925), and the thirty-sixth book, Lucky Bucky in Oz (1942).

The Wizard defeats Mombi with help from Dorothy Gale, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and a boy named Button-Bright, a character from the fifth Oz novel The Road to Oz (1909). The film ends with the Scarecrow overthrowing King Krewl, undoing Mombi's spells, and taking the throne of Emerald City.

This film was not successful upon its initial release, so it was re-released the following year under the title The New Wizard of Oz to a warmer audience reception.

"The Magic Cloak of Oz" (1914)

The Magic Cloak of Oz (1914) is a loose adaptation of L. Frank Baum's 1905 novel Queen Zixi of Ix. The novel doesn't take place in the land of Oz, but rather in the neighboring regions of Noland and Ix.

This film opens in Oz, where a group of fairies create a magic cloak that grants wishes to its wearer. They give the cloak to two orphaned siblings, Bud and Fluff. The rest of the film takes place in the kingdom of Noland, where the siblings travel to.

Using the magic cloak, Bud becomes the new king of Noland, while Fluff becomes a princess. However, their reign is threatened by Queen Zixi of the kingdom of Ix, who seeks the cloak for herself, and by the Roly-Rogues, creatures who attempt to conquer Noland.

Though the novel was never part of the Oz series, the characters Bud, Fluff, and Queen Zixi were briefly featured in the Oz novel The Road to Oz in 1917.

Paramount Pictures refused to distribute this film, due to the poor box-office performance of The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1914). Though made in 1914, it wasn't until 1917 that the National Film Company agreed to distribute it. By then the Oz Film Manufacturing Company had been defunct for two years.

"The Wizard of Oz" (1925)

Produced by Chadwick Pictures, The Wizard of Oz (1925) was based on the first Oz book, yet took several liberties with the story. It includes the characters King Krewl and King Kynd—renamed Prime Minister Kruel and Prince Kynd—who appeared in the ninth Oz book, The Scarecrow of Oz (1915).

When Dorothy Gale gets transported to Oz by a tornado, three farmhands working on her aunt and uncle's farm are transported with her. When they arrive in Oz, they're pursued by the soldiers of Prime Minister Kruel. To elude them, the farmhands put on disguises and call themselves the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion.

It's revealed early in the film that Dorothy, as an infant, was left on the doorstep of the people she calls her aunt and uncle. Unbeknownst to her, she is actually Princess Dorothea, the heir to Emerald City. In the end, she marries Prince Kynd and takes her place as ruler.

The farmhand who disguises himself as the Scarecrow was played by the film's director, Larry Semon. Dorothy was played by Semon's fiance, Dorothy Dwan, who he married after the film was completed.

Distribution of the film ended far sooner than intended because its high production costs ended up bankrupting Chadwick Pictures. In June 1931, the film was broadcast on television as a three-part serial by W2XCD, a company owned by DeForest Radio Company.

"The Land of Oz, a Sequel to the Wizard of Oz" (1932)

There is little record of The Land of Oz, a Sequel to the Wizard of Oz (1932), which is supposedly an adaptation of the second Oz novel, The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904). Footage has been recovered but never released to the public, as the soundtrack remains incomplete. Despite the title, it doesn't appear to be a direct sequel to any specific previous film.

The film's director was Ethel Meglin, an accomplished chorus girl who founded a troupe of young music and dance performers called the Meglin Kiddies in 1928. Many famous child stars began their careers as Meglin Kiddies, including Shirley Temple, Judy Garland, Jackie Cooper, Farley Granger, Mickey Rooney, and Jane Withers.

The Meglin Kiddies performed in several films, including this one. When Dorothy returns to Oz, where the Scarecrow rules Emerald City as king, there is much celebratory dancing. Meanwhile, General Jinjur assembles an army to overthrow the Scarecrow and take the throne for herself. She summons her army by tap-dancing on a drum.

Years later, the Meglin Kiddies would appear in MGM's The Wizard of Oz (1939) as background singers and dancers in Munchkinland, where Dorothy first lands in Oz.

"The Wizard of Oz" (1933)

Though MGM's The Wizard of Oz (1939) became known for portraying the land of Oz in bright colors, while Dorothy Gale's drab homeland of Kansas was black and white, this eight-minute animated short film was the first to do so.

This film contains little dialogue, relying more on the musical accompaniment provided by Carl W. Stalling. After Dorothy and her dog Toto land in Oz and befriend the Scarecrow and the Tin Man, the four of them watch the mating rituals of various animals set to the classical music piece "The Swan" by Camille Saint-Saëns.

Dorothy and her friends meet the Wizard, who waves his wand and performs magic tricks involving a hen and her eggs. An egg hatches, and the film ends with everyone singing "Rock-a-Bye Baby" as the hen cradles her newborn chick. Unlike in MGM's version, Dorothy does not return to her black and white home.

Director Ted Eshbaugh made this film in Technicolor without proper licensing. At the time, the Technicolor Corporation only allowed Disney to use its animated color process. As a result, the film never received a theatrical release.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Sarah Nour

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