Happy Birthday to the Royal Historian of Oz

May 15 is the birthday of L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and more than 55 other novels.

Lyman Frank Baum was born near Syracuse, New York in 1856. At 26, he married Maud Gage. Her mother was close to Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, leaders of the women’s rights movement.

Baum’s books  — not just the Oz series — are peopled with strong female characters.

He moved to Aberdeen South Dakota when he was 32, opening a general store called “Baum’s Bazaar.”

Then store failed and the Baums moved to Chicago where he became a newspaper editor. While supplementing his income as a traveling salesman he wrote down plots for stories to regal his children upon his return.

His mother-in-law encouraged him to write down the stories and his first book, Mother Goose in Prose, was published in 1897 to rave reviews. Maxfield Parrish was the illustrator.

After that came Father Goose, His Book in 1899 and, one year later, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

In the introduction, Baum steadfastly claims the book was written “solely to pleasure the children of today,” while later reviewers have said Baum, who relished a good inside joke, also created an elaborate allegory involving the Populist politics of his day, women’s suffrage, imperialism and the fight over the gold standard.

From 1909’s The Road to Oz:

“Money! Money in Oz!” cried the Tin Woodman. “What a queer idea! Did you suppose we are so vulgar as to use money here?”?

“Why not?” asked the shaggy man.

“If we used money to buy things with, instead of love and kindness and the desire to please one another, then we should be no better than the rest of the world,” declared the Tin Woodman.

“Fortunately money is not known in the Land of Oz at all. We have no rich, and no poor; for what one wishes the others all try to give him, in order to make him happy, and no one in all Oz cares to have more than he can use.”

Others contend The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is an allegory for the soul’s search for enlightement, citing Baum, his wife and his mother-in-law’s membership in the Theosophical Society whose members seek to find the universal truths at the core of the world’s great religions. Is the Yellow Brick Road, Buddhism’s Golden Path? 

After the success of the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Baum and his family moved to Hollywood in 1910. Baum’s home was called “Ozcot.”

He declared bankruptcxy one year later and, although in failing health, wrote an Oz book every year thereafter to restore his financial health.

Baum created the Oz Film Manufacturing Company in 1914. It was located next to Universal Studios but failed to generate an audience for its Oz-based features. It was subsequently sold to Universal.

Baum died in 1919.

“Now we can cross the shifting sands,” were his last words, according to his wife. 



Filed under: California History

1 Comment »

  1. I seem to recall Dorothy wearing silver shoes — which would click together to transport herself. A reference to the Free Silver issue of the day.

    Comment by John Lovell — 5.15.2012 @ 6:31 pm

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