L. Frank Baum circa 1901
|Born||May 15, 1856
Chittenango, New York
|Died||May 6, 1919
|Occupation||Author, Newspaper Editor, Actor, Screenwriter, Film Producer|
Lyman Frank Baum (May 15, 1856–May 6, 1919) was an American author, actor, and independent filmmaker best known as the creator, along with illustrator W. W. Denslow, of one of the most popular books ever written in American children's literature, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, better known today as simply The Wizard of Oz. He wrote thirteen sequels, nine other fantasy novels, and a plethora of other works, and made numerous attempts to bring his works to the stage and screen.
Frank was born in Chittenango, New York, into a devout Methodist family of German (father's side) and Scots-Irish (mother's side) origin, the seventh of nine children born to Cynthia Stanton and Benjamin Ward Baum, only five of whom survived into adulthood. He was named "Lyman" after his father's brother, but always disliked this name, and preferred to go by "Frank". His mother, Cynthia Stanton, was a direct descendant of Thomas Stanton, one of the four Founders of what is now Stonington, Connecticut.
Benjamin Baum was a wealthy businessman, who had made his fortune in the oil fields of Pennsylvania. Frank grew up on his parents' expansive estate, Rose Lawn, which he always remembered fondly as a sort of paradise. As a young child Frank was tutored at home with his siblings, but at the age of 12 he was sent to study at Peekskill Military Academy. Frank was a sickly child given to daydreaming, and his parents may have thought he needed toughening up. But after two utterly miserable years at the military academy, he was allowed to return home. Frank Joslyn Baum claimed that this was following an incident described as a heart attack, though there is no contemporary evidence of this.
Frank started writing at an early age, perhaps due to an early fascination with printing. His father bought him a cheap printing press, and Frank used it to produce The Rose Lawn Home Journal with the help of his younger brother, Harry Clay Baum, with whom he had always been close. The brothers published several issues of the journal and included advertisements they may have sold. By the time he was 17, Baum had established a second amateur journal, The Stamp Collector, printed an 11-page pamphlet called Baum's Complete Stamp Dealers' Directory, and started a stamp dealership with his friends.
At about the same time Frank embarked upon his lifetime infatuation with the theater, a devotion which would repeatedly lead him to failure and near-bankruptcy. His first such failure occurred when a local theatrical company duped him into replenishing their stock of costumes, with the promise of leading roles that never came his way. Disillusioned, Baum left the theatre—temporarily—and went to work as a clerk in his brother-in-law's dry goods company in Syracuse. At one point, he found another clerk locked in a store room dead, an apparent suicide. This incident appears to have inspired his locked room story, The Suicide of Kiaros.
At the age of 20, Baum took on a new vocation: the breeding of fancy poultry, which was a national craze at the time. He specialized in raising a particular breed of fowl, the Hamburg chicken. In 1880 he established a monthly trade journal, The Poultry Record, and in 1886, when Baum was 30 years old, his first book was published: The Book of the Hamburgs: A Brief Treatise upon the Mating, Rearing, and Management of the Different Varieties of Hamburgs.
Yet Baum could never stay away from the stage long. He continued to take roles in plays, performing under the stage names of Louis F. Baum and George Brooks.
In 1880, his father built him a theatre in Richburg, New York, and Baum set about writing plays and gathering a company to act in them. The Maid of Arran, a melodrama with songs based on William Black's novel A Princess of Thule, proved a modest success. Baum not only wrote the play but composed songs for it (making it a prototypical musical, as its songs relate to the narrative), and acted in the leading role. His aunt, Katharine Gray, played his character's aunt. She was the founder of Syracuse Oratory School, and Baum advertised his services in her catalog to teach theatre, including stage business, playwriting, directing, and translating (French, German, and Italian), revision, and operettas, though he was not employed to do so. On November 9, 1882, Baum married Maud Gage, a daughter of Matilda Joslyn Gage, a famous women's suffrage activist. While Baum was touring with The Maid of Arran, the theatre in Richburg caught fire during a production of Baum's ironically-titled parlor drama, Matches, and destroyed not only the theatre, but the only known copies of many of Baum's scripts, including Matches, as well as costumes and props.
In July 1888, Baum and his wife moved to Aberdeen, Dakota Territory, where he opened a store, "Baum's Bazaar". His habit of giving out wares on credit led to the eventual bankrupting of the store, so Baum turned to editing a local newspaper, The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, where he wrote a column, "Our Landlady". Baum's description of Kansas in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is based on his experiences in drought-ridden South Dakota. During much of this time, Matilda Joslyn Gage was living in the Baum household.
After Baum's newspaper failed in 1891, he, Maud and their four sons moved to Chicago, where Baum took a job reporting for the Evening Post. For several years he edited a magazine for advertising agencies focused on window displays in stores. The major department stores created elaborate Christmas time fantasies, using clockwork mechanism that made people and animals appear to move.
In 1897 he wrote and published Mother Goose in Prose, a collection of Mother Goose rhymes written as prose stories, and illustrated by Maxfield Parrish. Mother Goose was a moderate success, and allowed Baum to quit his door-to-door job.
In 1899 Baum partnered with illustrator W. W. Denslow, to publish Father Goose, His Book, a collection of nonsense poetry. The book was a success, becoming the best-selling children's book of the year.
In 1900, Baum and Denslow (with whom he shared the copyright) published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to much critical and financial acclaim. The book was the best-selling children's book for two years after its initial publication. Baum went on to write thirteen other novels based on the places and people of the Land of Oz.
Two years after Wizard's publication, Baum and Denslow teamed up with composer Paul Tietjens and director Julian Mitchell to produce a musical stage version of the book under Fred R. Hamlin. This stage version, the first to use the title "The Wizard of Oz", opened in Chicago in 1902, then ran on Broadway for 293 stage nights from January to October 1903. It returned to Broadway in 1904, where it played from March to May and again from November to December. It successfully toured the United States with much of the same cast, as was done in those days, until 1911, and then became available for amateur use. The stage version starred David C. Montgomery and Fred Stone as the Tin Woodman and Scarecrow respectively, which shot the pair to instant fame. The stage version differed quite a bit from the book, and was aimed primarily at adults. Toto was replaced with Imogene the Cow, and Tryxie Tryfle, a waitress and Pastoria, a streetcar operator, were added as fellow cyclone victims. The Wicked Witch of the West was eliminated entirely in the script, over which Baum had little control or influence. Jokes in the script, mostly written by Glen MacDonough, called for explicit references to President Theodore Roosevelt, Senator Mark Hanna, and oil magnate John D. Rockefeller.
Beginning with the success of the stage version, most subsequent versions of the story, including newer editions of the novel, have been titled "The Wizard of Oz", rather than using the full, original title.
Following early film treatments in 1910 and 1925, Metro Goldwyn Mayer made the story into the now classic movie The Wizard of Oz starring Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale. A completely new Tony Award winning Broadway musical based on African-American musical styles,The Wiz was staged in 1975 with Stephanie Mills as Dorothy. It was the basis for a 1978 film by the same title starring Diana Ross as an adult Dorothy. The Wizard of Oz continues to inspire new versions such as Disney's 1985 Return to Oz, The Muppets' Wizard of Oz, and a variety of animated productions. Today's most successful Broadway show, Wicked provides a backstory to the two Oz witches used in the classic MGM film. Wicked author Gregory Maguire chose to honor L. Frank Baum by naming his main character Elphaba -- a phonetic take on Baum's initials.
With the success of Wizard on page and stage, Baum and Denslow hoped lightning would strike a third time and in 1901 published Dot and Tot of Merryland. The book was one of Baum's weakest, and its failure further strained his faltering relationship with Denslow. It would be their last collaboration.
Several times during the development of the Oz series, Baum declared that he had written his last Oz book and devoted himself to other works of fantasy fiction based in other magical lands, including The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus and Queen Zixi of Ix. However, persuaded by popular demand, letters from children, and the failure of his new books, he returned to the series each time. All of his novels have fallen into public domain in most jurisdictions, and many are available through Project Gutenberg.
Because of his lifelong love of theatre, he often financed elaborate musicals, often to his financial detriment. One of Baum's worst financial endeavors was his The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays (1908), which combined a slideshow, film, and live actors with a lecture by Baum as if he were giving a travelogue to Oz. However, Baum ran into trouble and could not pay his debts to the company who produced the films. He did not get back to a stable financial situation until almost a decade later, after he sold the royalty rights to many of his earlier works, including The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. This resulted in the M.A. Donahue Company publishing cheap editions of his early works with advertising the purported that Baum's newer output was inferior to the less expensive books they were releasing. Baum had shrewdly transferred most of his property, except for his clothing, his library (mostly of children's books, such as the fairy tales of Andrew Lang, whose portrait he kept in his study), and his typewriter, into Maud's name, as she handled the finances, anyway, and thus lost much less than he could have.
His final Oz book, Glinda of Oz was published a year after his death in 1920 but the Oz series was continued long after his death by other authors, notably Ruth Plumly Thompson, who wrote an additional nineteen Oz books.
Baum made use of several pseudonyms for some of his other, non-Oz books. They include:
Baum also anonymously wrote The Last Egyptian: A Romance of the Nile.
Baum continued theatrical work with Harry Marston Haldeman's social group, The Uplifters, for which he wrote several plays for various celebrations. He also wrote the group's parodic by-laws. These plays include some of the most racist and sexist material Baum ever wrote, and they are in many ways more the works of the group than of Baum himself, though the group, which also included Will Rogers, was proud to have had Baum as a member and posthumously revived many of his works despite their ephemeral intent. Prior to that, his last produced play was The Tik-Tok Man of Oz (based on Ozma of Oz and the basis for Tik-Tok of Oz), a modest success in Hollywood that producer Oliver Morosco decided did not to well enough to take to Broadway. Morosco, incidentally, quickly turned to film production, as would Baum.
In 1914, having moved to Hollywood years earlier, Baum started his own film production company, The Oz Film Manufacturing Company, which came as an outgrowth of the Uplifters. He served as its president, and principal producer and screenwriter. The rest of the board consisted of Louis F. Gottschalk, Harry Marston Haldeman, and Clarence R. Rundel. The films were directed by J. Farrell Macdonald, with casts that included Violet Macmillan, Vivian Reed, Mildred Harris, Juanita Hansen, Pierre Couderc, Mai Welles, Louise Emmons, J. Charles Haydon, and early appearances by Harold Lloyd and Hal Roach. Richard Rosson appeared in one of the films, whose younger brother Harold Rosson photographed The Wizard of Oz (1939). After little success probing the unrealized children's film market, Baum came clean about who wrote The Last Egyptian and made a film of it (portions of which are included in Decasia), but the Oz name had, for the time being, become box office poison and even a name change to Dramatic Feature Films and transfer of ownership to Frank Joslyn Baum did not help. Unlike with The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays, Baum invested none of his own money in the venture, but the stress probably took its toll on its health.
Baum died on May 6, 1919, aged 62, and was buried in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, in Glendale, California.
Sally Roesch Wagner of The Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation has published a pamphlet titled The Wonderful Mother of Oz describing how Matilda's radical feminist politics were sympathetically channelled by Baum into his Oz books. Much of the politics in the Republican Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer dealt with trying to convince the populace to vote for women's suffrage. Baum was the secretary of Aberdeen's Woman's Suffrage Club. When Susan B. Anthony visited Aberdeen, she stayed with the Baums. Nancy Tystad Koupal notes an apparent loss of interest in editorializing after Aberdeen failed to pass the bill for women's enfranchisement.
During the events leading up to the Wounded Knee Massacre, Baum wrote an editorial for the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer upon the death of Sioux Chief Sitting Bull stating:
After Massacre he wrote a second editorial repeating his earlier opinion and criticizing the government for not taking even harsher measures. These two short editorials continue to haunt his legacy. Matilda Joslyn Gage, a white feminist who was later adopted into the Mohawk nation, was living with Baum at the time of the Wounded Knee massacre, and none of the Baum family letters or journals of the time suggest any home strife as a result of this writing. In 2006, descendants of Baum apologized to the Sioux nation for any hurt their ancestor had caused.
These editorials are the only known occasion on which Baum expressed such direct views, though less hostile remarks in some other writing used racist vocabulary or stereotyping typical of the day. His overall writing is remarkably inclusive and his characters diverse. For example, aside from vocabulary no one would use today, he did acknowledge many Americans of non-European ancestry in The Woggle Bug Book to an extent unheard of in other 1905 children's publications. The short story, "The Enchanted Buffalo", which purports to be a Native American fable, speaks respectfully of tribal peoples. In Aunt Jane's Nieces and Uncle John (1911), Beth and Patsy are disgusted by a snake dance by a Native American tribe, refered to as the "Moki" which is an outdated name for the Hopi. Their disgust, essentially caused by the snakes themselves, is not carried over into the narration at all, beyond elaborating on the protagonists' response. In the same book he is less kind to the Navajo, whom the characters see on a reservation. He describes them as "uninteresting," "lazy", and "filthy", and "unfortunate".
Although numerous political references to the "Wizard" appeared early in the 20th century, it was in a scholarly article in 1964 (Littlefield 1964) that there appeared the first full-fledged interpretation of the novel as an extended political allegory of the politics and characters of the 1890s. Special attention was paid to the Populist metaphors and debates over silver and gold. As a staunch Republican and avid supporter of Women's Suffrage, Baum personally did not support the political ideals of either the Populist movement of 1890-92 or the Bryanite-silver crusade of 1896-1900. He published a poem in support of William McKinley.
Since 1964 many scholars, economists and historians have expanded on Littlefield's interpretation, pointing to multiple similarities between the characters (especially as depicted in Denslow's illustrations) and stock figures from editorial cartoons of the period. Littlefield himself wrote the New York Times letters to the editor section spelling out that his theory had no basis in fact, but was developed simply as a tool to help bored summer school students remember their history lesson.
Baum's newspaper had addressed politics in the 1890s, and Denslow was an editorial cartoonist as well as an illustrator of children's books. A series of political references are included in the 1902 stage version, such as references by name to the President and a powerful senator, and to John D. Rockefeller for providing the oil needed by the Tin Woodman. Scholars have found few political references in Baum's Oz books after 1902.
When Baum himself was asked whether his stories had hidden meanings, he always replied that they were written to please children and generate an income for his family.
Fans of the Oz books dismiss any political interpretation, and argue that Baum and Denslow had no interest in promoting any kind of political agenda.
Originally a Methodist, Baum joined the Episcopal Church in Aberdeen in order to participate in community theatricals. Later, he and his wife, encouraged by Matilda Joslyn Gage, became theosophists, in 1897. Baum's beliefs are often reflected in his writing. The only mention of a church in the Oz books is the porcelain one which the Cowardly Lion breaks in the Dainty China Country in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The Baums also sent their older sons to "Ethical Culture Sunday School" in Chicago, which taught morality but not religion.
Including those listed here and on the Oz books page, Michael Patrick Hearn has identified forty-two titles of stage plays associated with Baum, some probably redundant or reflective of alternate draughts, many for works that Baum may never have actually started. Listed below and under non-Canon works by canon Oz authors, are those either known to have been performed (such as the lost plays of his youth) or that exist in at least fragmentary or treatment form.
Please see: The Oz books