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Oz Before the Rainbow:
L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz on Stage and Screen to 1939

Mark Evan Swartz
Baltimore & London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000 (paperback 2002).
$18.95, 291 pages, ISBN 0-8018-7092-5.

Diana Dominguez
Texas Tech University

In Oz Before the Rainbow, Mark Evan Swartz has compiled a thorough and fascinating collection of information relating to the many permutations of L. Frank Baum's beloved American fairy tale, up through the filming and release of the famous 1939 MGM classic film starring Judy Garland. It is likely that, except for serious researchers and scholars of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its creator, most people have little (if any) idea that the book, first published in 1900, spawned a major stage play and several silent films, before making its MGM debut. Surprisingly, I still meet many people who don't realize the 1939 film was based on a book. Much of the material discussed by Swartz, an archivist with the Shubert Archive in New York, comes from archives and special collections to which the general public would have limited access. The book collects those materials into one place, and Swartz's extensive summaries and descriptions of scripts, contracts, music scores, newspaper clippings, reviews, and other documents relating to the many productions make Swartz's book an invaluable resource for Oz scholars. Additionally, Swartz's comments on social, commercial, political, and personal aspects surrounding each production help to situate the play or films into proper historical and social contexts.

As fascinating and as thorough as the information is, however, most likely, it will be a daunting prospect for the casual reader hoping for some background on Baum's book or the 1939 MGM film. This is a researcher's tome, not a mass-market, popular press publication. Swartz's work as an archivist is clearly on display in his attention to detail, which, at times, can become tedious in its minuteness, even for scholars. I am both a fan and a scholar of (primarily) the printed Oz works—there are fourteen Oz books, including The Wonderful Wizard of Oz—and I sometimes found myself skimming through the summaries of the productions to get to Swartz's commentaries, which, although interesting, don't often include much beyond surface analysis. For example, one of the major changes made in the 1902 stage play to the main theme of Baum's book elicits only the following tantalizing comment: "[The alteration to Baum's original story by the stage producers] renders the plot male-driven, whereas in Baum's original tale, as well as in his writing in general, it is females who propel the narrative forward—a fairly unusual thing for the time" (54).

Perhaps it is the literary and feminist scholar in me, but this particular aspect leaves me with some burning questions that Swartz does not answer in any satisfying way, especially given the fact that a silent film produced by Baum himself only a few years after the play did reinstate Dorothy's central and independent characteristics. Baum's film, although not as lucrative or as wildly popular as the play, did have a fair run of success among both children and adults. The play's producers, according to Swartz, made the changes to the female-centered story—making Dorothy old enough to be courted, adding political overtones, peppering the story with slapstick and pun humor—in order to appeal to an adult audience. Swartz does not adequately address why or how Baum's film did manage to appeal to adults as well as children in spite of its female-centered story and child protagonist, which contradicts the reasons given for why the play's producers changed the central story line, especially in terms of Dorothy's character, whose role is severely reduced, and whose personality changes from a self-sufficient, self-confident little girl to a sweet, easily love-struck, stereotypically submissive and helpless young woman. This aspect of the changes to Baum's original story, especially in light of his own outspoken support and work for women's suffrage and women's rights, merits further exploration, which Swartz does not undertake except to comment briefly on the changes made.

Having said that, however, it should be noted that Swartz's intention was to create an accessible study and description of archived materials unknown to most people, and to bring to light important information that bridges the gap between Baum's book and the 1939 musical. His commentaries, then, should perhaps be read as foundations for significant further analytical research into the social, gender, political, and literary elements found in each of the productions, and the changes made that significantly altered the themes and/or character motivations/portrayals from Baum's original and unique story (to early twentieth-century American literature). In this regard, Swartz's book is, indeed, an absolutely vital resource for Oz researchers, as he includes descriptions of scripts, songs, playbills, and advertisements now lost, but that he has reconstructed based on commentary from principal figures involved with the productions. Swartz's own final commentary reveals succinctly why he undertook the research, compiled the material, and why the book is an important and necessary resource:

Considering the worldwide iconic status of MGM's The Wizard of Oz, it is likely that the film's imagery will continue to be, for most people, the main gateway into L. Frank Baum's fairyland. But the rich world of Oz prior to 1939 ought to be explored as well, if for no other reason than to remind us of the way our past shapes and informs things that we have come to take for granted. We need only to look before the rainbow to find the past in our present. (258)

The book includes several rare black-and-white and color photographs connected to the productions, and reproductions of programs, promotional announcements, posters, book jackets, and drawings of costumes and sets. Swartz divides the book into two sections: the first is devoted to the 1902 stage play—its genesis, its Chicago premiere, its New York City run, and its nationwide tour; the second section deals with the silent films—a hybrid short silent film/slide show developed by Baum himself, several short (one-reel) silent films produced by Baum and others, and a 1925 feature-length silent film. He also includes a substantial introduction in which he recounts Baum's life and provides an insightful and thorough review of Baum's original book, its reception, and its many analytical interpretations. Swartz ends the book with an epilogue devoted to the 1939 MGM musical, which owes much of its look and important aspects of its script to the 1902 play and the 1925 silent film. For instance, the snow which Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, sends to save Dorothy and her friends from the field of poppies in the film is an element found in the stage play, but not in the book (where they are carried away from the sleep-inducing poppies by friendly field mice). The 1939 film's ending, which makes Dorothy's trip to Oz a dream brought on by her bump on the head, is a nod to the 1925 film. That 1925 film also introduces the farm hands that are transformed into characters in Oz (the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion), as in the 1939 film. Miss Gulch (in the Judy Garland film) converting into the Wicked Witch of the West is an extension of this technique, and unique to the 1939 film. Dorothy's journey to Oz in Baum's original tale is a reality, and there are no equivalent characters in her "real" world to be transformed into "dream" characters in the fantasy land of Oz. In this respect, as Swartz notes, the 1939 film dilutes the mythical journey theme that Baum makes such a strong and central part of his 1900 book.

In the final analysis, Swartz's book, while not an easy or quick read (even for scholars) because of its comprehensive and thorough examination of so many rare sources, is a significant achievement and addition to Oz scholarship. It provides interesting and new directions for other researchers to follow, and adds to the cultural, mythical, and historical richness that the Oz tradition encompasses for so many people. Readers in the general public may find it exhausting and daunting, rather than exhaustive and instructive, but there are many fascinating and delightful nuggets of information here for those willing to stay the course. Scholars and researchers—and perhaps those readers who are more than casual fans of the books and/or the 1939 film—will find themselves returning to this book repeatedly. It is a worthy addition to an Oz lover's library.

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