It was a mere 70 years ago today, August 25, 1939 when MGM released its newest and most sensational movie; The Wizard of Oz.
Much hype and hoopla surrounded the premier and from the moment the MGM lion roared, audiences were captivated by the magical land of Oz written about only 39 years before by the celebrated children's author, Lyman Frank Baum.
Since that time, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has taken on many forms and incantations.
Rather than expand on Baum's contributions to children's literature or various facts and lore surrounding the movie, I would choose to focus on how MGM's The Wizard of Oz affected my life and eventually lead to my becoming the Royal Liaison to Princess Ozma and writing Magician of Oz; the first of a three volume story about a young magician named Jamie Diggs and his adventures at home in Indiana and abroad in the Land of Oz.
It should be noted that although MGM's The Wizard of Oz was released in theaters on this date in 1939, it didn't hit the television machine until 1956, then began its incredible yearly showing in 1959, the year before I was born. Therefore, there has never been a year where I did not know of The Wizard of Oz in movie form. While I'm certain that I watched the movie as an infant, my earliest memories of Oz are of my parents reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; by L. Frank Baum (1900) to me as a young child.
I recall my father acting out the scenes while my mother would do the sound effects. One particular scene that often frightened me was when the Tin Woodman took up his sharp axe against the Fighting Trees of the Great Forest of the Quadling Country. Of course he defeated them easily, but my parents made it into quite the horrific scene of carnage and much spilling of sap. In MGM's The Wizard of Oz, I would always get a bit scared when Dorothy and the Scarecrow encountered the animated Apple Trees of the Great Forest. Even to this very day, I sometimes wonder when I walk about in the woods near our home if the trees are watching me, waiting for the right moment to attack and conquer.
Of course now, as a father of five children and grandfather of ten, it is now my job to entertain the kids. With my own children, I would emulate my parents to such a degree that my mom once came in on one of my reading performances and was momentarily stunned at the resemblance between our readings. And much like myself, the battle of the fighting trees was one of the highlights of the show and I made it nearly as violent as my parents did. I also liked doing odd voices for some of the characters and my grandkids find my Yoda voice to be the perfect choice for the voice of the Nome King.
As I have grown older and somewhat wiser (and that is a bit subjective), I have found the the Land of Oz has begun to play a growing role in my life. Every semester, I finish up my lab course in Weather & Climate by doing the Dark Side of Oz thing for my students. We examine the weather in Kansas, including the tornado and the weather in Oz. They get a big kick out of it and I find its a nice way to end what I hope has been a fun class for them.
Over the last 2 years, I have found that Oz has taken over in a number of ways, including my work on fulfilling Princess Ozma's command to spread the word of Oz and tell the story of Jamie Diggs through the story of Magician of Oz. As a result, I have immersed myself in the world of publishing and marketing of the printed word.
Early on in the process, I made a choice to go with the option of self-publishing my work as opposed to the traditional publishing process. This choice was made easier by the cowardice of traditional publishing firms and literary agents who are quite afraid to take an occasional chance on new authors. In addition, today's economic climate has driven the traditional publishing process into near bankruptcy as new methods and processes take over. New authors are finding new avenues for their work and the Internet machine has supplanted the role of news media in the print and broadcast format in promoting their work.
Now, as I look forward to volumes two and three; Shadow Demon of Oz and Family of Oz and their eventual release into the Great Outside, I wonder what will become of MGM's The Wizard of Oz over the next 70 years. How will it evolve into our culture beyond what it has already done? What will my great grandchildren think of the Wizard, Glinda and the Wicked Witch of the West, Dorothy, Toto, the Scarecrow, Tinman and the Cowardly Lion?
Will they feel as we do today about this wonderful classic? Will they experience it in ways we can not yet predict or even imagine? Will the timeless words of Lyman Frank Baum still resonate with the children of the future?
So many questions and no answers... at least not yet!
Long Live Oz!!!
James C. Wallace II
Royal Liaison to Princess Ozma