American Experience

S33 E4 | FULL EPISODE

American Oz

Explore the life and times of author L. Frank Baum, the creator of one of the most beloved, enduring and classic American narratives - The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Baum never lost his childlike sense of wonder and eventually crafted his observations into a magical tale of survival, adventure and self-discovery, reinterpreted through the generations in films, books and musicals.

AIRED: April 19, 2021 | 1:52:52
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TRANSCRIPT

NARRATOR: On November 3, 1956,

families all across America gathered in their living rooms

for the first television broadcast of "The Wizard of Oz."

45 million viewers tuned in.

Its annual airing on television would cement the story

in the American consciousness.

GREGORY MAGUIRE: My parents were dubious about television.

Once a year they lowered their inhibitions and restrictions,

and that was when "The Wizard of Oz" was rebroadcast.

♪ Somewhere over the rainbow

LOUIS WARREN: When I was a kid, I saw "The Wizard of Oz"

for the first time on a color TV

and was just stunned when you made that transition

from the black-and-white photography

to the color photography.

DINA MASSACHI: I don't remember

the first time I saw it.

What I remember is wanting to be Dorothy.

I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.

♪ You're off to see the Wizard, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz ♪

MARIA MONTOYA: The two images that have stuck with me my whole life...

Now, fly-- fly!

MONTOYA: The witch and the flying monkeys-- absolutely terrifying.

EVAN SCHWARTZ: The movie is not only

the most seen movie of all time, but it's the most

repeatedly viewed movie of all time.

WIZARD: I am Oz!

SCHWARTZ: It's almost impossible to conceive of American life

without growing up with "The Wizard of Oz."

I'm melting, melting!

NARRATOR: "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" first appeared

more than half a century earlier, as a children's book.

Published in 1900, the story of Dorothy's

fantastical journey down the yellow brick road

was the brainchild of L. Frank Baum,

a writer whose penchant for reinvention

reflected a uniquely American brand of confidence,

imagination, and innovation.

During a time of rapid change,

he wrote a fairytale that embraced the values

and direction of a new society.

WARREN: Baum is at the center of a kind of culture

of inviting people to dream of a new life.

PHILIP DELORIA: "The Wizard Of Oz" is the quintessential story

of going to another world, working out issues and problems,

and then returning and being in a better place

in a world that is challenging.

MONTOYA: What's underlying this seemingly easy children's story

is actually a complicated person who has a complicated story,

and brings all that to the underpinnings of the book.

DOUGLAS A. JONES, JR.: His life suggests

a kind of American spirit on the cusp of a new century,

turning towards what the modern and the new would be.

(steam hisses)

(train rumbling)

NARRATOR: On a chilly evening in January 1894,

a determined Lyman Frank Baum wrote his mother

from a small rail town west of Chicago,

rejecting her offer of support.

"I shall somehow manage to provide

for those dependent on me," he told her.

A tall order for the impractical man who throughout

his adult life had quit work where he found success

and pursued his passions into near-ruin.

(train rumbling)

NARRATOR: To support his family

in the midst of a crushing economic depression,

37-year-old Baum, who went by Frank,

had accepted a trial position as a traveling salesman.

Working on commission,

he hauled heavy trunks of breakable glassware and dishes

to store owners across the Midwest.

Even though he's barely getting by

selling crockery on the road, he's determined

to support his family on his own, on his own terms.

He was always looking for the next best thing,

where he might, might make some decent money.

Baum was trying to find a way that he could stay at home

and be with his family, not be on the road.

That was his ultimate goal.

SCHWARTZ: He started to reconnect to his

original childhood dream of being a great writer

and started writing poems

and stories on any scrap of paper he could find.

(indistinct chatter, bell ringing)

NARRATOR: As he journeyed from town to town,

Baum bore witness to a nation in transition--

a country of shifting tastes,

increasing population,

and growing industrial might.

He traveled across a land

in which vast fortunes were being made;

at the same time,

millions lived in extreme poverty.

PHILIP DELORIA: Baum sits at the cusp of the changes of the 19th century

as it gives way to the 20th century, and Americans are

forced to think self-reflectively about

what's happening to their country--

thinking about what was,

and what will be.

BOB BAUM: He would be meeting new people,

going to new places, hearing new things,

seeing new things-- all of these could be

food for his imagination.

MICHAEL PATRICK HEARN: Frank Baum was always aware

of the importance of the imagination.

(train whistle blares)

He basically nurtured his imagination and he trusted it.

(train rumbling)

KENT DRUMMOND: The imagination could sometimes be fueled

by the, the travails of the world,

into imagining places where

want and depression were not a possibility.

NARRATOR: Baum channeled his keen observations into magical tales,

the most famous of which would become

"America's First Great Fairy Tale,"

a story about an almost unbelievable journey

that projected the sentiments of its author,

a man who wanted to find his place in the world

and to make his way back to his family.

"No matter how dreary and gray our homes are,

"we people of flesh and blood would rather live there

"than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful.

There is no place like home."

EVAN SCHWARTZ: Home was coming back to your hopes and dreams.

GLENDA: Tap your shoes together three times.

And think to yourself, "There's no place like home."

SCHWARTZ: It was more than just family.

It was a sense of self as well.

There's no place like home.

There's no place like home.

There's no place like home.

(loud crash)

(birds, cicadas chirping)

BAUM: My great grandfather, L. Frank Baum,

grew up on a place called

Rose Lawn, which was his parents' home and farm.

Rose Lawn consisted of a gorgeous house

with a big library, lots of books.

There were fields and forests

and streams. (child playing in distance)

This was a wonderful place for a child.

NARRATOR: Born in 1856,

Frank Baum enjoyed an idyllic childhood

on the outskirts of Syracuse, New York.

His father, originally a barrel maker,

had struck it rich in the oil fields of Pennsylvania,

making him a wealthy man

during a volatile era of industrialization.

DINA MASSACHI: Baum grew up reading fairy tales

that were older European fairy tales--

your Brothers' Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen.

A lot of them end with very didactic morals,

and they're dark.

HEARN: He loved the adventure of these stories

and also the magic and the wonder that they possessed.

NARRATOR: "Childhood," Baum would later write, "is the time for fables,

for dreams, for joy."

SALLY ROESCH WAGNER: His imagination was where he spent much of his time.

He could explore his passions.

And the fanciful world that he created then

I think stayed with him throughout his life.

NARRATOR: At age 19, when he was old enough

to start earning a living for himself,

Frank Baum showed little interest

in following in his father's footsteps.

(chicken clucking)

After a short stint

as a store clerk, Frank struck out on his own path.

He decided to ride the wave of an unusual

national craze-- breeding fancy chickens.

To support this new passion,

his father established B.W. Baum & Sons

on the family 80-acre stock farm adjacent to Rose Lawn.

SCHWARTZ: Frank wasn't content

just to breed chickens for food.

He wanted to breed fancy chickens that were

going to be shown at various festivals and shows.

And it was really emblematic of the way

he approached almost every endeavor.

He wanted to be the best at it.

NARRATOR: A leading trade magazine praised him as

"one of the most active and enthusiastic fanciers,"

and noted his "prolific and pleasant" writing

for various poultry journals.

But Baum's interest in the fancy poultry craze did not last long.

DRUMMOND: Frank Baum was a restless spirit

and he was always looking for the next big thing.

There was always something more and so there was,

there was a quest.

SHARON STROM: The obsessions of many Americans in the late 19th century

were to get beyond the small world of the village;

to change their identities and occupations;

to imagine a whole new way of being

in comparison to their parents and grandparents.

MARIA MONTOYA: Baum is a middle-class man of white American descent,

and so he can freely move across the North American landscape.

And so when something calls to him,

he has the resources to be able to do that

and to jump on that dream and try to make it work for him.

NARRATOR: 24-year-old Frank Baum headed to New York City in 1881

to study acting.

Frank Baum loved to perform--- he was basically a ham.

And this was one profession

that he felt he could make a name for himself.

But it was not considered

a particularly admirable profession

to go into theater at that time.

There's a lot of prejudice against actors.

STROM: There's a view in proper American society

that acting is kind of a low-grade occupation.

But the public loves actors.

It's a way to become popular.

NARRATOR: Baum soon landed a job touring with a repertory company.

He played small roles under the name George Brooks,

and was described as "a deserving actor"

who had "genuine dramatic ability,"

but Frank aspired to something more.

He wanted to write, produce, and star in his own plays,

and asked his father to bankroll his new venture.

HEARN: His father was very indulgent to Frank's interests.

If Frank wanted to sell poultry, he would support him on that.

If he wanted to become an actor,

he was the one who put up the money.

(horse trotting, whistle blows)

NARRATOR: On May 15, 1882,

crowds in Syracuse, Baum's hometown,

flocked to the Grand Opera House

to see the premiere of Frank's first theatrical creation,

a musical melodrama titled "The Maid of Arran."

Written under the name

Louis F. Baum, the play told a story of adventure and romance.

DOUGLAS A. JONES, JR.: Baum would be in a tradition of theater makers

who were trying to make it respectable.

They were trying to make a theater that was both popular,

which is to say profitable, but also respectable

so they could bring in middle-class audience members,

so they could bring in church members.

BAUM: This was Frank's big chance, this was his play.

He did the scenery, he did the music,

he did the lyrics, and he actually sang on stage.

STROM: Theater is one of the early forms of make-believe.

As a theater maker,

he was continuing a lifetime of playing.

It's a way of expressing his inventiveness

and disappearing into another world.

NARRATOR: Among the attendees at the Grand Opera House that night

was Maud Gage,

an independent-minded 21-year-old student

at Cornell University,

one of the few male colleges that had begun admitting women.

The couple had been courting for months.

WAGNER: When Frank met Maud,

he met a woman probably unlike any that he'd met before.

She was smart, she was witty, she was opinionated.

This is a woman to contend with.

BAUM: Frank saw in Maud all the things he didn't have.

She saw in him a life that would be very different and wonderful,

and must have seen his abilities and talents

and wanting to be a part of it.

NARRATOR: The young couple faced resistance from Maud's mother,

Matilda Joslyn Gage.

A formidable figure, Gage was a nationally known activist

in the growing movement for women's equality.

She was a founding member with Susan B. Anthony

and Elizabeth Cady Stanton

of the National Woman Suffrage Association.

Matilda had very definite thoughts

about her daughter's new suitor.

MASSACHI: At first she didn't like L. Frank Baum.

Here is this actor that her college daughter

is going to drop out of school to run off with and, no, no,

that's not gonna work.

But Maud was just as stubborn as her mother and said,

"No, I'm doing this."

NARRATOR: On November 9, 1882, Frank and Maud married

in the parlor of the Gage home in Fayetteville, New York.

"The promises of the bride," a local paper noted with surprise,

"were precisely the same as those required of the groom."

WAGNER: This is at a time in the 1880s

when men expected subordination and subservience from women.

And it was a unique man who wanted to be with a woman

who spoke her own mind, who would not be dominated.

And I think it speaks volumes about the character

of Frank that he loved a woman with that kind of strength.

Matilda's biggest fear about Frank,

he has all these fine qualities, but, Lord,

he is never gonna be able to make a living.

(train chugging)

NARRATOR: After the wedding, Maud joined Frank

and his company of actors on the road,

going on a westward tour with "The Maid of Arran."

But winter in the plains wasn't kind to the production.

(train whistle blaring)

SCHWARTZ: The tour of "The Maid Of Arran" was very successful at first,

but Frank really pushed it, he kept it going too long.

(train rumbling)

And it ends up going into Kansas,

and it was really telling that Maud wrote a letter saying,

"I couldn't be paid to live here.

This is the grimmest place I've ever seen."

NARRATOR: Frank's responsibilities changed dramatically that spring

when he found out that Maud was pregnant.

He now recognized a career in the theater

was not going to pay the bills, and closed down the tour.

MASSACHI: You see Baum feeling the pressure to succeed.

Being a man in that time, there was even more pressure

because there was really the expectation

he would provide for his family.

HEARN: I think it was devastating when "The Maid Of Arran" failed.

This was the first time he really had control

of his own life and was doing something he really enjoyed.

He was building a career that suddenly was gone.

And then he wrote his father begging him, basically,

for a job.

SCHWARTZ: Frank Baum came of age when America was transforming

from an agrarian, agricultural society into an urban,

industrial society, and it was happening at breakneck speed,

with all kinds of new technologies--

the railroad, the telegraph,

the telephone; it was unsettling for people.

"The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz" was created out of American parts.

Where do you want to be oiled, first?

(mumbles)

He said his mouth.

SCHWARTZ: Frank Baum's talent was turning these visual symbols

into meaningful and sometimes spiritual symbols

that worked in the context of the story.

(jaw squeaking)

My... my... my... my goodness, I can talk again!

MAGUIRE: One of the things that Baum contributed to our understanding

of how the imagination works in storytelling,

but perhaps also in the industrializing world

in which he was working, is that

he taught us to take the scraps, and bits, and shards

and assemble them into something new.

NARRATOR: In May 1883, after almost six months on tour,

Frank and Maud returned to Syracuse,

where Baum's father set him up in the family oil business.

Frank's job was marketing Baum's Castorine Oil,

a new petroleum product used on horse-drawn carts and buggies.

The young sales superintendent managed

to conjure the drama in axle grease.

SUSAN ARONSTEIN: Baum understood very instinctively

that one of the ways in which people

connected to products was through the idea of narrative.

The Castorine Oil ads in which you see a dandy in his carriage

looking utterly appalled that these scruffy children

in a farm wagon and a pony have just raced past him.

It tells the story about, you know, "Oh boy,

"I'm gonna be humiliated by a bunch of little kids

if I don't have the right oil."

He sold that oil in a way that would catch people's eye.

SCHWARTZ: Frank Baum was a natural salesman.

He was always trying to connect with people, to please people.

He could make up stories about anything.

Whether it was chickens or cans of oil,

Frank Baum had a story for it.

NARRATOR: Sales were good

and Frank was able to support his growing family.

NARRATOR: In February of 1886,

shortly after the birth of his second son,

Frank's older brother died suddenly.

A year later--

after Frank had taken on new responsibilities

in the Castorine Oil company-- his father died.

HEARN: When his father died that was an important lifeline that he lost.

SCHWARTZ: He didn't want to continue the oil business.

He wanted something greater,

something more in tune to who he was.

NARRATOR: In the summer of 1888,

after visiting Maud's brother in Dakota Territory,

Baum decided to move out west.

"I realize how crowded the East is,

and how competition keeps a man down,"

he wrote to his brother-in-law.

"In your country, there is an opportunity to be somebody."

JEANINE BASINGER: The prairie has two different effects on people.

It opens them up to their own significance and importance.

It's a place in which they can make their mark,

or it tends to crush them, even drive them mad.

You either use your imagination and feel capable of handling it

or you don't.

(wind whipping)

(thunder rumbling)

WAGNER: Cyclones were the terror.

If they struck,

they removed entire buildings.

(wind howling)

Dorothy!

HEARN: Baum had a great sense of transformation.

Baum turns the cyclone into something positive.

READER: "In the middle of a cyclone the air is generally still,

"but the great pressure of the wind on every side of the house

"raised it up higher and higher,

"until it was at the very top of the cyclone;

"and there it remained and was carried miles and miles away

as easily as you could carry a feather."

HEARN: It should have been something so destructive, devastating,

and yet that becomes Dorothy's way of going to the Land Of Oz.

(loud crash)

(train horn blares)

NARRATOR: Three months after his visit to Dakota Territory,

Frank, Maud, and their two young sons

boarded a train heading west,

bound for Aberdeen,

a city just then shimmering to life.

Aberdeen had already grown from fewer than 300 people

at its founding six years earlier

to more than 3,000 and showed no signs of slowing.

HEARN: These were not people who came out

in covered wagons.

They came out on the railroad

and they were young, adventurous capitalists

thinking that they were going to make it big.

They didn't know what to expect,

they were basically betting on hope.

NARRATOR: Built at the crossroads of three railroads, the Hub City,

as it was known to its proud new residents, was a boom town.

Aberdeen boasted schools,

a library, an opera house,

a telephone company, banks, hotels, and restaurants.

The latest modern convenience, electric lights,

lined the town's dusty streets. (dog barking)

Eastern transplants like Frank Baum were convinced

their fair city would be the next Chicago,

or Minneapolis, or Kansas City.

WARREN: The West is

so much the subject of a hard sell

by land agents for the railroad corporations

and by other boosters in the region,

who will paint all kinds of pictures

of what a glorious, verdant paradise

South Dakota will be.

(rumbling, mechanic squeaking)

SCHWARTZ: Aberdeen at that time was trying

to position itself as part of America's breadbasket.

They were building out a town that was surrounded by farmland.

WARREN: The railroads would advertise the land,

promising that this is a place

where middle-class families will proliferate,

and all of the comforts of a good middle-class home

will be yours.

MONTOYA: When people like Baum and other settlers head out

into the American West in the 1880s,

they think they're coming into an empty landscape.

And nothing could have been farther from the truth.

What they're actually walking into is a landscape

that's been inhabited for hundreds,

and in some cases, thousands of years.

WARREN: The land that Aberdeen was on and most of the Dakotas

had been part of the homeland of the Western Sioux or Lakota.

For Baum, as for most western settlers,

Indian people were often an afterthought

if they thought about them at all.

(bell ringing)

NARRATOR: Not long after Baum and his family had settled in Aberdeen,

a group of Native Americans arrived in town.

"Crowds of curious white men," a local paper reported,

"stared at the delegation of Lakota leaders

who had stepped off the train for dinner."

Sitting Bull, famed Lakota chief and decisive victor

over the U.S. Calvary at the Battle of Little Bighorn,

drew the most attention.

DELORIA: Imagine that experience if you're Sitting Bull

or if you're part of this delegation,

you're put on display for this town that sit and gawk at you.

White Americans have always seen Native people

in contradictory terms.

"They are noble, children of nature."

"No, they're degraded savages," and Baum shows up

at exactly a moment when these contradictions

are getting really complex,

and changing towards a more harsh and hostile racialization.

MONTOYA: Native Americans are being consolidated,

they're being moved, and put onto reservations.

WARREN: For most Americans, the idea that

Native people had to give up land

so that white people could take it,

that was just the way of the world.

As far as Lakotas were concerned, it was theft.

NARRATOR: On Monday, October 1, 1888,

less than two weeks after moving to town,

Frank Baum-- dramatically announcing his arrival--

held a much-publicized grand opening

of a new store called Baum's Bazaar.

Nearly a thousand people showed up,

some likely enticed by the promise of "a box of chocolates,

shipped in from Chicago, for every lady attending."

ARONSTEIN: He had a flair for the theatrical.

And so for him the store is a stage.

It had to be an experience.

It's like, "Come,

"see the exotic goods, see it all on display.

"You've never seen so much

in one place before."

NARRATOR: "On either side of the room," raved a local newspaper,

"are cases of pottery, glassware, toys,

"oxidized brass ornaments, Japanese novelties,

fancy leather and plush goods."

DELORIA: He doesn't go to start a feed store.

He goes to start a novelty store.

He sells all kinds of things,

many of which are not actually needed,

but they represent the dreams and the desires of people

to engage in this new kind of world of goods and commodities.

HEARN: Baum wrote all the ads

that appeared in local newspapers for Baum's Bazaar.

He would have special events to bring people

into the store.

Baum believed in entertaining children

and all the kids just loved going

to Baum's Bazaar because there were all these wonderful toys.

NARRATOR: "Mr. Baum has demonstrated in a very short time,"

wrote the "Aberdeen Daily News," "that he possesses

"to an enviable degree the push and enterprise necessary

to the western businessman."

(bat cracks, crowd cheers)

NARRATOR: In May 1889,

Baum and a group of local businessmen put up the money

for the Hub City Nine,

Aberdeen's first professional baseball team.

The town built a field and a grandstand

that could seat 500.

Baum's Bazaar supplied the team's jerseys,

bats, and gloves.

DRUMMOND: Baum envisions himself

as being really the harbinger of civilization for Aberdeen,

this potentially great city on the Great Plains.

So he's imbued with this sense of transformation

that starts through the consumption of exotic goods

but leads to so many other things.

NARRATOR: Baum planned to start new clubs--

lawn tennis, stamp collecting,

photography, bicycling--

and stock all the necessary supplies

on the shelves of Baum's Bazaar.

SCHWARTZ: He got really involved in the civic life of the town

and tried to create a sense of community around the store.

It wasn't just about selling,

but about bringing people together.

HEARN: I think that Baum was hoping that Baum's Bazaar

would draw people from outside of Aberdeen--

people from the farms, from the other towns would come

to this new mecca of South Dakota.

(chickens clucking)

BASINGER: The Dakota Territory is a harsh environment.

The winters are very, very cold, and hard, and long.

The summers are hot, and dry, and challenging.

WAGNER: You're out on the prairie,

your nearest neighbor is a mile away,

you don't see anything on the horizon but flatness.

DRUMMOND: Baum envisioned people could go into this store,

and it would be a tremendous escape.

It would be one in which they could completely forget

about the workaday world.

It's very magical and it's transformative.

WARREN: What Baum is saying is, "It's okay to dream

"about having those nice things.

"Why shouldn't you have them?

"There's nothing wrong with it.

"Go ahead, buy them.

Express yourself through your purchases."

NARRATOR: Frank's big ideas, persistent optimism,

and lack of experience

of the vagaries of farming blinded him to the realities

of life on the Plains.

After years of consistent rain,

a drought hit the region in 1889.

Wheat fields turned into dust,

and heavy winds blew away freshly sown seed.

By harvest time, crop yields had plummeted.

WARREN: It is one of the worst droughts in American history.

Many of the farmers fall on very hard times,

and obviously in that moment Baum's Bazaar

is not gonna do well.

WAGNER: When farmers don't have money for seed wheat,

they are not gonna buy toys for their children.

And while there was a short boom

when Baum's Bazaar may have made sense,

by 1890, there was no way it could succeed at all.

NARRATOR: Baum's Bazaar closed, on January 1, 1890

after only 15 months in business.

Maud had just given birth to their third child.

"Frank had let his tastes run riot,"

his sister-in-law later said.

"It was too impractical a store for a frontier town."

(heavy winds whipping)

SCHWARTZ: The economic situation for the Baum family was dire.

He was really on a shoestring now,

very little money, but he used whatever money he had left

to take over a newspaper.

And he tried to make a go of it,

falling back on his talent for writing.

STROM: Baum was very optimistic about his own talents.

Whatever situation he's in, he figures out a new strategy

for selling something or selling himself.

NARRATOR: Just a month after he shuttered Baum's Bazaar,

Frank published the inaugural edition

of "The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer."

WARREN: Getting into that business is both a way that he can express

his interest in writing,

but it's also a way

for him to paint pictures with words

of the future of Aberdeen and the future of South Dakota.

NARRATOR: Baum was at pains to set his weekly apart

from the town's eight other papers,

and put his faith in his own distinctive voice.

Under the heading "The Editor's Musings,"

Baum offered his personal opinions

on a wide range of topics.

WARREN: Baum's voice as a newspaper editor was an interesting voice.

He writes about alternative religions.

He writes about spiritual mediums in his newspaper.

These are not topics that every editor would touch.

NARRATOR: The issue Baum most strongly championed in 1890

was women's suffrage.

South Dakota had become a state the previous year,

and an amendment to give women the vote

would be decided in the November election.

Frank's support of the suffrage movement

stemmed from time he spent with his mother-in-law,

Matilda Joslyn Gage, who was a frequent visitor to Aberdeen.

MASSACHI: Gage was very involved with the Baum family,

and she really influenced L. Frank Baum.

He joined the suffrage movement because of her.

And you see this play out in his newspaper writing.

SCHWARTZ: Frank Baum wrote editorial after editorial

trying to convince fellow townsfolks

to vote for women's rights.

NARRATOR: "We must do away with sex prejudice

and render equal distinction and reward to brains and ability,"

Baum argued, "no matter whether found in man or woman."

WAGNER: His respect for women, I think, is strengthened

seeing these western women.

They had already succeeded in proving themselves

as equals to the men.

If you're homesteading, you are an active

participant in the process.

MONTOYA: White women who are moving out into the American West

are seen as bringing civilization

to these communities.

This is not possible without the labor of women,

both the physical labor of women but the cultural, social,

political labor of women to build these communities.

HEARN: Frank was determined to get the vote in South Dakota.

He believed in progress.

He believed that we were always advancing forward.

And he generally assumed

that other people would just agree with him.

NARRATOR: "This great question, involving the political future

"of our wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters will be decided

for South Dakota next Tuesday,"

Baum appealed to his readers.

"The enfranchisement of one-half of the citizens

of this great state is in your hands."

(bell ringing, people chattering)

NARRATOR: On Election Day, November 1890,

nearly 70,000 men across South Dakota went to the polls.

Women's equality was soundly rejected

by a margin of two to one.

"What a reproach

upon our civilization," he wrote,

"and upon the people of a state who have made a pretense

of being liberal and just!"

(bird cawing)

NARRATOR: The drought that began in 1889 dragged on for nearly two years,

exposing the lie of railroad promoters and land agents

that the rain follows the plow.

HEARN: The great American Dream

turned out to be a nightmare for these people.

And Frank Baum was out there witnessing this.

And all of this is expressed

in the opening chapter of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz."

READER: "When Dorothy stood in the doorway and looked around,

"she could see nothing but the great gray prairie

"on every side.

"The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass,

"with little cracks running through it.

"Even the grass was not green,

"for the sun had burned the tops of the long blades

until they were the same gray color to be seen everywhere."

WARREN: I think one of the most telling moments

in "The Wizard Of Oz" is right at the beginning

with the description of Aunt Em and Uncle Henry

as old before their time,

as unable to imagine happiness.

READER: "Uncle Henry never laughed.

"He worked hard from morning till night

"and did not know what joy was.

He looked stern and solemn, and rarely spoke."

WARREN: Baum in many ways is saying that this western dream

seems to have hit a wall.

It is a place of great disappointment

for many of the people who had invested their lives in it.

NARRATOR: On the Standing Rock and Pine Ridge reservations

west of Aberdeen, conditions were even more dire

for the over 10,000 Lakota living there.

And with access to only meager government rations,

many families were on the verge of starvation.

In the middle of this unfolding apocalypse,

a new religion known as the Ghost Dance

began to spread through many western tribes.

They believed the dance,

which preached a defiant message of hope,

would wash away the white settlers

and return the land to its original state.

DELORIA: It's a regenerative religious practice.

It's not people yelling and screaming.

You do this dance until you sort of fall into a vision state,

and you fall down out of the circle, and you have a vision,

and people come and take care of you,

and other people keep dancing.

White Americans see this and they think that the Ghost Dance

is the prelude to an armed uprising.

NARRATOR: Desperate to keep his Aberdeen dream afloat,

Frank blasted rival newspapers for ginning up

a "false and senseless scare,"

fearing that headlines screaming of "Indian uprisings"

would drive settlers away.

"After two years of successive crop failures," he wrote,

"comes the Indian scare, and the consequence is

we are getting a very bad name."

SCHWARTZ: A lot of businesses were going under

and the economic collapse in South Dakota

was threatening his very concept of home.

He invested so much of himself there

that it was almost unthinkable that everything would collapse.

NARRATOR: President Benjamin Harrison ordered his secretary of war

to suppress the Ghost Dance, by force if necessary.

On December 15, 1890,

Lakota Chief Sitting Bull was shot and killed

on the Standing Rock Reservation during a botched arrest

for his alleged support of the Ghost Dance.

When news reached Aberdeen, 150 miles away,

the townspeople feared retaliation.

WARREN: It creates a response of panic among white people.

Newspaper editors begin

to demand federal protection

in case there's what they call an outbreak.

NARRATOR: Baum's newspaper ran wire reports

warning of imminent reprisal.

Caught up in the mass hysteria

and watching his Aberdeen efforts spiraling into failure,

Frank's usually optimistic rhetoric changed drastically.

In an editorial, he praised Sitting Bull,

but described the remaining Lakota people

as a "pack of whining curs"

and called for a vicious ethnic cleansing.

"The whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization,

are masters of the American continent," Baum asserted,

"and the best safety of the frontier settlements

"will be secured by the total annihilation

of the few remaining Indians."

STROM: Baum thinks that

the extermination of Native Americans is inevitable.

His view of tolerance comes out of the milieu that he is in.

It's really about middle-class white people getting along well.

NARRATOR: The U.S. Army dispatched troops to disarm

and arrest a group of Lakota,

including followers of Sitting Bull.

Within days of these orders, the U.S. Seventh Cavalry

massacred as many as 300 Lakota men,

women and children at Wounded Knee Creek.

Frank responded again.

"Having wronged them for centuries, we had better,

"in order to protect our civilization,

"follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these

untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth."

DELORIA: What Baum says in the editorials

tells us exactly how Americans are seeing Indian people.

There's no mercy, no quarter, no sympathy.

It is a definitive and defining statement

of intense racial animosity.

And I think Baum... is capturing, perhaps,

some of his own ambivalence, but he is channeling a major,

and important, and deadly current of American thought.

WAGNER: I don't know how to understand Frank's reaction

other than to understand that an "either-or" interpretation

of history is a lie, that we're "both-and."

L. Frank Baum carried that

poison of racism in him that I carry,

that we all carry as settlers.

NARRATOR: The drought, the despair, and the foreclosures continued.

Ad sales dropped and subscriptions dried up,

forcing Baum to abandon his newspaper

and make plans to leave Aberdeen.

His western venture had turned into another failure.

But how do I start for Emerald City?

It's always best to start at the beginning,

and all you do is follow the Yellow Brick Road.

MAGUIRE: Dorothy goes into a land in which magic spells

are part of the apparatus of governance.

DOROTHY: Follow the yellow brick road?

MAGUIRE: And most of what she achieves,

she achieves without recourse to the magic.

She comes with her

true grit.

♪ Follow the Yellow Brick Road

MAGUIRE: She just puts one foot in front of another

along the Yellow Brick Road to achieve

what it is that she needs to do.

♪ Follow the Yellow Brick Road

MASSACHI: There is a real American value of being self-reliant,

and you see that with Dorothy.

Dorothy really set the stage for little girls

getting out of the house and going on adventures

the way that boys do.

♪ You're off to see the Wizard! ♪

♪ The Wonderful Wizard of Oz!

MONTOYA: She goes on what is quintessentially

the great American quest to find the place

that will bring her happiness,

will bring her the things that she needs.

♪ The Wonderful Wizard of Oz!

(crowd cheering) ♪

(horse hooves clomping)

NARRATOR: Frank Baum next set his sights on a new home--

Chicago, Illinois.

(bell chimes, people chattering)

SCHWARTZ: Chicago was the most dynamic and energetic city in America.

It had been devastated in the fire of 1871

but it had completely rebuilt itself.

(people chattering)

There was a sense of hope and optimism

for the future of America.

WARREN: In many ways, Chicago was the city of 19th century America.

(bell ringing)

DELORIA: This massive, large, industrial city,

is at the center of really

making continental America at this time.

It is the center of the flow of commodities.

It is a center for immigration.

African Americans from the South, immigrants from Europe,

people who give up on their homesteading

and make their way into the larger city.

NARRATOR: Arriving with little money, Maud set up their growing household,

which now included a fourth son,

in a small rental house in a working-class neighborhood.

She gave embroidery lessons to help the family stay afloat.

Frank briefly worked at a daily paper

before landing a higher-paying sales position

at a wholesale crockery firm.

(hammering, objects clattering)

The most exciting project in Chicago when the Baums arrived

was the construction of the highly anticipated

World's Columbian Exposition,

known as the Chicago World's Fair.

Conceived as a celebration of the 400th anniversary

of Columbus' voyage to America,

the exposition was an immediate sensation

when it opened on May 1, 1893.

Over the next six months,

27 million fairgoers from around the world descended on Chicago

to witness the spectacle--

Frank Baum and his family among them.

DELORIA: The Chicago World's Fair is a place

where America is sort of proclaiming its own.

It has arrived.

It is a showcase for modern industrialism,

for technological innovation.

JONES JR.: It was an attempt in the

white American imagination of understanding

the United States as being

the leading light in this new century.

It was a way in which to show the world in 1893 that America

was at the vanguard of a new, modern, Western world.

NARRATOR: In the Electricity Building,

visitors marveled at the 80-foot tower of light

created by the Wizard of Menlo Park,

Thomas Edison.

He had patented a mind-boggling number of inventions

and proved to be a master of self-promotion.

BASINGER: Thomas Edison is this great combination of imagination,

and forward-looking modern ideas,

and also a businessman who makes money

from the things that he does.

This would undoubtedly be inspirational to Baum,

who himself was looking to find that thing that he could do

that would make him

not so much famous, but successful, rich,

or at least occupied in a way that he enjoyed.

SCHWARTZ: There was a sense of magic and wonder and splendor

that really appealed to Frank Baum, that almost anything

was possible if you could imagine it.

NARRATOR: The centerpiece of the Exposition was a gleaming

man-made lake, surrounded by neoclassical buildings

of monumental proportion, each with a bright, white exterior.

The White City, as it was called,

was constructed as a temporary affair-- all paint and plaster--

but breathtaking.

WARREN: The White City looks like

a vision of some imaginary place

that is supposed to call Americans to think about what

their cities could be.

It is a giant space for dreaming about the American future,

and Baum would've found that enormously attractive.

HEARN: They created this ideal city,

and in some respects it's very much the same metaphor

that we see in "The Wizard Of Oz."

Who rang that bell?

ALL: We did.

READER: "The streets were lined with beautiful houses

"all built of green marble and studded everywhere

"with sparkling emeralds.

"Even the sky above the city had a green tint,

and the rays of the sun were green."

HEARN: The Emerald City is not really as green as we think it is.

It turns out that everyone has to wear green glasses

so they think the Emerald City is far greener

than it really is.

DELORIA: One of the things that happens in the Emerald City

is the realization that all of this may just be a charade.

The world that seems so alluring, and so true,

and so desirous

may all just be a fraud.

And the White City gives us that as well.

(water splashing)

NARRATOR: The exhibition halls of the White City were reserved

for high art, high culture, and advanced science.

But the real energy of the fair was on the outskirts--

a mile-long, open-air boulevard known as the Midway Plaisance.

Thousands of fairgoers paid to see Egyptian belly dancers,

dwarf elephants,

Hindu jugglers, snake charmers,

and a young entertainer named Harry Houdini.

Towering above the crowds was the first-ever Ferris wheel.

At over 250 feet, a ride to the top provided

a birds-eye view of the city and beyond.

A New York entrepreneur ordered

a Ferris wheel for his park in Coney Island,

telling a reporter,

"We Americans want either to be thrilled or amused,

and are ready to pay well for either sensation."

DRUMMOND: At this moment in American history

entertainment was becoming commoditized.

There were vaudeville shows.

There were Wild West shows.

There were amusement parks.

MONTOYA: What we're now seeing is entertainment for the masses.

Anybody can participate in it.

People are beginning to work for wages in the cities.

They have money at the end of the day

that they will spend not only on the things that they need

to feed themselves and clothe themselves,

but now they have money to spend on entertainment.

DRUMMOND: There were all sorts of theatrical experiences

that had to do with experiencing someone else's imagined world

that they beckoned you to enter into.

(trolley bells ringing, horses trotting)

NARRATOR: The clangorous urban life of Chicago, and its World's Fair,

fed Baum's penchant for novelty, in all things.

For some time, Frank had been drawn

to an emerging philosophical and religious movement

called theosophy.

"Its followers," he described, "are simply

"searchers after truth.

"They are the dissatisfied of the world,

the dissenters from all creeds."

WARREN: There's a dissatisfaction

with conventional Protestantism and Catholicism.

There are people searching for new ways of relating

to their creator and to the cosmos,

and theosophy was for many people

a very attractive alternative.

SCHWARTZ: Theosophy was appealing because it combined

Hinduism, and Buddhism, and Western science.

It was a way of introducing Eastern religions to America

for the first time.

Frank Baum learned about this new amalgam of spirituality

from his mother-in-law, Matilda Gage,

who really embraced it as a way of calming her own mind.

WAGNER: The parts of theosophy I think

that most resonated with Matilda Joslyn Gage

were the idea that that which is scientifically provable

is not necessarily the only reality,

that that which is considered supernatural, the occult,

that's just simply a reality

that hasn't been tested and measured yet.

SCHWARTZ: Theosophists believed in projecting

your body and your mind

into another realm of consciousness

that they call the astral plane.

(thunder rumbles)

Some of the concepts that later showed up

in "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz"

might have been inspired from theosophy,

especially this idea of traveling

to a new plane of imagination.

NARRATOR: Escape from the daily reality was at a premium

by the turn of 1894.

The American economy had tumbled

into the most punishing depression in its history.

A quarter of all working people lost their jobs,

and their paychecks,

with no government safety net to soften the fall.

Just months after the exposition closed,

two fires swept through the fairgrounds,

leaving much of the recently radiant White City in ruins.

(train clacking, chugging)

Baum tried to remain optimistic

as he scraped out a living for his family

as a traveling salesman.

BAUM: He was beginning to get tired of the extensive traveling.

The more he aged,

the more he realized he needed to find something

that he could... that would really support him.

(train rumbling)

NARRATOR: While on the road, Baum found time to start writing again,

and began submitting short stories and poems

to writing contests and local newspapers.

SCHWARTZ: He kept a record of failure,

literally logging the rejections he was receiving

from magazines and publishers,

and the occasional success.

You could see Baum was persevering.

(train horn blares)

NARRATOR: Sometimes Frank spun fantastical tales

to entertain his boys when he got home

from a long week on the road.

HEARN: L. Frank Baum loved being a dad.

He was so indulgent of his own children.

When he was home with them

he would spend as much time as he could with them

and he would create these elaborate little stories.

And one night Matilda happened to overhear them.

WAGNER: Matilda is a well-published author at this point.

She knows the publishing world

and she knows what could sell.

She tells Frank to write the stories and publish them.

She is challenging him.

There is

a powerful intellectual relationship between them.

NARRATOR: Gage had recently published what she described

as her "chief life work."

Titled "Woman, Church and State,"

she called for a more just and equal society,

one that returned to earlier civilizations

where women wielded the same power as men.

More radical, however, was her indictment of religion

for its role in women's oppression across the world.

She explored the history of witchcraft

and argued that women were accused of being witches

because the Church found their intellect threatening.

WAGNER: Women were burned as witches to remove the knowledge of women,

the power of women, the authority of women,

and to really place women in a subordinate position.

One of the things she talks about

is that women defined as witches were wise women.

They had voice.

They had power.

SCHWARTZ: Matilda as a role model to Frank was essential.

And I think he really took to heart

some of the ways that people viewed his mother-in-law.

People called her satanic and a heretic,

yet he saw that she was very kind.

He developed this dual notion of witches,

that there could be a good witch and a bad witch.

Are you a good witch or a bad witch?

I'm not a witch at all.

Witches are old and ugly.

(giggling in background)

What was that?

It's all right.

MAGUIRE: The phrase "good witch" doesn't really come into the culture

until L. Frank Baum.

Witches from European and English fairy tales

were old and gnarled.

How brave and thoughtful it was of Baum

to take those two words that seemed to have

magnetic pulls in opposite directions,

the word "good" and the word "witch"

and to hinge them together

so that they could mean something new.

WICKED WITCH OF THE WEST: You stay out of this, Glinda,

or I'll fix you as well!

HEARN: One of the important aspects of Oz

is the real power is with the witches,

both the good and the bad.

They're the ones who have the power.

I'll get you, my pretty!

And your little dog, too.

(cackling)

(explosion, frightened yelping)

MAGUIRE: Before the end of the 19th century,

books provided for children were almost entirely for instruction.

Their aim was to educate.

What happened in the United States

is that there began to be

a population of middle class children.

They were children who did not have to work

in the mines, or the mills.

There was enough prosperity

that kids could be a little bit more childlike

for slightly longer.

And that allowed for a growth

of an industry to help entertain them.

Now we have time to go

to the gym of the mind, as it were,

to make ourselves strong

in our capacity to imagine new things.

♪ (children laughing)

ARONSTEIN: This is a period where there is a sense

of children as a special class,

that have a vivid world of imagination and play

available to them

that gets lost with adulthood

and that that time should be valued.

NARRATOR: In late 1897, 41-year-old Baum published

"Mother Goose in Prose,"

inspired by the stories he had been inventing for his boys.

"Now that I am getting old," Frank wrote his sister,

"my first book is to amuse children."

HEARN: He wanted to make children feel good.

He wanted them to know the joy of reading

and the joy of wonderful stories.

MASSACHI: Baum was the eternal boy.

He never really grew up.

If you leave behind your childhood

and really are firmly grounded in the adult world,

it's hard to think of that rich, fertile, imaginative way

that children think and play,

and I don't think Baum ever left that.

NARRATOR: "Mother Goose in Prose" was a critical success,

but did not bring the fame

or the financial reward Baum desired.

"I have been more worried than usual

over business matters this summer,"

Frank confessed in a letter to his sister,

"and have scarcely spent time to sleep and eat.

"I have wanted to find some employment

that would enable me to stay at home."

STROM: He's a willful person,

but he's also a strategist in his own life,

of finding a way out of a situation he doesn't like

and then using his talents to create a new one.

(horse hooves clomping)

DRUMMOND: If you were walking down State Street in Chicago,

you would be offered a cavalcade

of sights, and sounds, and sensations.

(people chattering)

One of the most important of which would be the shop windows,

and the most effective store windows

would be like the soul of the store.

And if you could look in those windows

and be captured, and be enticed,

then maybe it would be enough to go in.

(din of a crowded street)

WARREN: The American economy turns more and more

to a dynamic that relies on selling goods to consumers,

and merchants have to invent new ways

of getting people to want things,

which is one of the big transitions that's happening

in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

And Baum is at the center of that transition.

NARRATOR: "I conceived of the idea of a magazine

devoted to window trimming," Baum explained to his sister,

"which I know is greatly needed."

The first issue of "The Show Window,"

a trade journal that instructed merchants

in the art of window display,

appeared in November 1897.

ARONSTEIN: Baum is very aware

of the tricks of advertising.

He's very good at using them.

He had a talent for and interest in technology,

a talent for and interest in sales.

He knew how to present and frame things

and he knew how to tell a story.

And "The Show Window" called on all of those things.

NARRATOR: An executive at Marshall Field's--

the gold standard of retail in downtown Chicago--

hailed "The Show Window"

as "an indispensable organ" for department stores.

Circulation took off,

gaining thousands of subscribers in a few months,

and Baum was finally able to quit his traveling salesman job

and spend more time at home.

For the first time in his life,

Frank Baum was making a solid living.

Not long after the start of his new venture,

Matilda Gage died of a stroke

while visiting the Baums in Chicago,

leaving Maud inconsolable

and Frank without one of his most stalwart supporters.

(printing presses clacking)

NARRATOR: For a writer and magazine editor like Baum,

Chicago was an ideal city.

It had become a major center for commercial printing,

second only to New York.

(printing pressing humming)

MASSACHI: Chicago at that time was really booming

with writers, artists, and publishers.

Baum was a very charismatic, likable kind of guy

who seemed to make friends very quickly and easily.

And one of the connections he made

was William Wallace Denslow.

HEARN: Denslow was one of the most important illustrators

in Chicago at the time.

And Baum met him at the Press Club of Chicago

and the two of them

started talking about possibly doing a book together.

NARRATOR: Frank was already at work on a series of comic rhymes

that was a twist on Mother Goose,

and Denslow agreed to do the illustrations.

Their first collaboration, "Father Goose: His Book,"

became an unexpected best-seller.

(typewriter keys clacking)

Energized by his success,

Baum threw himself into his next big writing project.

WAGNER: The intuitive process of writing

is that you absorb everything around you

and that becomes fuel

for the process of writing.

And you draw from places

that you don't even know you're drawing from.

NARRATOR: Baum set out to tell the story of Dorothy,

a young orphan girl stranded

in the vast and unforgiving American landscape.

Dorothy's dreary life on a Kansas farm

is changed in a flash

when a fierce cyclone drops her

in a strange and wonderful land called Oz.

The story at the heart of the book

was Dorothy's quest to get back home

to her aunt and uncle in Kansas.

The Good Witch of the North points the way,

which leads down a yellow brick road,

where Dorothy is to enlist the help of the Great Wizard of Oz.

"It is a long journey," the good witch warns,

"through a country that is sometimes pleasant

and sometimes dark and terrible."

BASINGER: It's a story of a journey

and being given a challenge by a new world

where you have to learn what it is,

face its dangers,

find new friends,

and get yourself together in it.

NARRATOR: Dorothy accumulates a trio

of traveling companions along the way--

a scarecrow, who wishes he had brains,

a tin woodman, who longs for a heart,

and a cowardly lion, who seeks courage.

DRUMMOND: They want her to fulfill her dreams

as well as have their own dreams come true,

and so they set off on this journey together

that gives them that sense of camaraderie and community.

Baum did not see gender

the way a lot of people of his time saw gender.

His supporting scarecrow, tin man, lion

didn't conform to this typical male role.

You have the tin woodman, who is so sensitive

that he cries when he steps on a beetle.

HEARN: There are very few girls who are as assertive as Dorothy is

in "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz."

In every other fairy tale,

the heroine has to marry the prince.

But Dorothy doesn't have to wait for her prince to come;

she goes out and solves her own problems.

WAGNER: The voice of Dorothy,

the sureness of her, the confidence,

the figuring out how to solve problems,

that's Maud, that's Matilda.

NARRATOR: On October 9, 1899,

Baum declared his new manuscript complete.

He dedicated the book to his wife Maud,

who he called his "good friend and comrade."

Underneath was Denslow's spritely illustration

of the Good Witch of the North.

The new book began to roll off the printing press

in the first summer of a new century.

It is "the best thing I have ever written, they tell me,"

a nervous Frank Baum wrote to his brother.

"But the queer, unreliable public has not yet spoken."

HEARN: When the book came out in 1900,

it was not typical

of the children's books being published at that time.

The title was so intriguing,

with this strange lion on the cover.

No one knew what it was.

And a book with full color, full-page illustrations

but also all these other two-color illustrations

that changed as the story progressed

from one episode to another.

There was nothing on the market quite like it.

MASSACHI: Baum says in his introduction that he wants to create

a modernized fairy tale full of wonderment

where the heartache and nightmares are left out.

BASINGER: It's not like the fairy tales that come to us from Europe.

It's a more optimistic,

less grim and dangerous world.

It's a world of solving problems.

MAGUIRE: What he did in "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz"

was harness his great idea

of a child going out and coming back home

in strict, plain, American prose.

He let the characters move about the landscape

and speak with a sincerity

with which America was then known

and for which it was often much mocked.

But it was a genuine tone.

That what you say means something.

NARRATOR: Reviews praised Baum for writing a story that

"never insults childhood intelligence

by writing down to it,"

and for his ability to make

"the little girl's odd companions seem very real."

"Delightful humor and rare philosophy

are found on every page."

"The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" speaks specifically

to a kind of American understanding

of the modern period--

technology, expansion,

self-invention of the individual.

At the center of that is adventure and dreaming.

SCHWARTZ: It was about finding your place in the world,

about identity and, "Where do I fit in?"

Frank Baum was really pioneering a new literature

for American children.

MASSACHI: "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" was an instant bestseller.

Everybody wanted to get their hands on it.

It was wildly popular.

NARRATOR: Overwhelmed by orders,

the publisher went back to press four times.

In the first Christmas season of the 20th century,

it became the best-selling children's book in America.

On New Year's Eve at one of Chicago's finest restaurants,

the Baums, with Denslow and his wife,

toasted their great success.

At age 44, Frank Baum had achieved the renown

he had dreamed of all his life.

An unflagging belief in his own imagination

had finally paid off.

"So everything conspires to make me glad,"

he wrote his sister-in-law,

"and I send you heartiest wishes

for a glad New Year and century."

(people chattering)

NARRATOR: On June 16, 1902, a staged musical adaptation

of Baum's popular book,

now with the shortened title "The Wizard of Oz,"

opened to a packed house in Chicago.

(cheers and applause)

Frank Baum took enthusiastic curtain calls

for this new interpretation of his cherished story.

The idea of returning to the theater

and the challenge of adapting his book for the stage

had thrilled Baum, but it had been a rocky journey.

HEARN: When the director

read Baum's libretto, he wrote across it, "No good."

He then brought in several script doctors

and completely refocused the play.

NARRATOR: By opening night, few of Baum's original lines

remained in the script.

"The original story was practically ignored,"

Baum complained, "the dialogue rehashed,

"the situations transposed,

my Nebraska wizard made into an Irishman."

HEARN: There were all kinds of changes.

Toto became a cow named Imogene.

The producer added all kinds of secondary characters

that had nothing to do with the original children's book.

And Dorothy became a teenager

who falls in and out of love throughout the play.

NARRATOR: In the musical, Dorothy and Imogene were blown to Oz

along with a waitress from Topeka named Trixie Tryfle.

The Cowardly Lion was turned into a bit part

and the Wicked Witch of the West was removed from the story.

JONES JR.: If you go back and read reviews,

what they oftentimes latch on to

are not the original parts, necessarily,

from "The Wizard of Oz,"

but how they were able to integrate elements

from vaudeville, from minstrelsy,

from the variety show,

and from the circus into this musical.

SCARECROW: ♪ Though I appear a handsome man ♪

♪ I'm only stuffed with straw

JONES JR.: The musical was incredibly popular,

particularly in the characters

of the Scarecrow and the Tin Man.

They kind of have a show within the show.

What audiences saw in the dance routines

was a set of movements, jokes, and gags

that were very popular on the minstrel stage.

They took the new material of the musical

and they melded it with popular elements

of American theater culture

and made them anew.

So it's a real transitional event

in American popular culture.

NARRATOR: The show was a smash hit in Chicago,

then at New York's Majestic Theatre,

and then on a seven-year nationwide tour.

Given the commercial success,

L. Frank Baum was philosophical about the changes.

If any one understood the power of spectacle,

it was the creator of Oz.

"The people will have what pleases them," Baum concluded,

"and not what the author happens to favor."

BASINGER: Here he is at the turn of the century,

confronting what was really going to be the main issue

in terms of art and commerce.

If you're going to make a mass audience piece,

then you're going to have to have it please a mass audience.

And he makes a decision,

"I want my work to succeed in pleasing

"a large number of people so they will enjoy it

and will return to seeing it."

What the success of the show

told Baum about Oz as a commodity

is that it had endless potential

and that here it was in a wholly new experience,

a new medium, and it worked.

(cheers and applause)

It meant that so many more people could see it.

I think he was smitten and he wanted more of it.

(cheers and applause continue)

NARRATOR: To capitalize on the musical's success,

Baum quickly wrote a new Oz book,

"The Marvelous Land of Oz."

Published in 1904,

it was marketed as a sequel that featured

"characters already famous the country over,"

and added new Oz inhabitants,

including Princess Ozma,

the rightful ruler of Oz.

MASSACHI: Oz is this society run by women,

and Oz itself really is this utopian version of America.

In Oz, there's plenty of everything.

Everybody is provided for;

everybody has what they need.

NARRATOR: Two months after the book's release,

Baum started publishing a weekly newspaper serial,

"Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz."

BASINGER: One of the things that's so significant

about what Baum is doing here

is he is creating a brand

that's built on his name

and his particular product, which is Oz.

JONES, JR.: Baum's work provides a window

onto that which is popular and dominant

in the American imagination in this period.

DELORIA: Racial stereotypes have been central

to American popular culture.

Those cultural forms are exploring

how reach larger mass audiences.

NARRATOR: Like other creations of popular entertainment,

Baum's Oz universe-- as well as other writings--

reflected the country's charged discourse around race

and the related issues of national identity,

immigration, and colonialism.

JONES JR.: One of the lessons that I think Baum wants to teach

in this new century

is how do we deal with difference?

How do we deal with difference in the United States

as a multiracial society?

Baum's "Wonderful Wizard of Oz" books are about characters

consistently encountering different types of persons,

different types of animals, different types of objects

and learning something about them.

NARRATOR: Even as Baum modeled worlds

where people with different features and backgrounds

cheerfully interacted,

he incorporated characters

representing widely circulated racial stereotypes.

MONTOYA: The way that Baum characterizes others

or different people in his writings,

those were things that were just so embedded in American culture.

Baum is just reflecting

what American society thinks about these groups of people.

DELORIA: It's always important to think about historical figures

in complicated kinds of ways.

The most interesting way to think about a life

is to grab the stuff out of the corners

and move it to the center and ask yourself, like,

"How does this make me understand

the person differently?"

(ship horn blares)

(boat engine running, softly splashing water)

NARRATOR: The musical had made Frank a wealthy man,

and he and Maud reveled in the luxuries they could now afford,

including a five-month tour of Europe and Egypt.

(camel grunts)

Maud had a keen interest in Egypt,

as much of the teachings of theosophy

centered on accessing the secret wisdom of ancient knowledge.

They explored the Temple of Isis and Frank joyfully watched

as an undaunted Maud climbed to the top of the Great Pyramid.

"Few women," Maud proudly stated,

"undertake the feat."

At an oasis, the Baums met a family

crossing the desert on a camel train.

BAUM: And on the back of the camel was a young girl.

And in this girl's arm on one side was her doll

and on the other side,

a first edition of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz."

This really surprised Frank,

and he realized the widespread popularity of his book

and how much the children loved the story.

(waves lapping)

(distant boat horn blares)

(boat engine hums)

NARRATOR: The Baums summered at Macatawa Park,

a resort town on Lake Michigan,

where Frank wrote many of his books,

and tried to answer the dozens of letters

that arrived for him each day.

This outpouring of affection inspired Baum

to keep expanding the world of Oz.

In each new sequel, he included an author's note

about his young friends.

"If the little folks find the story 'real Ozzy,'"

Baum wrote in one, "I shall be very glad indeed."

ARONSTEIN: Oz becomes a conversation between Baum and his readers.

He's very much aware of the children as his audience

and he's very much aware of building

a relationship with them.

And he sees them as co-creators of Oz.

Over and over again, he says,

"I have responded

to your request for more Oz."

HEARN: Baum was always looking for new ways of promoting his books,

and what was popular at the time

were these travelogues.

People would go around the country talking about China,

or their trip to Japan

and it would be a combination of

hand-colored slides and possibly some film.

So Baum thought, "Well, why don't we do a travelogue of Oz?"

NARRATOR: In 1908, Baum created a multimedia traveling show called

"The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays"

to coincide with the publication of a new Oz book.

Baum narrated the story in person

as the action unfolded onstage...

a mixture of hand-colored lantern slides

of illustrations from his Oz books

and a series of short, hand-colored trick movies

that he called "radio-plays."

All accompanied by an orchestra performing an original score.

DRUMMOND: It was this extraordinary vision

of artistry, of technology, of inventiveness,

and ultimately of risk taking.

Now, if you read accounts of people who attended the shows,

they were absolutely transported.

There were gasps.

They were completely caught up in it.

BASINGER: He understood that selling things

was about embracing the media.

It was about advertising that didn't look like advertising.

And that, I think, is something very forward-looking about him.

He meshed the story

and the creative artistic product with the sell,

and that's the real magic

of what he was able to do so effectively.

COWARDLY LION: Look at that, look at that!

(Cowardly Lion whimpering)

I am Oz, the great and powerful!

HEARN: One thing L. Frank Baum deals with is appearance.

Are things as we first encounter them?

The Wizard of Oz turns out to be a humbug.

The male leader of the country turns out to be

not what he claims to be.

OZ: Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!

Who are you?

(stammering): Oh, I...

(boastfully): I am the great and powerful

(meekly): Wizard of Oz.

You are?!

HEARN: The Wizard of Oz turns out to be

no more than a flim-flam man,

a circus performer from Nebraska.

READER: "'Really,' said the Scarecrow,

"'you ought to be ashamed of yourself

"for being such a humbug.'

"'I think you are a very bad man,' said Dorothy.

"'Oh, no, my dear, I'm really a very good man,

but I'm a very bad wizard.'"

JONES JR.: Baum does not cast the Wizard as a villain figure,

but rather he sees the Wizard as playing

a very particular kind of function

for this group of people who want something.

He suggests that if deception

can fulfill one's desires,

there is a need for that.

ARONSTEIN: If you think about what the Cowardly Lion,

the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man all want,

what the Wizard gives them isn't that thing.

But because they believe it's that thing,

that actually does magically transform them.

NARRATOR: In the early 20th century,

Los Angeles was becoming the new capital

of American popular culture and entertainment.

Production companies had left New York

to take advantage of the sunny climate

and easy access to a variety of natural settings.

Film studios began popping up all over Hollywood,

a sparsely settled village surrounded by citrus groves.

In 1910, Frank and Maud, who had spent several winters

in Southern California and grown to love it,

moved full-time to Hollywood.

(birds singing)

Baum built a comfortable home that he called Ozcot,

and continued writing.

He penned numerous books and series,

often using both male and female pseudonyms.

And he kept up with the demand for more Oz,

making good on the arrangement with his publisher

of producing one book a year.

Calling himself "The Royal Historian of Oz,"

Frank divided his time between writing

and nurturing his new flower garden.

He also joined the Uplifters,

a social club of wealthy businessmen, artists,

and actors, many of them in the film industry.

Baum enjoyed songs and lively conversation

with what he called his "band of good fellows."

BASINGER: He found a group of creative, imaginative people

and they decided that making the Oz books into movies

would be a very good idea.

Everybody loved the books.

They were extremely popular.

They felt that this would be a successful venture for them.

NARRATOR: In 1914, the group put up $100,000 to launch

the Oz Film Manufacturing Company

with Baum as president.

"I will put all my books into film,

so that every child in the whole country may see them,"

Baum told a reporter.

At age 58, Baum threw himself into this new venture,

building a massive seven-acre studio.

Within two months, he had started filming

their first production, "The Patchwork Girl of Oz."

Expectations and enthusiasm were high.

Would-be chorus girls mobbed the studio

looking to make their big break.

A huge spread in a trade magazine

hyped the anticipated release of the film.

Baum, sparing no expense,

opened "The Patchwork Girl of Oz"

in the biggest movie theater in New York.

HEARN: Not only did they have very elaborate production values

but also he had an original score

for each of the films.

But the audience said, "This is a kid's show.

Why should adults be paying full price?"

And the films were not well received.

It was a big disappointment to him.

NARRATOR: Baum produced four feature films,

but the company fizzled out after only a year.

HEARN: After the failure of the Oz Film Company,

Baum pretty much retired to Ozcot

and just continued writing an Oz book a year.

He wrote other work as well, but he was resolved to the idea

that he should stick to what he knew best,

and that was writing children's books.

DRUMMOND: I think in Ozcot, Baum found his own personal Oz.

It was the perfect bookend

to what Rose Lawn had been when he was a child.

It was a place to dream.

It was a place to escape.

And in some ways it was a return to childhood.

NARRATOR: Ozcot also provided a tranquil place of convalescence

as Frank had been suffering

from congestive heart failure for some time.

Gallbladder surgery weakened him even more.

On May 6, 1919, just before his 63rd birthday,

L. Frank Baum died.

The 13th Oz book was on its way to press,

and Baum had left one more completed Oz manuscript.

DRUMMOND: Here was someone who endured so many setbacks professionally.

But he was a visionary.

He saw the future.

He saw what things could look like.

NARRATOR: Nearly 20 years after L. Frank Baum's death,

on the studio lot of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer,

cameras started rolling on a new interpretation

of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz."

HEARN: MGM was considered the top studio in Hollywood.

And every year they would put out

what they called a prestige film.

And this was a film that would really show off

what the studio was able to do

better than anyone else out there.

"The Wizard of Oz" was going to be the prestige film

for MGM in 1939.

NARRATOR: There had yet to be

a successful film version of "The Wizard of Oz,"

and MGM was gambling an unprecedented $3 million

on a Technicolor extravaganza

to bring the beloved story to screen,

starring Judy Garland as Dorothy.

They knew it was a risk and they poured money

into the promotion.

MGM was very careful to position the film

and the people involved in the film

as readers and fans of Baum...

The idea that there's continuity between us

and the Baum books.

(crowds chattering)

(car engines puttering)

NARRATOR: Over 5,000 fans cheered the parade of stars

arriving for the film's Hollywood premiere.

Joining the crush of celebrities at the lavish event

was 78-year-old Maud Baum.

"One of the greatest thrills of my life," she proclaimed,

"will be to see the land of Oz come to life

under the magic of MGM."

(crowd chattering)

NARRATOR: "The Wizard of Oz" opened in theaters across the country

on August 25, 1939.

(film projector running)

The story born from L. Frank Baum's imagination

and the hardships of the 19th century frontier

would find its most enduring place in American culture

at the tail end of the Great Depression.

Aunt Em, Aunt Em!

Now you just help us out today and find yourself a place

where you won't get into any trouble.

Someplace where there isn't any trouble.

Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto?

♪ Somewhere over the rainbow

♪ Way up high

♪ There's a land that I heard of ♪

♪ Once in a lullaby

MAGUIRE: As we were just coming out of the Depression

and as war was on the horizon,

"The Wizard of Oz" was an escapist moment.

It was a chance for Americans,

who had been working very, very hard for a very long time,

to keep body and soul together,

to take a deep breath and get out of themselves.

NARRATOR: "There is no cure for a troubled heart,

or a troubled world," noted one review,

"like a swift journey back to a cherished childhood memory.

"Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's 'Wizard of Oz' is just that:

a memory glorified on the screen."

Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.

SCARECROW: ♪ And my head I'd be a scratchin' ♪

♪ While my thoughts were busy hatchin' ♪

♪ If I only had a brain

(Tin Man clanking)

(metallic drumming)

(steam whistle blowing)

ALL: Lions and tigers and bears!

DOROTHY: Oh, my!

ALL: Lions and tigers and bears!

DOROTHY: Oh, my!

ALL: Lions and tigers and bears!

Oh, my!

(Cowardly Lion roaring) (all scream)

(Cowardly Lion snarling)

(snarls)

BASINGER: The 1939 MGM movie made Oz

a world everybody could see and experience the same way,

so that it became real to people

and defined collectively as Oz.

(quietly): There's no place like home...

There's no place... Wake up, honey.

NARRATOR: In 1959, CBS began annual broadcasts

of "The Wizard of Oz."

The shared national event became a beloved tradition,

firmly establishing the story as an American icon.

MAGUIRE: In the 1950s,

there was an uncomfortable sense of American certainty.

We knew who we were,

and that we were on top of the world.

There is a lot of oppression in that

and there is also a lot of possibility.

When "The Wizard of Oz" was rebroadcast,

what it did was provide those children

who felt emboldened by that certainty

to seek newness,

to seek otherness.

NARRATOR: In the years to come,

"The Wizard of Oz" would be transformed again and again.

(horns honking)

In January 1975, a new interpretation

of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" opened on Broadway.

("Ease on Down the Road" playing)

DOROTHY: ♪ Come on and ease on down, ease on down the road ♪

NARRATOR: Starring an all-black cast with Stephanie Mills as Dorothy,

"The Wiz" was a modern retelling of L. Frank Baum's fairy tale.

♪ Ease on down...

The show, subtitled "The Super Soul Musical,"

gave the story a new cultural framework.

JONES JR.: It is Black theater makers

grasping on to something that's dear to Americans

and saying, "This is ours too."

It's about bringing the peculiar talents

of these artists together to make claims

on the American story.

What some might call

the most American of American stories.

ARONSTEIN: There hadn't been any real kind of vibrant Oz moments

for quite a while.

"The Wiz" updates it.

It makes it modern, and new, and fresh.

NARRATOR: "The Wiz" was a huge hit, winning seven Tony Awards,

including best musical.

Three years later, Hollywood reworked the story

as an urban fantasy set in Harlem.

The movie featured megastars Diana Ross as Dorothy,

a 24-year-old school teacher,

and Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow.

In both the stage and film versions,

"The Wiz" explored African American

struggle and resistance,

and celebrated Black liberation.

("A Brand New Day" playing)

ALL: ♪ Can't you feel a brand new day? ♪

JONES, JR.: "The Wiz" is injecting themes, and images, and ideas

of Black liberation, and celebration,

and what people call Black joy

precisely because these moments of celebration in the film

allow for and show

the ways in which African Americans can, and do,

and continue to overcome.

ALL: Yeah!

I'm ready now.

Think of home.

BASINGER: This is a story that can be adapted

to a different time and place without really losing

the fundamental idea of Oz and what it means to people.

DELORIA: Who would've thought that a failed entrepreneur

would write a little story,

which would get made into a film,

which would have repercussions and reverberations

across the whole course of the 20th century

and into the future.

NARRATOR: In 2003, 100 years after Baum's first theatrical extravaganza,

Oz returned to the stage as "Wicked,"

a hugely popular Broadway musical adapted from a novel.

This 21st century take on Oz

reimagined Baum's story from the point of view

of the Wicked Witch of the West.

ARONSTEIN: "Wicked" focuses on the question of marginalization about

what is it like to grow up in a skin that people reject?

What does it mean to have power as a woman?

The focus on female friendship,

all of those things revitalized Oz

for a very new audience.

Every generation reinterprets the story

based upon what their experiences are.

There is this power in Baum's imagination, Baum's invention.

JONES JR.: He was able to create and mold a set of characters

that are with us across class, across race.

MAGUIRE: We carried the meaning of the story

wherever we went,

which is that the small and the powerless

can still have agency.

SCHWARTZ: Baum left an indelible imprint on the American imagination.

In a way, America has become a society

of imagination and storytelling,

and myth making.

NARRATOR: "Imagination," Baum wrote,

"transforms the commonplace into the great

and creates the new out of the old."

ANNOUNCER: "American Experience: American Oz" is available on DVD.

To order, visit ShopPBS or call 1-800-PLAY-PBS.

"American Experience" is also available with PBS Passport

and on Amazon Prime Video.

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