American Experience

S33 E4 | CLIP

Chapter 1 | American Oz

By 1900, when The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published, L. Frank Baum was 44 years old and had spent much of his life in restless pursuit of success.

AIRED: April 19, 2021 | 0:09:40
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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

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