It is no surprise that the pieces and parts of The Wizard of Oz have saturated our daily lives. Based on the children’s novel, written by L. Frank Baum, it has been declared as “America’s greatest and best-loved homegrown fairytale”. How many times have each of us uttered one of the familiar phrases that are associated with this classic? For those looking to really immerse themselves in the story, we suggest a stop at the Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas. Being from the great state of Kansas, we dropped by to check out this attraction for ourselves. We discovered a cast of characters who reminded us that “there’s no place like home”.
The 1939 movie was adapted from Baum’s story titled, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. While there are many clear departures from the original, the movie does stay true to the overall theme. After being caught up in a Kansas cyclone, Dorothy and her dog Toto are deposited into Munchkin Land. As soon as she exits the house, she utters one of those familiar phrases, “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore”. Truer words have not been spoken, as this begins her magical journey through the Land of Oz.
Along the way, she meets some interesting characters who each has their own problem to face. They also bring more familiar phrases to the forefront. Who could forget the scarecrow lamenting about what he would do “If I only had a brain”? The dynamic foursome even joins together to utter one of the most iconic sayings of all. “Lions, and tigers, and bears, Oh my!” Of course, not all of the familiar phrases are spoken as sayings. Many come from the songs associated with the film. “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” and “We’re Off to See the Wizard” are probably running through your mind already.
Most every great children’s story requires overcoming some hardship or facing stifling foes. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has plenty of both. When the Wicked Witch of the West finds out that Dorothy killed her sister with a house, she vows to get revenge. Armed with plenty of witchy powers, as well as a host of frightening henchmen, she sets off to do in the Kansas girl. After all, she just wants the power of the magical shoes for herself. And Dorothy should steer clear, as the witch has stated “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog, too!”
Big Screen Adaption
As we made our way through the Oz Museum, we discovered plenty of artifacts and memorabilia from the movie and Baum’s writings. For those who have read the book, you know that the original slippers were silver, not ruby-red. Apparently, red slippers made a more appealing presence on the big screen. It worked since we are all very familiar with the film’s version, which stood out vividly from the Yellow Brick Road.
While these days we look back at the special effects as simplified, they were cutting edge in 1935. The tornado was created with 35 feet of muslin that was hung from a huge gantry. By moving it across the stage they were able to reproduce the illusion of a circling cyclone. The lion and scarecrow’s makeup included the use of latex foam, which was fairly new for that time period. We can all remember the scenes that involved oiling the rusted tinman. Did you realize that they used chocolate syrup to replicate the oil? Even after the crew made it to Oz, the special effects continued. Remember the “horse of a different color”? It was created using a white horse coated with assorted Jell-O powders.
A Series of Successes
Frank Baum started his career as a newspaper journalist, and it wasn’t until his forties that he began writing children’s books. Just before the turn of the century he had published a couple of hugely popular nursery rhyme books. Playing off of these early successes, he released The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900. It became the best-selling children’s book for two years running. This would spark him to write thirteen more editions that would expand the Land of Oz universe. While he did gain the acclaim that he desired in younger years, time taught him that there are rewards with more value than money or possessions.
Have a Heart
Frank Baum was not just interested in telling kid’s stories. He also used his influence to help move issues forward. Baum was a supporter of women’s rights and worked to forward the women’s suffrage movement. In fact, many believe that his works with that movement helped fuel the storyline behind his second book in the Oz series, The Marvelous Land of Oz. In that story, the women of Oz rise up in revolt and succeed in making the men take over the household chores.
Hearing Familiar Phrases
As we toured the Oz Museum, the familiar phrases from the movie kept running through our heads. The museum includes a small theater where the movie plays on a continuous loop. We popped in for a moment, but having seen it year-after-year, we were already quite familiar with it. Still, seeing all of the memorabilia gathered throughout the space showed us just how much the Wizard of Oz has permeated our culture. For us Kansans, Dorothy wrapped it up when she said, “If I go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any farther than my backyard.”