Welcome to my blog, featuring various pieces from my collection of Oz books, artwork and memorabilia!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Groucho in Mo Part 2

 A couple years ago I blogged about a 1960 television version of The Magical Monarch of Mo that was being considered as a vehicle for Groucho Marx. The idea never amounted to anything, and sadly died away. Since then, I've come up with a copy of the script for the show that was written by Gore Vidal. It's an interesting read, especially when combined with the promotional pamphlet that was designed to entice sponsers!

The idea put forth in the pamphlet is that Groucho would play a contemporary family man, who escapes to the Land of Mo when everyday pressures become too heavy. It says that a script is being written by Frank Gabrielson in collaboration with Robert Dwan. Gabrielson had already adapted The Marvelous Land of Oz for Shirley Temple, as well as creating a stage version of The Wizard of Oz that was used for many years by various theaters. Dwan was the director and editor of Groucho's quiz show You Bet Your Life. His role was to "...help tailor the title role for Groucho's unique and flamboyant talents...". A script written by Gore Vidal is mentioned as something that may be integrated into this concept. But the script by Vidal is really a straightforward fairy tale, and fairly faithful to the source material. There's nothing to indicate that it was intended for Groucho, or the concept outlined in the pamphlet.

In the script, we are introduced to the Magical Monarch, who is also referred to simply as Mo. He introduces us to his country, and his daughter Pattycake who has lost her temper. In Mo, we are told, everyone keeps their temper (which resembles a square cut jewel) in a locket. After Pattycake runs off to fetch an axe, in order to cut down a hat tree that has offended her by growing last season's hats, we are introduced to Timtom. He is a young hunter who is in love with the princess. When he declares his love, she cuts off his head with the axe intended for the tree. The Monarch restores Timtom's head, backwards at first, and Timtom declares his intention to marry the princess.

The Monarch's three wise men rush in and and announce that King Scowleyowe (spelt Scowleyow by Baum) has set the Purple Dragon upon the kingdom of Mo, with the demand that the Monarch surrender and grant him Pattycake's hand in marriage. The Wise Donkey is summoned and they all learn that the princess's temper was stolen by King Scowleyowe. The Monarch sets off with Timtom to restore the temper, and both are promptly eaten by the dragon.

In Act 2, the Monarch and Timtom are inside the dragon, which is filled with neatly labeled shelves of things the beast has devoured - including a television set! Scowleyowe appears on the TV and informs the monarch that his white magic will not work inside the Purple Dragon. The Monarch decides he will have to defeat the dragon with Tattletale Gray Magic, better known as psychology. Through flattery and kindness, they manage to escape the dragon.

They head off through the Haunted Forest, where they meet Maetta, the Queen of the Forest. She reveals Scowleyowe's weak point to the Monarch, and he and Timtom set off in disguise to defeat the villain. It turns out that Scowleyowe's weakness is a fondness for riddles, and after the Monarch trades a riddle for the temper, the wicked king is taken off in a straitjacket. Pattycake's temper is returned, and she and Timtom are free to marry. The script is 39 pages long, and dated July 31, 1959.

The original book by L. Frank Baum is actually a series of nonsensical stories, and the script incorporates a number of characters and ideas without accurately following any one tale. Vidal also added a number of his own touches, particularly the methods of defeat for both the dragon and Scowleyowe. There would have been plenty of additional material to draw upon if this version of the show had indeed become a series. But clearly the idea of a show based on Mo had been in the works before the idea of bringing Groucho on board, and catering to his particular talents.


J. L. Bell said...

When I read the Vidal script from the Gore Vidal archive at Houghton Library a few years ago, I was struck by how he seemed to have written around the special effects that 1950s television could pull off easily. I've occasionally wondered whether the arrival of cinema changed the way Baum imagined or described magic in the same way.

Bill Campbell said...

That's true - the whole beheading of Timtom has an air of "look what we can do!" about it, similar to the beheading of Mombi in Baum's film version of The Scarecrow of Oz. Offhand I can't think of any particular magic that strikes me as cinema inspired in the later Baum books, but his magic was always on the technological side so it's difficult to say!