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

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Babes in Toyland

 Babes in Toyland is not an Oz book, but there is a very strong connection between this book and The Wizard of Oz - both stories were successful Broadway musicals in 1903.

After the stage adaptation of The Wizard proved to be a hit, the producers came up with a successor to follow the wildly popular show. Using a production team that included many of the same designers and writers who worked on Oz, as well as some of the same actors, Babes in Toyland was the result. The musical is in three acts, like Wizard. The first act is based on a traditional pantomime, The Babes in the Wood, peopled with traditional nursery rhyme characters. Part of the second act is loosely adapted from The Wondersmith, a rather gothic tale by Fitz-James O'Brian, and the third act bears a strong resemblance to the previous hit, The Wizard of Oz!

The stage show was a success, and included a lovely score by Victor Herbert, with several songs that are still popular today. There have been film and television adaptations based on the show, and heavily rewritten versions are frequently produced around Christmas time. But nothing has been as lavish as the original production! 

It's interesting to note that the show does feel like a definite attempt to outdo the Wizard - instead of a spectacular cyclone, Babes has a raging storm at sea AND an erupting volcano. Instead of the transformation of a field of chorus girl poppies into a snowstorm, there is the transformation of the Spider's Forest into the Floral Court of the Moth Queen, with a troop of chorus girl butterflies. Both shows include a threatened execution in the third act. Babes is more bloodthirsty than Wizard, with several deaths. In spite of these attempts, I think The Wizard of Oz feels far more original in its story and characters.  A poster for the show can be seen above, sold several years ago at auction. 

The book was published in 1904, a year after the successful extravaganza opened on Broadway. Glen MacDonough and Anna Alice Chapin are listed as the authors; Macdonough wrote the stage show, and I’m guessing the book was actually written by Chapin, using MacDonough's concepts and even some of the stage dialogue. It follows much of the first two acts of the show, with some changes - all love interests are cut, and the Toymaker, who is not an evil character in this book, doesn't die. At the same time, Alan and Jane's journey to Toyland is fleshed out with additional incidents.

Descriptions of various locations in the story are clearly based on the set designs of the show, but the illustrations by Ethel Franklin Betts are not based on the stage presentation. The exception is her painting of Alan as a toy soldier, and the cover design of Alan and Jane as toys. These are directly based on the costume designs of the show, as seen in the photo on the right, from the NYPL digital collections

Earlier this year, I finished off a toy theater version of the show. Like my earlier toy theater version of The Wizard, it's based on the various scripts and photos I've been able to track down and reference. As with Wizard, it's not terribly accurate but an attempt to capture some of the visual aspects of the show. Unfortunately, I've been unable to find visual references for several of the scenes and characters, so I simply filled in as necessary!

1903 Babes in Toyland 

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Trick or Treat?

Just in time for Halloween - well, a day late - here’s a puzzling little picture. It appears to be an original John R. Neill illustration from the 1940 Oz book The Wonder City of Oz, showing Jack Pumpkinhead and Jenny Jump. This was offered at auction recently, but there’s a problem - the published version of this drawing has sold in the past and is currently being offered by Peter Harrington, a bookseller in the United Kingdom. So, what is this one?
When I saw this offered, I immediately had misgivings. I knew the published drawing was currently available elsewhere. The drawing itself didn't look "right". Looking at the other listings in this auction, my unease increased; every lot was being sold as “attributed to” or “in the manner of” various artists. Consequently, I had very little faith in the authenticity of anything being offered. This drawing had no provenance, and when I asked I was simply told it came from a private collection. But I was intrigued by it, and I bid on it!

I was the only bidder and won the auction for a fraction of the low estimate. Why would I buy a drawing that I felt was fake? I was fascinated by the idea of an actual Neill forgery, and of the work involved in creating it. I was very curious to see the drawing in person, to get a better sense of how close the artist came to succeeding.

This seems an odd image to copy; there are some questionable Oz drawings out there, but they tend to be “unused” images that haven’t been seen before. This drawing is one that’s known to exist. A strange choice to copy, except - there is a very clear image of the published artwork readily available online. It would be easy to use this as a template for creating a fake. Below, I've scaled the drawing and aligned the published version and this version together, to show how closely the basic drawing matches.
In examining the drawing, it’s surprising to see how closely many of the lines match up to the original version. Even fairly obscure things - on the right side, there is a fine line drawn under the heavy ink wash shading. This is not readily obvious, but it’s there in both drawings. That shows a good attention to detail; and yet, areas of shading are missing from Jenny’s left shoe, and on Jack’s sleeve. Not quite as attentive as I thought. The expression on Jenny’s face simply isn’t right; if I were trying to forge a drawing, I’d be particular about getting the face right!
The line work is a mix of bold and fine lines, but it’s missing Neill’s touch. The lines are all of the same weight, while in Neill’s work there is a lively mix of both delicacy and strength, creating an elegant feeling of light and depth within the drawing. It was the lack of this quality, along with Neill's characteristic grace of line that initially made me doubt this drawing.

The paper is wrong as well. It’s drawn on a wove paper with a definite texture which I haven’t seen in other drawings from this book. The paper is nicely aged; and the drawing bears a very nice signature. This is in pencil, rather than ink, which is odd. And, with a little looking online, I found the original signature that this is based on - a detail of a drawing recently offered for sale. This in itself is interesting, as it shows that this is a rather recent forgery, within the past two years. The published version of the drawing is not signed.

Finally, the scale of the drawing is a little off. It’s slightly oversized compared to other drawings I have from this book. As far as the idea that this is a preliminary or rejected drawing, at this point in his life I should think Neill could dash off a drawing of this sort without much difficulty or concern!

So - the paper texture, the scale of the drawing, the signature, the quality of the line work and the general question of why this drawing would exist are all points against this piece. Overall, it’s a fascinating example of someone trying to be clever. By buying it I've removed it from the marketplace, and I like having it in my collection as a curiosity - but be warned, there could be other similar pieces turning up on the market!

Monday, October 26, 2020

Rand McNally

I’ve posted a number of times in the past about books published by Rand McNally, with cover designs by W. W. Denslow. Recently, I picked up a Rand McNally catalog of Holiday Books from 1898 that features quite a few of these titles.
I enjoy seeing the verbiage used to sell the books - in some cases, like Enoch the Philistine and Romola, Denslow is mentioned as the cover designer. The presence of Denslow's name in connection with the design for Romola is nice, as it confirms that this is indeed a Denslow design. Of his various Rand McNally covers, this one looks the least like one of his works to me!
In others, like Phoebe Tilson, we are given the artist's description of the cover design - although Denslow isn't actually mentioned:
"In the words of the artist's description of the cover design, "Phoebe Tilson" treats of the life of an eccentric maiden lady who is dragging out a drab-colored existence in the gray atmosphere of a quaint New England village, when that existence is enlivened and entirely changed by the advent of a bright little girl child, a waif, left at her door. This child brings cheer and color into the neglected house as does the gay little geranium against the dusty panes of a garret window. The other side of the cover is suggestive of the tender care bestowed upon the "waif", while on the back (spine) is represented the locket which proved her right to her estates and a name beside the "Blossom"that she is."
Illustrations are included from some of his other titles; the only books I'm aware of with interior drawings are An Arkansas Planter, and A Cruise Under the Crescent.
All in all, it's a fun little reference!

Monday, October 19, 2020

A Golden Road

The original edition of The Road to Oz is one of the handful of Oz books featuring a jacket with a different design than the cover of the book. On the 1909 Reilly & Britton first edition, the book itself has a stamped cover and the jacket is a lovely watercolor of Dorothy and friends, with a metallic gold background. The metallic ink was only used on the earliest copies, and the jacket soon changed to a yellow or blue background, finally settling on yellow after 1920. When Reilly & Britton became Reilly & Lee and dropped the stamped cover, the jacket design was put to use as a paper label. Metallic jackets are few and far between - I don’t own one, the photo shown below on the right is a later version of the jacket with a blue background.

A little while back, I was involved in some discussions concerning the Road to Oz dust jacket, spurred by a fragment of a metallic gold Road jacket. On closer examination, questions arose as to the authenticity of the piece; in the end, it appeared to be a much later jacket that had been altered with gold paint. I thought it would be interesting to see how difficult it might be to do this, and decided to create a copy of the book with a metallic label. I chose to do this to a book rather than a jacket, as it would be a sturdier base to work on, and jackets - even on later printings - are still uncommon enough that I didn’t want to destroy one! The original book was never published this way.

Different shades of yellow were used on the later printings of Road, varying from pale (which is rather attractive) to quite bright. I happened to have a late 1940’s/early 1950’s copy with the bright yellow background that I dislike. I masked the cover using frisket (an adhesive film), and cut out the background areas. With a couple passes of gold spray paint, I had created a non-existent variant of the book! The above photo shows the result. The book on the left is another copy of the standard cover, and on the right is my metallic version. It didn't take long, and the result is actually rather attractive!


Sunday, October 11, 2020

Pandemic Projects

For the last couple weeks, I've been working on a fun project - some figures of the 1903 Oz stage characters. Here's my version of the Tin Man, Lion, and Scarecrow as portrayed by Dave Montgomery, Arthur Hill, and Fred Stone, respectively.

The project actually started several years ago when I molded a couple faces off of an antique doll head. I painted these up to look like Fred and Dave, and then put them aside. I finally found my way back to them, and as I usually do, worked with various scraps found in my basement to finish the figures.

I then decided they needed a Lion, so I built him up as well, using more scraps and Sculptamold. The figures each have some movement built in - the Tin Man sways from side to side, the Lion's head wobbles and the Scarecrow sways forward and back. Who knows - maybe a Dorothy will eventually join them!

Edit 7/27/21 - Dorothy did indeed join the others, a few weeks later. She was just updated with a better wig - here’s a shot of the four together -

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Patchwork on Film

The Patchwork Girl of Oz was the first feature film produced by the Oz Film Manufacturing Co. It was filmed in 1914, a year after the successful publication of the book of the same name. I believe L. Frank Baum had been looking at using the material in another attempt at a stage musical, but the burgeoning film industry in California drew his attention.
Here I have a set of several stills from the movie, which is readily available on YouTube. These are not from the time of the film itself, but they do seem to be actual publicity shots rather than screen captures. We start with Ojo and Unc Nunkie at home, with no food. The decision is made to set out in search of a better fortune. 

They travel to the home of the Crooked Magician, just as he is finishing a batch of his famous Powder of Life. 
The next still shows a slightly different angle of a pivotal scene from the movie. We see the magician pouring out his precious powder, preparing to use it to bring the Patchwork Girl to life. An accident involving the Liquid of Petrifaction occurs, and Ojo is off on a journey to the Emerald City to try and set things right! Unfortunately, the portion of the film showing the actual coming-to-life of the Patchwork Girl and the resulting accident is missing from the surviving print.
The final still takes place outside the Emerald City, and shows the Royal Army of Oz trying to cope with Ojo and several Munchkins who have journeyed to the city. A troop of female soldiers is in the background as well, a staple of early Oz productions! 
It's an elaborate film, but sadly the Oz Film Manufacturing Co. did not survive the reputation of producing "kiddie films", and ceased production a year later. The studio continued briefly under a different name, before being rented out to other companies and eventually demolished.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Driverless Cars!

Here's an interesting drawing by John R. Neill; this is an unidentified illustration, probably never used. It shows a crowd of winged men, one wearing a crown and another with a bell on his head, watching a man entering what appears to be an early concept for a Scalawagon. Other similar vehicles zoom by in the background.

The Scalawagons were a form of self-driving car, created by Neill for the 1941 Oz book, The Scalawagons of Oz. In the story they are designed by the Wizard of Oz to be used as free transportation - they can fly as well as roll! Neill's illustrations of the cars are eerily similar to the early concepts for Google's driverless cars.

A handwritten caption at the bottom of this drawing reads "Take me to the City Hall." and "Part 3". On the back of the page are several pencil sketches of the same crowned figure, as well as a variation or two of the man running to the car.

 I think this may actually be a drawing intended for an unpublished story by Neill. Over on the John R. Neill Collection website, which features available artwork by the artist, David Maxine shows a drawing titled The Voice of Bong, dated 1939That example features the same crowned leprechaun king, as well as a bell-headed fairy similar to the one seen in this drawing. It's difficult to imagine what exactly the story might have been. Perhaps it ended up being incorporated into Neill's own Oz books?

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Story Book

The Wizard of Oz Story Book is one of the publications issued in Great Britain in 1940, at the time of the MGM film premiere in England. Hutchinson, the English publisher, produced a line of books related to the film, most featuring covers adapted from movie stills.

This particular book is an oversize softcover abridgment of the original L. Frank Baum story. It's interesting to note that Baum receives no author's credit on the cover, or for that matter anywhere in the book. On the other hand, W. W. Denslow is prominently mentioned on both the cover and title page! There are a sprinkling of illustrations adapted from Denslow's originals throughout the book. These must have been very tempting for young hands to color!

The dust jacket flaps of the complete version of the book (one variant shown on the left), list the various styles of the story that were available, or upcoming. This story book is #4 at the bottom of the list. Among the assorted adaptations of the book, there were to be a Colouring Book, a Painting Book, and a Picture Book with cut-out characters; creative choices for the marketing of the film!

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Marianne and the River Nix

Peter and the Princess was published in 1920 by Reilly and Lee, as an elaborately boxed gift book. The book is a fantasy, by Carl Grabo, telling stories of Peter and the Princess Marianne, who have known each other since before they were born. The stories are charming, along the lines of traditional fairy tales, and the book was clearly an important project for John R. Neill.

This is one of the few books Neill illustrated with a lavish suite of full color illustrations. The other major books with watercolor paintings are Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz and The Emerald City of Oz. Full color paintings were done for the dust jacket of The Road to Oz, as well as the covers of Sea Fairies and Tik-Tok of Oz. A cover and two interior paintings were done for Andersen’s Fairy Tales, and he did do full watercolors for the covers of several other books, as well as duotone illustrations for some titles. But full color paintings are generally unusual in his book work, especially by this time period; by 1920, Neill was not illustrating many books other than the annual Oz title, focusing his attention on producing pieces for periodicals.
I've blogged about the book in the past, but today is a little different - this time I'm showing an illustration from the book.  This painting was used as a color plate in Chapter 9, and shows Marianne falling under the enchantment of the River Nix. The Nix has lost his daughter, and when he sees Marianne gazing into the water decides to take her as a replacement, to live with him in the river. She is eventually rescued by Peter, who first has to perform the difficult task of restoring the lost daughter of the Nix.
This is a lovely image, and a great example of the challenges faced by drawings that are now 100 years old. Illustration art can suffer over time - exposure to sun, to damp, rough handling, all can play a part in the survival of original pieces. This painting has had a touch of damp staining, and the board has darkened, possibly through exposure to sunlight or simply from acids in the material. This is why Marianne’s face and other areas seem to have changed their color. If the board were still a light off-white, the image would look rather different. Also, the sky on the left side has been retouched at some point to repair some losses. However, it is still the original art and doesn’t exist in any other form, so it has to be accepted for what it is.

The published version of the painting looks candy colored and bright; this is partly due to printing techniques. The flat, brightly colored inks are not quite the same as the subtler watercolor and gouache used in the original.

The piece seems to have been a family favorite, as it was exhibited along with other examples of Neill's work on several occasions. One example is a 1965 display at the Port Washington Public Library, on Long Island (brochure shown below). Four paintings from Peter and the Princess were included in this exhibition, along with other drawings and sketches by Neill. I would love to know what the condition of this painting was at that time!

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Another Tin Man

Today I’m showing a cabinet card photo of the Tin Woodman from The Wizard of Oz. It may not be immediately obvious that that's who it is - the seller simply called it a photo of a sad clown - but it is Nick Chopper in his third act disguise.

By this point in the plot of the 1903 Broadway show, the Scarecrow and Tin Man are on the run from Pastoria, the ruler of Oz. They disguise themselves in white costumes, which would have been quite striking against the purples and lavender tones of the set. The Tin Man is seen in these clothes, possibly belonging to a comic sailor? Chauffeur? In this photo, he appears to be studying some sheet music - perhaps he's brushing up on his song, Must You?
I was uncertain as to the identity of this actor; it doesn’t look like David Montgomery, the original Tin Man, and the photographers imprint of St. Louis seemed to indicate that the photo was taken while touring. So I checked in with David Maxine, to see if he had any theories on the piece. David has been studying the show for many years, and is currently writing a blog, Vintage Broadway, that examines the show from its first inception. After a quick consultation, the opinion was that this is from the later Hurtig & Seamon tour of the show, probably ca.1907, and shows Frank Hayes as the Tin Man.
Hayes is perhaps best remembered for his film work with Keystone Studios, often in films with Mabel Normand and Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. He was hired at the studio in 1914 and made dozens of comic shorts, moving into feature films, until his death from pneumonia in 1923.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Thompson at Volland

I’ve blogged about The Perhappsy Chaps in the past, but since that time I’ve acquired a boxed copy of the book. Ruth Plumly Thompson wrote two books which were published by the P. F. Volland Company. This was a publisher who produced a number of decorative children’s books, many in matching boxes. The company was founded in 1908, and continued producing books until 1934. They are probably best known as the publishers of the original Raggedy Ann books, by Johnny Gruelle. On the left is a newspaper advertisement for the series of “Happy Children Books”; the Volland concept for children's stories sounds very similar to L. Frank Baum's ideal - "...books for children must not cause fright, suggest fear, glorify mischief, extenuate malice or condone cruelty."
The Perhappsy Chaps was Thompson's first published book and came out in 1918, the same year as the first Raggedy Ann book. The stories originally appeared on the children’s page of the Philadelphia Public Ledger, a weekly newspaper feature written by Thompson. On the right is a blurb that ran in a November 1918 issue of the Ledger, advertising the newly published book version of the poems.

Thompson's second book was The Princess of Cozytown, which wasn't published until 1922. This was a collection of fairy tales by Thompson, some of which had previously been published in St. Nicholas magazine. Apparently the book was already pending publication when she was contracted to continue the Oz series, and had her first Oz book published in 1921.
Both books were designed with matching pictorial boxes, like so many of the Volland publications. The books are colorful and well illustrated, with pictorial endpapers and full color illustrations throughout. The Perhappsy Chaps was illustrated by Arthur Henderson, and The Princess of Cozytown was illustrated by Janet Laura Scott. The overall effect is charming!