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

Monday, April 25, 2022

The Girl from Up There

In 1903 the vaudeville team of Montgomery & Stone achieved Broadway stardom in The Wizard of Oz. But it wasn’t their first time on Broadway; in 1901, they were featured in The Girl from Up There, starring Edna May, book and lyrics by Hugh Morton and music by Gustave Kerker; one of the many musical comedies to grace Broadway during that time. 

The story begins in Polaria, near the North Pole, where a young lady has been frozen in ice for 500 years. She is freed by an explorer with an "electric knife", but in order to stay alive she must drink from the golden cup of Odin within 90 days. The cup was last known to be in the possession of pirates. David Montgomery & Fred Stone made a hit as the pirates (Solomon Scarlet and Christopher Grunt) who befriend the heroine.


Prior to that time, the pair had built a solid reputation as blackface comedians in vaudeville. When Charles Frohman hired them for the new show, he insisted they should put blackface behind them, and perform in “straight makeup”. This proved to be a success, and after the run of The Girl From Up There, the duo switched to their new routine. They took the successful new act to London, prior to returning to the USA and stardom in The Wizard of Oz.

Edna May gained recognition in The Belle of New York, which ran moderately on Broadway before having a surprisingly successful run in London. While American critics were very much split concerning the talents of Miss May, she conquered London and was declared a star. She was then presented by Charles Frohman as star of his new show, originally announced as The Golden Cup. Perhaps he had some misgivings about her abilities, as he collected a very strong supporting cast to back up his new diva. As star, she collected the princely sum of $500 a week, a far cry from her $15 chorus days. In spite of this, the American critics weren't convinced by Edna in her new role, and a transfer of the show to London was not particularly successful; much was made of Edna appearing on stage in boys clothing for the first time, but even that novelty failed to save the show. However, Edna continued as a favorite of the British stage - as well as a popular subject for postcards! She married a millionaire in 1907 and retired from the theater. When her husband died in 1917, she inherited five million dollars.
There are a number of minor L. Frank Baum/Oz connections with this show, aside from the presence of Montgomery & Stone. The drawings in this post are taken from the souvenir album of the production, which was published by R. H. Russell - publishers of Baum’s A New Wonderland. The drawings are by Archie Gunn, who would go on to design costumes for Baum’s show The Wogglebug. Julian Mitchell directed the piece, and the costumes of the show were designed by Caroline Siedle, both of whom performed the same jobs for The Wizard of Oz

See the comments for a closer connection between Edna May and L. Frank Baum!


ericshanower said...

Bill, you left out the biggest Baum connection: Edna May's first stage appearance was in a show with L. Frank Baum. On April 24 and 25, 1884, LFB played “Luke Bloomfield” in Dora by Charles Reade at Syracuse, NY's Grand Opera House. May still used her real name, Edna Pettie. She was five years old.

Bill Campbell said...

I didn’t know that! I knew the Syracuse connection, which I neglected to call out, but I didn’t realize they had actually worked together. Thanks!