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

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Everyone’s a Critic!

It’s always amusing to run across an unsolicited comment about a show - whether favorable or not! I picked up a postcard recently whose author had just seen The Wizard of Oz - but found it “rather tame after Humpty Dumpty”. In general, the author “M” seems more concerned about a money order and an upcoming trip to the dentist.

The card is postmarked February 13, 1905, and was sent from East Orange, New Jersey. According to the note, the Oz performance was seen on Friday night, which would have been February 10. Consequently, according to the performance history assembled by David Maxine on his Vintage Broadway page, the performance of Oz that M attended would have been in Newark, New Jersey, and part of the #1 company tour.

Humpty Dumpty was a popular pantomime first presented in New York in 1868. It was revived over the years, but a new version played at the New Amsterdam Theater in New York for several months in the 1904 - 1905 season, returning for another month in 1906. It was a large show - according to publicity, 800 people were necessary to make it run. 

There was spectacle to spare, in scenes like the Submarine Ballet, a tableau that was said to incorporate 350 people. 
Humpty Dumpty himself was a silent clown, getting in and out of scrapes, played by William C. Schrode. I haven't found a link but I imagine it's possible that he may have been related to Joseph Schrode, who played Imogene the cow during the run of The Wizard of Oz, as well as the Giant Spider in Babes in Toyland
There was a lost Princess, a Demon of Misrule, a man-eating Ogre, and plenty of Pierrots and other commedia characters. For sheer scale it probably did make Oz look a little tame!

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

The Perils of Paper Spines

As a book collector, I've always found paper spines to be completely impractical; especially on children's books, which were never meant to be handled with care! The fragile paper is easily rubbed and torn, and more often than not large chunks will be missing at the top and bottom of the spine; but it was a less expensive alternative to cloth for binding a book, and presumably helped to lower the cost of children's books while raising the profits.

A number of the books illustrated by W.W. Denslow were published in this fashion. His first big success with L. Frank Baum from 1899, Father Goose His Book, was published by George M. Hill in paper covered boards with a paper spine. In spite of the book's huge success, a more enduring binding was never used on any of the later editions, even when publication was taken over by Bobbs Merrill. The example shown above has its full spine, but it’s not at all unusual to find copies of the book like the photo on the left, with several inches gone from either end of the spine, or even the entire spine missing.

The follow up volume, The Songs of Father Goose, was also published in paper covered boards, but did have a sturdier cloth spine - until a new edition was printed by Bobbs Merrill, with a new cover design and paper spine. The paper spine on the copy shown in the photo below has been replaced.
Denslow's hit book from 1901, Denslow's Mother Goose, is another example of this fragile style of binding. Early copies were bound with paper spines, but the publisher McClure seems to have quickly changed this to a much sturdier cloth spine. I wasn't aware of the paper spine version until I stumbled across one recently - the bottom of the spine is missing 2 inches, which I've adjusted in the photo. The small advertising card shows the original cover design with paper spine, with the title printed in black and Denslow's seahorse logo printed in brown - the cloth spine version is simply printed in black.
In 1902, Denslow's Night Before Christmas was published by G. W Dillingham. Once again, the publisher chose to use a binding of paper boards and paper spine. In this case, Denslow’s design for the cover takes advantage of the format, with a large image of Santa in his sleigh that spreads across the spine and rear board. But copies today are rarely found with the spine intact, destroying the concept. The book quickly switched to a cloth binding with a new cover design for later printings.
The last major children's book illustrated by Denslow was also bound in paper boards, with a paper spine. Consequently The Jeweled Toad, from 1907, is another title that is difficult to find with a spine in nice condition. This was also published by Bobbs Merrill - they do seem to have liked their paper bindings!
Fortunately the most famous Baum/Denslow title, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was given the full cloth treatment it deserved in 1900. The same is true of Dot and Tot in Merryland, from 1901. When Dillingham published The Pearl and the Pumpkin in 1904, and Billy Bounce in 1906, they were given full cloth. In 1909, Century published When I Grow Up, bound in cloth. But those early paper spines do add another degree of difficulty to the collecting game!

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Emerald City at the Elks

On October 19th, 1909, the above announcement appeared in the town newspaper of Grand Junction, Colorado. The local Elks Lodge (#575) had decided to stage a new comic opera, titled The Emerald City. This was to be done without regard to expense, and would involve a variety of local talent. Costumes would be hired from Salt Lake City, and the presentation would be held at the local Majestic Theater. Work was already underway on scenery painting, and it was expected to be “the most beautiful and spectacular amateur operetta or comic opera ever attempted by purely local talent”. There would be two performances only, and all would be under the direction of Mr. Archie Bliss.

There are a number of surprising things about this, not least of which is Mr. Archie Bliss. This entire production was his brainchild - he would write the adaptation, choose the costumes, design the scenery and stage the piece; he even performed. And he was only 20 years old.

Archie Bliss was the son of a local merchant, and seems to have been quite a renaissance man. References to his many activities were mentioned frequently in the newspaper; he played the clarinet, gave chalk talks, organized theater productions for schools, threw parties, and was an enthusiastic town booster. He worked as a postal delivery man, married in 1913, and lived in Grand Junction until his death in 1957 (that occurred unexpectedly, while visiting his son in West Virginia).

At any rate, in 1909 Mr. Bliss had decided to write a comic opera based on the Oz books. At that point there were only 5 titles, the most recent, The Road to Oz, having been published in July. The hugely successful Broadway production of The Wizard of Oz had toured the country for the last time in April of that year. (That production had only made its way to Colorado once, in 1904, and didn’t get as far west as Grand Junction). An article from November 13th reveals that Bliss received a letter from L. Frank Baum, who was said to be quite interested in the production.
Baum seems to be under the impression that the performance is to be a presentation of The Wizard of Oz stage production - and there were definite similarities between the two shows. But in the end it couldn’t truly be called the first amateur performance of the famous hit. A description of the upcoming show was published on December 3rd. According to Archie, it was to be “a delicious blend of the Oz books, though founded mainly on The Land of Oz. We have taken the best from each book and woven the whole together with a large number of appropriate songs”. Baum's own attempt at dramatizing The Land of Oz  five years earlier had resulted in The Wogglebug, a short lived disappointment. Archie goes on to describe the basic plot:

So the premise of the show does appear to be a blending of stories. There’s no Dorothy or cyclone, but the Wizard still reigns in the Emerald City. Jack Pumpkinhead, the Sawhorse and the Wogglebug have been dispensed with, but Mombi and Tip are main characters. A magic belt comes into play, but there’s no mention of a Nome King. And of course there is that startling announcement at the climax of the show!
On November 2nd a blurb announced that Bliss was traveling, to select costumes for the production. He was visiting “the largest costuming house in the intermountain region, located at Salt Lake City”. Presumably this was Salt Lake Costume, which opened in 1889 and remained in business until 2005. Another article, from December 10, states that the “great array of costumes to be used by the eighty and more people who are to take part in the local production of “The Emerald City” next Monday and Tuesday night, arrived in the city by express from Salt Lake City”.

Not everything could be rented -

So everything moved along smoothly, a cast list of 84 people was published, and rehearsal notices appeared. Finally the show itself was presented, on December 13th. The piece was given an extensive, and enthusiastic, review in the newspaper. The main criticism was the long wait between acts and scenes, due to difficulties in changing scenery on the small stage of the Majestic Theater. However, that problem was vastly improved by the second (and final) performance on December 14th. Each character was praised, and the respective actor complimented on their role.

As to the show itself: The Emerald City consisted of three acts and seven scenes. It opened with a maypole dance; (not unlike the Land of the Munchkins in the pre-Broadway production of the Wizard). Mombi the witch was introduced, and was assisted by seven weird sisters in her number “The Haunts of the Witches”. The Scarecrow spent much of the first act onstage in his Scarecrow pose, before being brought to life. The Tin Man received great praise for his characterization of the role. Miss Margaret Bunting made a “great little Tip”, who ran away to the Emerald City with the Scarecrow and Tin Man to see the Wizard, and “in the final act was turned into a beautiful princess” (a bit of a spoiler for the "startling announcment at the climax of the play"!) Apparently Mombi was also transformed from a witch into a young and beautiful maiden in the final act. The Wizard kept the audience in roars of laughter, Glinda the fairy queen was pleasing, and Robin Goodfellow made an appearance. There was a forge scene with a company of (G)nomes. Archie Bliss himself made an appearance as the Demon, and “made that weird part one of the most fetching of the cast”.

There was a drill, dance and song of little Frost Fairies; there were Forest Fairies; a song for Tip, Scarecrow and Tin Man called “When the Goblins Were at Play”, accompanied by six goblins. Female soldiers led by General Jinjur gave a drill and song at the close of the first act; apparently “General Jinjur and her soldiers immensely pleased every time they appeared”.

And that was just the first act!

The second act opened with the Guardian of the Gate, singing “The Guardian of the Gate”; a song from the pre-Broadway days of The Wizard. Tip, Scarecrow and Tin Woodman sang “When We Get What’s Coming to Us”, another Wizard song. “In the Valley of Ho-Kus Po” was sung by the Wizard, accompanied by chorus members in colonial costumes and hairstyles. The reviewer was greatly impressed by this number.

At the opening of the third act, Jellia Jamb had a song, “Take Me Up With You”, sung while seated in an improvised airship - perhaps some form of the Gump? There is mention of Miss Helen Bunting as a “mechanical figure”  - maybe Tik-Tok made an appearance? A skit was performed of “The Traveler and the Pie”, another standard from the Broadway Wizard. And a finale of “Airs of Nations” was yet another nod to the Broadway hit. G.A.R. veterans and a drum corp passed in review, and the grand finale was an Elks song written by the actor playing the Tin Man, with a display of flags in Elk colors.

Overall, it was a full evening of entertainment and a grand success. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any photographic record of the event. I contacted the Lodge, which is still active today, but their archives have no mention of the production. It seems to have slipped into obscurity.