Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Opening Prayer - Part III

Chapter heading from the children's book.

Scene 2 — "The Road Through the Forest."

Baum named this scene after chapter four in his children’s book. His literary allusion remained a permanent part of the show. The book-oriented color scheme continues with “prevalent blue tints over forest background. Practical mechanical bushes screening Tin Woodman near Center. Stump at right. Pavement of yellow brick to indicate road.”

Baum’s request for a “yellow brick road floor covering seems odd since he has neglected to mention a yellow brick road anywhere in the dialogue. Laying down a new ground cloth (a large piece of thick canvas tacked to the floor) painted with yellow bricks would be a labor-intensive scene change. If Baum had made the yellow brick road a central feature of the script and the ground cloth was utilized in the Munchkin and Scarecrow scene, this “Road through the Forest” scene, and the following Poppy Field scene, it might have been a handsome and clever stage gimmick. But as written, Baum’s desire for extra scenery serves no purpose. A potential manager would see Baum’s request as costing a good number of bucks for very little bang.

Over the next three densely packed pages of single-spaced dialogue Dorothy meets and rescues the Tin Woodman. He tells of his love for a pretty Munchkin maiden, “who loved me so dearly . . . she would often come and hold the trees while I chopped them down, and then lower them gently to the ground.” These lines of dialogue (and many others) from Baum’s first draft of Act I made it into the final show, contrary to the aforementioned past scholarship, which would have one believe Julian Mitchell junked Baum’s first draft script altogether.

The Tin Woodman continues his tale. The Wicked Witch discovered the two lovers and enchanted his axe, which proceeded to chop him up.

The tin-smith replaced the missing members with tin and I kept on chopping wood and saying nothing. The pretty maiden still loved me. I was bright enough to see that.

You are bright enough to live in Spotless Town.

Baum’s attempt at topical humor probably needs some explanation. Spotless Town was a fictitious village featured in an advertising campaign begun in March 1900 to advertise Sapolio soap. The always bright and shiny inhabitants of Spotless Town were presented via jingles and cartoons on advertising cards posted in trains. The Scarecrow (and Baum) thought the “bright” Tin Woodman would fit right in.

An advertising card for Sapolio soap featuring "Spotless Town." ca. 1901
Yes, and that makes me reflect [. . .] the tinsmith had [. . .] failed to furnish me with a heart.

That probably came extra.

After more puns and topical references, the Tin Woodman sings “Oh, Love’s the Thing,” which also made it into the final production, retitled “When You Love, Love, Love.”

Still another wordy conversation follows.

Perhaps Oz has an odd heart he could fix you up with? Are you particular about the size or quality of your heart or would you be satisfied with the common garden variety?

Who is Oz, a butcher? [ . . . ] Where do we get a train for the Emerald City? That ought to be someplace near Green Bay.

(A LION roars off-stage.)

It sounds like some savage beast.

 The Woodman doubts it, suggesting they might simply be “near a bowling alley.”

The Cowardly Lion enters, knocking the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman to the ground. Dorothy slaps it on the nose. “Lie down, Fido! How dare you try to bite a poor little girl like me?” The lion shakes its head in negation. “You are nothing but a great big coward!” The Lion nods his head in admission, shrinks, and covers his eyes with his paws. The lion has hurt his teeth from biting the Tin Woodman and keeps poking at his mouth.

Now, then ain’t you ashamed of yourself for attacking two helpless men like these? And ain’t you ashamed of being a coward? A great, big, bold looking lion like you, supposed to be king of the beasts, admitting that he is a coward! The idea is preposterous.

(The LION weeps.)

It’s worse than that. It’s positively hydraulic!

Let’s take Nero with us to the Emerald City. Maybe Oz can give him some courage while he is dishing out brains for Weary Willie here and measuring me for a heart and getting you a pass to Topeka.

(The LION nods his head vigorously.)
[. . .] Of course we'll take him with us—(to the Lion)—if you'll come. Will you come with us to the Emerald City and ask the great Wizard, Oz, to give you some courage?

(LION nods his head vigorously)

This scene where they meet the Cowardly Lion is the best written scene in the entire script. In dealing with the mute lion, Baum was forced to write non-verbal stage directions for the lion.  This combination of dialogue and action brings the scene to life, like no other scene in Baum’s script.

When we get to town I can do my great act in the lion’s den. It’s a cinch with this boy because he’s afraid to open his mouth and he’d only dent me if he did pick me out for a short order.

This may well be the origin of all the circus-oriented shenanigans in the final version of the show. Note that Dorothy called the lion “Fido,” and the Tin Woodman called him “Nero.” In the produced show he gets a similar name, “Bruno.”

Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Woodman sing and dance “The Merry Go Round.” The lion assists, but only in the dancing. There are no lyrics for this song in the first draft script.

Baum provides no mention of a “Curtain” or any other method of transitioning into the next scene, beyond an inked suggestion that the “Road Through the Forest” scene be presented “in 1 or 2,” theatrical terminology meaning the set would be shallow, enabling the stagehands to set up the scenery for the next scene, behind a curtain or drop, while this one was being played.

Names of scenes from the 1901 script. Inked notes in Baum's hand.

Scene 3 — The Deadly Poppy Field.

Chapter heading from the children's book.
Baum's name for this scene in the first draft script is also taken directly from a chapter title in the children's book—though it is shortened to just "The Poppy Field" in the produced show.

The scene is a “background of brilliant red flowers, showing an extensive poppy field. Female chorus, dressed in stem-green tights, with broad red poppy leaves projecting from their shoulders—leaving their heads visible, with golden stamens in their hair—are grouped to form a continuation of the poppy field, the red leaves from their shoulders nearly touching one another, and almost concealing their bodies when grouped.” The female chorus, sopranos and altos, sing:

Here’s a poppy!
There’s a poppy!
Poppies, poppies, everywhere!
Bright and blooming,
Each assuming
Gorgeousness and splendor rare!
If you tarry,
All unwary
Of our soporific powers,
We’ll detain you—
And enchain you—
So beware the poppy flowers!

The song continues for three more verses. This is a different version of the Poppy Chorus than the one used in the produced show. The music for this first version is not known to survive.

Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Lion enter.

Oh, what lovely flowers! Aren’t they beautiful?

Buckwheat has always been my favorite flour. Still I might learn to like these.

(The Scarecrow proceeds to pinch the cheeks of the poppy girls.)

It’s a good thing I haven’t been fixed out with that heart or I would stop right here.

During these remarks the Lion has been settling down to sleep, followed by Dorothy. The Scarecrow and Tin Woodman decide to carry Dorothy to safety, away from the sleep-inducing poppies, but they have no idea how to rescue the Lion, who is too large and heavy to carry. Suddenly the Queen of the Field Mice enters.

Baum’s attempt to preserve the field mice from the book as the means of rescue from the poppy field is engaging. Unfortunately, Baum failed to elaborate on how the mice might be staged. He must have had some vision for this scene. Probably the Mouse Queen and her subjects would have been portrayed by actors in costume much as the mice (or rats) are in traditional productions of The Nutcracker.

In any case, the Queen of the Field Mice announces she will save the Cowardly Lion. “Once this lion saved my life and now I can return the favor.” The Tin Woodman inquires how she could ever move the Lion. “I have my army to assist me,” the Mouse Queen replies. The Scarecrow promptly responds: “That’s different, Mrs. Booth. Take the witness.” Baum’s now-obscure joke makes reference to Catherine Booth (1829-1890), co-founder of the Salvation Army. The Lion might just get saved in more ways than one.

While the Mouse Queen exits to summon her army and chariot, the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman carry Dorothy to safety. The Poppies sing part two of their song:

Breath our fragrance, guileless stranger—
Breathe our fragrance, sweet and cloying!
Never heed the meed of danger
While our lan’grous scent enjoying.
We are brilliant, gay, enticing,
Gorgeous colorings displaying;
Ev’ry breath of air we’re spicing
While beside us you’re delaying!
Soon will sleep,—deep sleep
O’er your senses creep,
And our perfumed breath
Lead to death—grim death!
If you falter by the way,
If your laggard foot-steps stray
Through the brilliant poppy field
Unto sleep and death you’ll yield.

And people thought Tietjens’s music could get too heavy.

But “heeding the meed of danger,” the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman return to the Poppy Field without Dorothy, who is now safe.

The Queen of the Field Mice enters. “Ah, here comes my army to save the Cowardly Lion!”

The army of Field Mice draw a chariot on stage. "The Scarecrow and Tin Woodman roll the lion upon the chariot, and they push behind while the chariot is swiftly drawn off by the Mice, the Queen following."

The Poppy Chorus sings and dances:

Here’s a poppy!
There’s a poppy!
Poppies, poppies, everywhere!
Bright and blooming,
Each assuming
Gorgeousness and splendor rare!

The Poppy girls sing and and dance two more verses and the curtain falls on Baum's lackluster finale to Act I.

The end of the first act should have been a showstopper, not a gaggle of chorus girls singing a quick reprise, while all the stars of the show are back in their dressing rooms. Can Baum's sense of theatre and spectacle be so provincial that he thinks this finale acceptable? Baum has Dorothy, the female lead, carried off-stage unconscious, not to be seen again until Act II. One can only imagine what the actress playing Dorothy would think of such an exit. Then the two male principals push the Lion into the wings, and they too are gone, the stage devoid of star performers. The audience (and any managers) will be looking for spectacle and excitement—a rousing number, a beautiful tableau, a chance to see the stars shine! Baum's poppy scene finale bodes well for putting the audience to sleep, too.

Now Baum does something unfathomable. He cuts the Cowardly Lion from the rest of the show. Gone. Absent. No explanation. Perhaps he went off with the Field Mice? Maybe he joined the Salvation Army?

Jokes aside, Baum’s dismissal of the Cowardly Lion reveals serious problems with his libretto. Not only is it sloppy, Baum offering no explanation for the absence of the Lion in Acts II and III—but it robs the show of color and texture. The non-verbal Cowardly Lion brought visual comedy to the show, an element almost wholly lacking in Baum’s pun-driven script.

Why would Baum cut the Cowardly Lion? Could he not see that his melding of action and word in the scene where they meet the lion brought the script to life? Alas, Baum seems uninterested in writing stage action, and that is a fatal flaw in this attempt to dramatize The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Baum seems to be approaching the script from a purely “verbal” standpoint, that a playwright only writes dialogue, and lots of it. Baum certainly has the ability to bring his writing to life—his narrative fiction is rich in description, action, and characterization. But he has shown no real interest in advancing the plot of his script via stage action, the libretto instead weighed down with “stand and deliver” dialogue—pun-filled and over-long.

On to the Emerald City. Sadly, without the Cowardly Lion.


Copyright © 2019 David Maxine. All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Alas for the Man Without Brains

I'm happy to announce our new Vintage Broadway YouTube channel. More songs and videos will be added in the coming weeks, but you can watch and listen to our first selection right now—the Scarecrow's introductory number, which has two different titles. Theatre programs list the song as "Alas for the Man Without Brains," but the two sheet music publications name the song "The Scarecrow." Click the video below to watch:

Witmark sheet music design for The Wizard of Oz.

This was one of the earliest written songs for the Baum and Tietjens musical extravaganza The Wizard of Oz. The lyrics first appeared in Baum's 1901 first draft script. But there is some evidence that the music is from a song called "For I am a Great Promoter," written by Baum and Tietjens for their unproduced and uncompleted 1901 comic opera The Octopus.

The song "The Scarecrow" was initially published by M. Witmark & Sons as part of the 1902 sheet music release for the show, featuring the usual cover design seen at left, though these Witmark Wizard of Oz song sheets come in a variety of background colors.

But "The Scarecrow" sheet music is most commonly seen in its newspaper supplement form, issued shortly after the Broadway opening. The selection of this song as a giveaway, no doubt, was due to the popularity of Fred Stone and his portrayal of the Scarecrow.

There is a horrible lyric typo in both versions of the sheet music. The line "The farmer lack of skill displayed . . ." becomes "The farmer each of skill displayed . . . ," which makes no sense. The typographer probably just misread someone's handwritten lyrics and mistook the loop of a cursive l for an e and a hastily written k for an h. But it's a shame Witmark failed to correct the mistake, especially when they reset the music for the newspaper version.

Newspaper sheet music supplement version of "The Scarecrow" ca. early 1903.
Copyright © 2019 David Maxine. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Opening Prayer - Part II


Julian Mitchell was a slight, dapper, and nervous man. When he received The Wonderful Wizard of Oz from Fred Hamlin he had just turned forty-six, and he was one of the most acclaimed theatre directors in the United States. He was also seriously hard of hearing.

It might seem odd for a nearly deaf man to make a career of staging musicals, but Mitchell turned his disability into an asset, making the chorus enact the lyrics instead of simply singing, filling the stage with beautiful and engaging stage business to show through action what another director might have left to the music alone. Like Jerome Robbins forty years later, Mitchell informed every show in every aspect with his sensibilities. Playwright and lyricist Rennold Wolf wrote of Mitchell in 1913 that “a play, to my way of thinking, is not an actable play until the stage director has made it one. It may be a flawlessly constructed piece, and possess more than the average number of elements of success, but before the director has put the author’s ideas into execution and added his own it is a negligible quantity. And by picking the wheat from the chaff, and suggesting new wheat to replace the chaff, Mitchell has ‘saved’ fifty percent of the plays that have passed through his hands.”

Mitchell had been born in New York City, November 7, 1855. He began his theatre career as a call-boy at Niblo’s Garden when he was twelve, alerting actors to their upcoming cues. According to theatre historian Gerald Bordman, Mitchell "soon found himself on the other side of the footlights, dancing in a revival of The Black Crook," which had premiered at Niblo's Garden September 12, 1866. Mitchell's tenure as call-boy would have begun in the middle of the Black Crook's 474 performance run.

By 1874 he was performing in the theatrical company managed by his uncle John W. Albaugh. Mitchell's taste for the stage was in his blood. Two of his aunts were major stage stars, Maggie Mitchell (1832–1918) and Mary Mitchell (circa 1834—1908). Maggie Mitchell made a career of performing in Fanchon (1861), based on George Sand’s La Petite Fadette. Julian performed with his Aunt Maggie in a revival of Fanchon in 1881.

Julian Mitchell performing with his aunt Maggie Mitchell.

By 1883 Julian was working for Charles H. Hoyt as an actor, dancer, and comedian, appearing first in A Bunch of Keys (1883). Hoyt soon became one of the leading farcical playwrights and producers. But Hoyt had little interest in staging, or even attending, rehearsals. Julian Mitchell began to assist in the staging, and within a couple shows the two men were fully collaborating.

Julian Mitchell (left) and Charles H. Hoyt performing on stage.

The June 15, 1890, Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that “Charles Hoyt is busy . . . writing a melodrama, a spectacle, and a farce comedy. . . . Julian, who is Mr. Hoyt’s stage manager and funniest comedian, is assisting in the preparation of these masterpieces.” The 1890 Hoyt and Mitchell collaboration, A Trip to Chinatown, broke the record for the longest-running Broadway musical at 657 performances.

A Poster for Hoyt's A Trip to Chinatown (1890).

By the early 1890s Mitchell was losing his hearing and gave up performing, choosing to concentrate on directing and choreography. Mitchell worked with the best. In 1898 he directed Victor Herbert’s The Fortune Teller for Alice Nielsen. He staged Kirke La Shelle’s The Princess Chic. But Mitchell’s biggest break came when he began staging the burlesques of Weber and Fields in 1897.

Julian Mitchell and Fred Hamlin most likely became acquainted during Weber and Fields’s annual visits to Chicago’s Grand Opera House each spring. Most recently, in May 1901, Mitchell arrived in Chicago to stage the latest changes to Weber and Fields's Fiddle-Dee-Dee for its month-long run at Hamlin’s Grand Opera House. Mitchell had just returned from directing the London production of The Girl from Up There, starring Edna May and featuring two newcomers to the legitimate stage, David Montgomery and Fred Stone. Mitchell had enjoyed making The Girl from Up There a success despite its deficiencies. “The Girl from Up There is a good entertainment as it stands today,” said Mitchell, “but it is a bad piece of work on the part of both the librettist and the composer. The hope of such a show is in the performers and the specialties . . .”

In the fall of 1901 Julian Mitchell was looking for a project to work on, a project Fred Hamlin could fund and Mitchell could bring to life. Hamlin thought he might have found just such a show in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Mitchell could use his unique abilities to instill the show with his eye for spectacle, to enrich the chorus—making each member of the line an individual character—and to flesh out the merest skeleton of a script with his non-verbal sense of humor—a quality that perhaps only a certain deaf director might supply.

In late November Julian Mitchell opened a package from Fred Hamlin containing a handsome children’s book and a script for a musical extravaganza called The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. He sat down to read.

*      *      *

According to Tietjens’s journal, Baum’s initial scenario, written in late July 1901, was “in 5 acts.” The “5” might have been a slip of the pen by Tietjens. The vast majority of comic operas and extravaganzas were in either two or three acts, as the project The Octopus had been—not five. But perhaps Baum was cramming every possible incident from the book into his scenario. Tietjens did describe Baum’s scenario as “impracticable and too long.” If a five-act scenario ever existed, Baum quickly discarded it. His first draft script conforms to the more traditional three act structure.

Past scholarship (including some of my own earlier writing on the show) has characterized Baum’s first draft script as a faithful adaptation of his children’s book, crediting Baum with writing a modern “musical comedy” or “operetta,” as opposed to an extravaganza, and claiming that Baum’s vision was free of the topical references, vaudeville schtick, and love interests supposedly ramrodded into The Wizard of Oz by director Julian Mitchell. But careful examination of Baum’s first draft manuscript proves otherwise. Baum launched The Wizard of Oz on a direct trajectory toward the Broadway musical it eventually became.

Act I – “Prologue”

The curtain rises on a pantomime prologue. Gray tints prevail on the Kansas prairie and a small house at center stage. Dorothy, a Kansas girl, stands in the doorway. Baum has eliminated Dorothy's pet dog Toto from the story, even in this, his earliest draft of the script, and provides no alternative for Dorothy's pet. Aunt Em and Uncle Henry gaze at the coming storm. The music imitates the “moan of the approaching cyclone, increasing to a furious gale, during which [the] stage half darkens and [the] house is carried upward through the flies.” 

Possibly Denslow suggested opening the show with the tornado in pantomime. Little Robinson Crusoe, the popular extravaganza Denslow had designed costumes for in 1895, had opened with a comparable pantomime consisting of an elaborate storm at sea, the sinking of a ship, and the titular hero washed ashore.

Baum’s script doesn’t suggest any vision for the staging of the tornado beyond Aunt Em and Uncle Henry watching it and the house rising into the flies with Dorothy. The Kansas pantomime is followed by a quick curtain.

Scene 1 – “The Country of the Munchkins.”

Baum preserves the color scheme from the book. The Kansas Prologue featured “grey tints” and now Scene 1 calls for “prevalent blue tints over a landscape of flowers and shrubs, with the dome-shaped dwellings of the Munchkins in the distance.” The original typescript has an addition in Baum’s hand: “Scarecrow on Pole near [left upper entrance].” That poor Scarecrow is going to have to hang around motionless for two long musical scenes and several pages of dialogue.

Detail from Baum's first draft script with inked addition in Baum's hand.

At curtain-rise for Scene 1 a “Chorus of Munchkins” is discovered. Baum provides no description of what Munchkins might be beyond the singers being “male and female."

Baum’s script is almost barren of description or detail. It’s not that Baum needs to explain how every effect might be achieved, but he does need to sell the project, to engage and spark the imaginations of potential managers and directors. Luckily Mitchell also received a copy of the children’s book, which fleshes out the paucity of context in Baum’s script.

“Opening Chorus”

Our hearts are sad, though our lips be glad—
We’re slaves of the Witch of the East!
Of toil and care we must bear our share
Until from our thrall we’re released.
The witch has a lash she will flash if we’re rash—
We’re powerless her will to oppose;
She rules us each day with malignant sway
And mocks us wherever she goes!

We are Munchkins, wretched Munchkins,
Slaves of an evil dame!
We’re all abused and much misused
And yet we’re not to blame.
By magic cowed, with labor bowed,
Most dreary is our lot:

(Enter Witch of the East)

For day by day. To our dismay,
We’re doomed to feel the knot!

Oh, Munchkins—wretched Munchkins!
How dare you thus rebel?
Through punishment you will repent
And this you know quite well.

A trio of Munchkins advances and kneels before the Witch. They sing their pleas for mercy, but the Wicked Witch will have none of it.

Oh, Munchkins—wretched Munchkins!
My just anger I’ll subdue;
But you’ve incurred by each rash word
Some punishment, ’tis true.
It’s just a touch, and won’t hurt much,
So calm your nervous fears—
Now! Ev’ry one must quick atone
And box the other’s ears!


Come to me, I’ll show you how!

(She boxes one)

Ow!—Wow! Here we bow! And beg a truce you will allow!

The Munchkins continue punishing each other, the Witch departs, and a storm approaches. The Munchkins gaze upward. The Witch re-enters, moving to center stage. The Munchkins shrink away from the Witch who looks upward just as Dorothy’s house is quickly flown down into view from the flies, crushing the Witch. The Munchkins are overjoyed and sing:

Hooray! Hooray! The Witch is dead!
The house has fallen on her head!
So now are we by chance set free
And slaves no longer need we be!
By fate’s decree we’re now set free,
And slaves no longer need we be!

It’s hard not to enjoy such story-specific lyrics, especially when they so thoroughly presage the song “Ding Dong! the Witch is Dead” from the 1939 MGM motion picture version of the story. You can almost sing Baum’s verse to the Harold Arlen melody.

The door of the house opens and there stands Dorothy, who asks, “Where am I, good people?” The Munchkins tell her that she has killed the Witch of the East and that they are “very grateful, sweet sorceress.” Dorothy explains that she is not a sorceress as she sings:

I’m an innocent Kansas girl—
As harmless as girl can be!
Engulfed by the cyclone’s mad whirl,
Which nobody could foresee.

The song goes on for a while . . .

My one wish is that I may return
To Kansas and home again;
I’ll ne’er be content to sojourn
In lands where sorcerers reign;
The prairie is lonely I know,
In spite of its fields of grain;
But even though fierce cyclones blow
Kansas my love will retain.

The Good Witch of the North arrives. In a heavy, over-written exchange, she and Dorothy speak almost every line of dialogue from their encounter in the book. Baum gets sloppy here. In the Good Witch of the North’s discussion of other witches in Oz, Baum retains mention of the Wicked Witch of the West, a character not otherwise featured in this script, and deletes any mention of Glinda or a good witch in the south, who will be the entire focus of the journey in Act III.

At the suggestion of the Witch of the North, Dorothy takes the Silver Shoes of the dead witch. The Witch of the North gives Dorothy a kiss of protection and sends her to the Emerald City to get the Wizard's consent to return home to Kansas. Finally, the Munchkins sing goodbye to Dorothy:

Farewell, sweet stranger;
Guard thee from danger;
None would molest one so pretty.
Journey unfearing
While you are nearing
The great Wizard's wonderful city.

All exit except Dorothy, who sits down to rest on a stile. The Scarecrow on a pole winks at Dorothy.

Would a simple wink ever be noticed by the audience? One of Baum's weaknesses in adapting the book to the stage is his failure to consider that what works in a book, often won't work on stage.

Good morning, little bright eyes. . . . I'm posted to scare away crows and I'm ready to resign the job as soon as you help me down.

To scare away crows? I thought there must be some caws for your being up there.

Oh, murder! Don’t talk that way again or . . . I’ll stay up here in the polar regions.

The puns flow on until the Scarecrow sings his Act I solo, “A Man of Straw.” This song, later retitled “Alas for the Man Without Brains,” remained unchanged but for one word (the Scarecrow’s “shapely head” becomes his “lovely head”) through all subsequent script revisions and ended up as a permanent feature of the produced show, though Baum would eventually write a couple additional verses.

Tietjens’s journal mentions his composing all the Munchkins’ music, Dorothy’s solo, and the Tin Woodman’s song from Act I—yet Tietjens makes no mention of his composing the Scarecrow's song, despite its being written so early in the show’s creation process. I suspect that the melody for “Alas for the Man” might be the one which Tietjens composed for Gripem Harde’s solo in The Octopus, “For I am a Great Promoter.” Baum and Tietjens reused a fair amount of music from their abandoned comic opera, and that Gripem Harde song was one of Baum’s favorites. Baum may have simply written a new lyric to Tietjens’s preexisting music. The words “For I am a great promoter” can be easily sung to the melody of the Scarecrow’s final line “. . . it’s plain he’ll remain quite brainless!”

You can listen to a recording of "Alas for the Man Without Brains"
via our new VintageBroadway.com YouTube channel.

Copyright © 2019 David Maxine. All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Opening Prayer - Part I

L. Frank Baum writing at Macatawa, summer 1901. Courtesy of Robert Baum.

When L. Frank Baum first sat down to write a comic opera with Paul Tietjens he must have felt like he was returning home, to one of his first loves, the theatre. 

In late 1880 Baum appeared with the Syracuse Dramatic Company in Shipwrecked, better known as Down by the Sea (1869) by George M. Baker. One review said, "Mr. L. F. Baum cannot be beaten on any stage. His rendition of the eccentric character of March Gale is truly marvelous."

Baum’s uncle, Adam Clarke Baum, had also loved the stage and “amateur theatricals were one of his pastimes. . . . Many of his colleagues on the amateur stage adopted dramatic art as a profession, among others . . . L. Frank Baum, his nephew.” (Syracuse Daily Standard, October 16, 1888.) Baum also took elocution lessons from his aunt, Katherine Gray. In his mid-20s he decided to pursue a career as an actor

On June 15, 1881, The New York Mirror announced that “L. Frank Baum of this city [Syracuse], a deserving actor, is now with the May Roberts [Sterling] Comedy Company doing walking gentleman.” A "walking gentleman" was theatre slang for subordinate roles with few words but requiring a gentlemanly appearance.

New York Mirror, June 15, 1881.

Baum family stories suggest that Baum performed under the stage name “George Brooks.” He was with May Roberts's Sterling Comedy Company for the entire summer season of 1881.

Unfortunately, May Roberts’s Sterling Comedy Company was not particularly sterling. They toured Pennsylvania and New York, often performing bootleg editions of popular plays and then leaving town without paying their bills. The company also failed to pay Baum, who wrote, “I not only received no salary for my services, but was induced to lend [the manager, J. P. Rutledge,] $150 in order to enable him to keep his feet in a pinch—not one cent of which has ever been refunded. No member of the company received his or her salary, although the others were not so completely gulled as I was.”

Baum continued with the company for the beginning of the 1881-82 season. A review of the Sterling Comedy Company, dated October 25, 1881, mentions “Mr. Brooks” playing two parts in The Banker's Daughter, and another review the next day mentions Mr. Brooks's appearance in A Quiet Family. By this time, Baum's uncle, John W. Baum, was serving as manager. Frank may have sent for his uncle to help get the unreliable troupe in better standing. But by mid-November 1881, the Sterling Comedy Company was advertising for a new walking gentleman.

Louis F. Baum, actor.
The bad experiences with the touring company did not lessen Baum’s passion for the theatre. His prospects flipped from the ridiculous to the sublime when his father, Benjamin Ward Baum, agreed to build Frank an opera house of his own. Baum’s Opera House opened in the booming oil town of Richburg, New York, on December 29, 1881.

Baum quickly wrote a play called The Mackrummins, copyrighted February 11, 1882, to be performed in his own opera house, under his own direction, and probably to star himself. He took a new stage name, Louis F. Baum.

Baum seemed to have control of his destiny, but on March 8, 1882, Baum’s Opera House was destroyed by fire from a stove under the stage. The playscript of The Mackrummins may have gone up in the fire. It is not known to survive.

The opera house itself was under-insured, $4800 in damage on a $2000 policy. But this setback, too, failed to dampen Baum’s enthusiasm for the stage. He quit management of the rebuilt opera house, sat down, and wrote an Irish melodrama called The Maid of Arran, which premiered on Baum’s birthday, May 15, 1882. The play was based on William Black’s novel A Princess of Thule and proved a substantial hit. Baum wrote music and lyrics to at least six songs for the show—and cast himself in the lead. The Maid of Arran toured the east—including New York City—the Midwest, and went into Canada.

On November 9, 1882, Baum married Maud Gage in Fayetteville, New York, and slowed his theatrical career, though Maud toured with him for a while. The August 15, 1883, Dayton [Ohio] Herald noted that “Louis F. Baum, author of The Maid of Arran, will rest for a year.” Baum’s decision to stop touring was understandable; Maud was six months pregnant with their first child.  But Baum’s passion for the theatre was unabated. The Dayton Herald continued: “[Baum] is also writing an opera entitled Nora, which will be produced in New York early in December next. He has several flattering offers his new play of Justice, but has not yet disposed of it.” Nothing came of the opera Nora, and it’s not known to have been completed. The play Justice is also lost.

Even after transitioning into the family oil business so he could remain near home, Baum still performed with local amateur groups. One play, Dora by Charles Reade, based on Tennyson’s poem, was produced by the Garrick Club in Syracuse on April 25, 1884. Baum played Luke Bloomfield, sharing the stage with five-year-old Edna Petty who would grow up to become internationally acclaimed actress Edna May, star of The Belle of New York (1897) and The Girl from Up There (1900).

When Baum moved to the Dakota Territory in 1888 he continued to act when he found the chance, appearing in a pantomime called The Magic Mirror and in an operetta called The Insect and the Bird. Baum's passion for the theatre would remain with him for the rest of his life.

Louis F. Baum in an amateur theatrical in Aberdeen, Dakota Territory. CLICK TO ENLARGE

After Baum, Tietjens, and Denslow finally signed the contract for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in late September 1901, the three men enjoyed good relations over the next few weeks. Robert Stanton Baum, one of Frank’s four sons, remembered, “Many evenings [Tietjens] would come over to the house [at 68 Humboldt Boulevard] to work [on the show] with father. Denslow . . . was also a frequent visitor. I can remember the three of them cutting up like a bunch of school boys. Tietjens would pound out a piece on the piano and father would sing the words or perhaps do a tap or eccentric dance, accompanied by the ferocious looking Denslow, who was a thick set man with a heavy ‘walrus’ mustache and looked like a brigand. It was better than a vaudeville show to us boys.”

By the end of September Baum and Tietjens felt the project was far enough along that they mailed in the copyright registration for their first draft on September 30. The copyright office registered Baum & Tietjens’ Musical Spectacular Fairy Tale The Wonderful Wizard of Oz on October 16, 1901.

While Baum and Tietjens worked on the show, Denslow eagerly sought a manager for the project. Denslow was under time pressure, preparing to move from Chicago to New York City by mid-October. Denslow’s theatre connections paid off when he discussed the Wizard of Oz project with his friend, operatic tenor George Hamlin (1869-1923).

George’s two brothers, Harry and Fred Hamlin, co-managed Chicago’s Grand Opera House, each taking turns producing a summer show to fill the void between theatrical seasons. In summer 1899, Fred Hamlin and Kirk La Shelle had produced the western melodrama Arizona. This hit played the summer in Chicago and then toured, eventually moving to Broadway.
Poster for Fred Hamlin's 1899 hit Arizona by Augustus Thomas.

In the October 16, 1901, Chicago Record-Herald, Lyman B. Glover wrote: “Mr. Hamlin of the Grand states that he will make a new production for the next summer season of his house.” Fred Hamlin, looking for another project to repeat the success of Arizona, heard of Wizard through his brother George.

By October 19, Denslow had left Chicago and was living in New York City. On October 20, Tietjens traveled from Chicago to visit the farm in Slater, Missouri, and attend his sister’s wedding on November 7. Shortly after Denslow and Tietjens left Chicago, Baum must have met with Fred Hamlin and given him a copy of the script and the children’s book to read.

Baum was optimistic enough after the meeting that he issued a statement to the press which appeared as far afield as Salt Lake City. The Deseret Evening News of October 26, 1901, reported that “the author of the famous fairy tale, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, has arranged with a theatrical syndicate for an elaborate production of [the show] next season in the form of a ‘musical spectacular.’ Mr. Baum is himself writing the lyrics and Paul Tietjens the musical numbers. The scenic and mechanical effects, as well as the principal characters, are entirely original and out of the ordinary, the plot being closely followed. It is thought this production will revive the old-time popularity of children’s extravaganza.”

Baum almost certainly wrote to Tietjens in Slater, informing him of the progress made in selling the show. Tietjens had found the farm in better shape than before. The rains had come, the drought was over. His mother had returned from Europe for the wedding. But the trip to the farm triggered another depression in Tietjens: “A somber touch of autumn lay upon everything. A sad and melancholy beauty everywhere—but a beauty nevertheless.” Around November 10, a few days after his sister’s wedding, Tietjens returned “. . . alone in the night and alone to Chicago, with a feeling of desolation upon me.” The motivation for Tietjens’s mood swings and depressions is unclear, especially given the good news of Fred Hamlin’s interest.

Hamlin invited Baum and Tietjens to have dinner with him at his apartments. At the dinner meeting, Tietjens no doubt played Hamlin the score. After the meeting Tietjens recorded that “Hamlin did not like either the [script] or music very much.”

Yet something about the project hooked Fred Hamlin. Perhaps it was some quality he saw in the children’s book, such as the unique characters or the strong visuals in Denslow’s vivid illustrations. Perhaps Hamlin found the title of the project a lucky sign. Hamlin’s father had made the family fortune selling a cure-all potion called “Hamlin’s Wizard Oil.” 

If Hamlin hadn’t felt a strong connection to The Wizard of Oz or seen the show’s potential buried in Baum’s script, Hamlin’s interest would surely have ended after the dinner interview with Baum and Tietjens.

Instead, despite his dislike of the script and score, Hamlin forwarded a copy of the script and the children’s book to Julian Mitchell, the New York-based director he had in mind for his 1902 summer production. Hamlin “would leave it to Julian Mitchell," Tietjens recorded in his diary, "to decide whether [the show] was to be accepted.”


(Special thanks to the Alexander Mitchell Library, Aberdeen, South Dakota.)

Copyright © 2019 David Maxine. All rights reserved.