Saturday, August 24, 2019

Ride 'em, Cowgirl!

A while back I posted about the recently acquired archive of Wizard of Oz cast member Allie Palmer and that four of the photos were badly deteriorated. Here's an example.

Damaged photo in the Allie Palmer scrapbook.

The photo is on very thin paper and mounted in one of her scrapbooks. I think the deteriorated photos might have been "proofs" from the photographer and that is why they haven't held up. Other photos from the same photographic session are printed on heavier paper and remain quite lovely.

I wanted to see what I could do to salvage what I could from the unfortunate photograph. I scanned it, and converted the scan to CMYK color format (these are the four ink colors used in printing), and then I split the color channels so I could see which channel preserved most of the image and which channels contained most of the damage.

The Photo is split into four separate channels, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and K "Black".
As you can see there is virtually no information in the Cyan channel, there is some image in the magenta channel, and the yellow channel is very degraded. But the K or black channel has a fair amount of the original image. I deleted the other three channels and set to work on the K channel. I tweaked it a bit in curves, adjusted the contrast and got the image of Allie Palmer to look pretty good. But the background was still unsightly so I erased the background preserving Allie alone with no background at all. The results are below.

Allie Palmer as a Cowboy in The Wizard of Oz circa 1906.

Not bad for an hour's work. If I re-scanned it at higher resolution and spent some time fixing some of the minor surface damage it would look better still. The pendant necklace Allie is wearing is her own jewelry. She wears the same piece in her personal photos as well.

So, what is a Cowboy doing in The Wizard of Oz? The Cowboys (and some Indian Maidens) were added into the "Edition Deluxe" version of the show and were featured in the Scarecrow's "Sitting Bull" number during the "Ball of All Nations." The "Edition Deluxe" was a facelift given to the show in early 1904 where Julian Mitchell added some new songs, improved some of the costumes, and generally fancied up the show.

If you look closely you will notice that Allie is holding a cigarette in her left hand. This seems to have been a bit of cowboy characterization, as Allie Palmer explains in a newspaper article in the scrapbook that she doesn't smoke. Below, you will notice that another of the Cowboy chorus members, Therese Van Brune, is also smoking.

Therese Van Brune as a Cowboy in The Wizard of Oz.
It was probably considered pretty sensational to see the chorus girls smoking onstage - and dressed as boys. Bill Campbell, over at The Oz Enthusiast, located the original Caroline Siedle costume sketch for the Ozzy Cowboy earlier this year at the Museum of the City of New York. The sketch has a large "Metropolitan Opera Company" stamp in the upper-right corner. Caroline Siedle also designed for the Metropolitan Opera, and many of her sketches (including the one Oz sketch below) were in the possession of The Met at the time of her death.

Original costume design for the Oz Cowboy by Caroline Siedle at MCNY.
The beautiful costume sketch shows the Ozzy Cowboys were dressed in red and white with emerald green trim. Indeed red and green were the favored colors of the costumes in the Emerald City in the show. It's a very fetching design, quite modern looking, and a vast improvement over the often clunky chorus costumes seen in Chicago.

Copyright © 2019 David Maxine. All rights reserved.

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