Saturday, September 21, 2019

How It All Began - Part V

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W. W. Denslow circa 1903.
W. W. Denslow had a vested interest in encouraging Tietjens to adapt The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and abandon The Octopus. He was the illustrator of the book and also copyright holder, along with author L. Frank Baum.
 
Baum and Denslow had frequently argued over who deserved more credit on their two best-selling children’s books, Father Goose, His Book and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The continuing friction between Baum and Denslow caused Tietjens worry. Adapting The Wonderful Wizard of Oz would necessitate bringing all three men into frequent contact. Denslow would also require some kind of financial compensation. Tietjens wavered over whether to bring up the idea with Baum. The probable tensions didn’t seem worth the effort. And Tietjens needed an income—and quickly. Finishing The Octopus seemed the most sure route to financial stability. 

At the end of June, Tietjens traveled to Slater, Missouri, to visit his family. He was in such financial straits he bought his train ticket from a scalper. Tietjens had not visited the farm since he was eight years old,  “. . . but it has harbored my nearest and dearest . . . It is more home to me than Chicago ever will be.” He arrived in Slater on July 1, 1901. He found his previously well-off family in dire circumstances. All the farmhands but one had been let go and the drought made it difficult to grow anything. “We had hardly anything to eat . . . and none of it was very good."

Denslow’s suggestion of adapting The Wonderful Wizard of Oz kept working its way into Tietjens's thoughts. The old farm itself urged him on. “A breeze was constantly blowing . . . which in the day was almost suffocating. It was the ‘hot wind’ of Kansas, of which I had so often heard, and when it struck you it felt as if [your] face were being immersed in hot water.”

“In great anxiety” Tietjens waited “to have the remaining lyrics” of The Octopus. Finally, on July 12, after nearly two weeks with no contact, a letter arrived from Baum. It included a letter from producer Henry Savage, who would be in Chicago on July 15 and wanted to read the libretto. “Baum asked me to send it and said it might be well for me to be on hand.” Tietjens departed for Chicago the next day.

Baum and Tietjens met with Savage at the Studebaker Theatre, located in the Fine Arts Building, where both Morgan and Denslow had their art studios. 

The Studebaker Theatre in the Fine Arts Building circa 1903.
Tietjens played the score for Savage, who commented favorably on “The Traveler and the Pie” and “Love is Love,” then took his leave, libretto in hand.

While they waited for Savage's response, the Baums invited Tietjens to join them at their lake-front cottage for a couple weeks. Baum and Tietjens traveled across Lake Michigan on the night-ferry from Chicago to Macatawa, where Tietjens enjoyed their kindest hospitality. The two men discussed ideas for their next comic opera—Baum suggested the “theme” of King Midas. But a couple days into the leisurely visit Savage returned The Octopus. He was not interested.

For once Tietjens did not fall into a depression after a rejection. Instead, he built a strong case for adapting The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as their “best chance for an immediate production.” Baum was reticent at first, not wanting to bring Denslow in on the royalties. Tietjens offered to share equally in the burden of paying Denslow a percentage. “Baum and I reasoned that [Denslow] could not reasonably demand more than a 1/10 or a 1/5 interest at the most.” 

L. Frank Baum's Macatawa cottage circa 1901.
Baum quickly wrote a scenario. Tietjens found it “impracticable and too long, but began to work . . .” He was energized, free of the creative paralysis that had so often tortured him during the writing of The Octopus. The new project filled the final days of July. He quickly composed several songs, including an “Opening Chorus” for the Munchkins and the Wicked Witch of the East, and “When You Love, Love, Love” for the Tin Woodman, which Tietjens “wrote in less than an hour.”

Tietjens returned to Chicago at the end of July. He played the beginnings of the score for Denslow, who told Tietjens he would immediately begin looking for a manager to produce the show. Denslow announced that he would design costumes and posters for the production. For all this and as co-owner of the children's book, Denslow suggested his share of the profits should be one third. Tietjens worried how hard Baum would kick at this suggestion.

Baum at the Window Trimmers' Convention.
Any kicking would have to wait. Baum needed to focus his energies elsewhere for much of August. During the first week, he attended the convention of the National Window Trimmers’ Association in Indianapolis. He was Treasurer and had founded the organization in 1898. 

When he returned to Macatawa, he became preoccupied with preparing a “Venetian Evening” featuring “a combination of electrical effects and moonlight” to launch the fifth annual regatta of the Macatawa Bay Yacht Club. The newspaper announced that “all the yachts, launches, hotels, and clubhouse will be decorated with Chinese lanterns and colored lights, and there will be a procession of the boats around the bay, followed by a hop at the clubhouse.” 

Baum also had four books scheduled to be released in the coming weeks: a new edition of Mother Goose in Prose, the book collection of American Fairy Tales, and two new books—The Master Key and Dot and Tot in Merryland, the latter illustrated by Denslow.

In late August and early September, Denslow was overseeing the printing of Dot and Tot in Merryland. But he made time to start promoting the new "extravaganza."

Denslow had solid theatre credentials in Chicago, which he would use to get the show produced. In 1895 he had designed costumes and posters for the smash hit Little Robinson Crusoe starring Eddie Foy and Marie Dressler. That show had featured scenic designs by Walter W. Burridge, who would later design The Wizard of Oz.

Chicago Record-Herald building
Denslow had newspaper connections, too. On September 5, 1901, his friend, reporter Lyman B. Glover, broke the news in the Chicago Record-Herald that the three men were adapting The Wonderful Wizard of Oz for the stage as an “extravaganza.” This publicity was completely overshadowed the next day. “This afternoon at 4:30,” Tietjens wrote in his journal on September 6, “President McKinley was shot and critically wounded by an anarchist assassin named Czolgosz.”

On the morning of September 8, Tietjens called on Denslow, and played him the latest additions to the score, the Munchkin's “Farewell Chorus” and Dorothy’s solo, “I’m an Innocent Kansas Girl.”

Tietjens returned home and packed. He was to go to Macatawa to play the new music for Baum and finish the contract negotiations. Tietjens was ready to depart when Ike Morgan informed him there was no day-ferry. He would have to wait for the night-ferry. But that night the lake was so rough, he chose to wait until the next evening to travel. By chance, Ike Morgan and his wife planned to take the same ferry, so the three agreed they might as well travel together. Shortly before they were to depart the next evening, Morgan sent word that he would be unable to leave the newspaper office “owing to the extra work on account of McKinley’s attempted assassination.” Exasperated by the obstacles, Tietjens abandoned the trip to Macatawa and instead wrote Baum a long letter, “urging him to accept our terms without further wrangling . . . I said that Denslow and I would draw up an agreement and send it to him . . . the understanding being that each of us receive a third of the royalties, [with] the sales from music to be divided between Baum and myself.”

Denslow wrote to Baum, too, saying he “was going right ahead as if the agreement were signed, trusting to [Baum’s] word.”

Scenic designer Walter W. Burridge, Denslow's old theatre colleague, arranged for him to meet with Henry Savage that afternoon at the Studebaker Theatre. Denslow asked Tietjens to join him. Unfortunately, Savage failed to appear. After waiting half an hour, Denslow and Tietjens left. “We did not want to appear too anxious.”

Paul Tietjens circa 1902.
On September 13 the morning mail brought a letter from Baum, “decrying Denslow as usual. He has no doubt good cause for this . . .”  Denslow had gone to Macatawa and tried to convince Baum that the success of the extravaganza would rest on the success of their children’s book. Denslow asked Baum to persuade Tietjens, a relative unknown, to accept a one-fifth share of the profits, leaving two-fifths for each of them. Tietjens refused the insulting proposal and dismissive view of his contribution as composer. “It puts me on my guard . . .” he wrote in his journal. His growing concern at Denslow’s and Baum’s escalating tendencies to claim sole credit for their collaborative works forced Tietjens to decide that “I shall hereafter insist that my name appear in all notices and advertisements.”

While newspaper headlines trumpeted that President McKinley had died from his wounds, Denslow and Tietjens argued about the newly-proposed royalty split, finally agreeing to go back to the previously agreed upon equal three-way share. On September 18, Denslow telegrammed Tietjens. Baum was back in Chicago and had drawn up a contract. The three men met that evening at Baum's.

The contract “embodied, among other points, the following: that the royalties were to be divided equally among us, each to receive thirty-three and one third percent, and that the return from sale of music be divided between Baum and me. The agreement was not signed, a few alterations having been suggested.” Tietjens said he would agree to the three-equal-shares royalty split, but over the next two days he wavered.

“I have decided not to sign the contract with Baum and Denslow tomorrow,” Tietjens wrote on September 20. “Denslow is not entitled to a 1/3 interest, and I will rather throw over the whole thing than to allow him so large a share. I deserve one half at least.”

The next day Tietjens and Denslow quarreled. “I told him he was not entitled to any of my share which should be half as composer.” Tietjens had a point. The fact that Denslow and Baum shared the copyright to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz should not have been Tietjens’s burden

On Sunday, September 22, Tietjens discussed the situation with Baum. They decided, “after some deliberation, it was best to give Denslow his [one-third] share, rather than to let The Wizard go by default.”

A few days later at the Chicago Athletic Association, after weeks of discord, harmony prevailed. L. Frank Baum, W. W. Denslow, and Paul Tietjens met and signed the contract for Baum & Tietjens' Musical Spectacular Fairy Tale THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ.
 
All three signatures on the original contract of September 21, 1901.
(Special thanks to Robert Baum.)
  
Copyright © 2019 David Maxine. All rights reserved.

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