Sunday, July 4, 2021

Sunday with Sammy - Part 1

The biggest song hit in The Wizard of Oz was not about getting back home, traveling down the yellow brick road, or obtaining brains, heart, or courage. Rather, the hit of the show was "Sammy," a plaintive paean sung by Mabel Barrison, who played the role of former waitress Tryxie Tryfle, to a "fine and dandy" boy that her heart still ached for.

"Sammy" featured music by Edward Hutchison and lyrics by James O'Dea. The sheet music is far and away the most common title from The Wizard of Oz, and the song was also the most recorded number from the show, with over fifteen recordings on cylinder and 78rpm record, as well as music box discs in various sizes and formats.

Advertisement from Chicago Tribune,  July 13, 1902

Click here to listen to "Sammy" as performed in the 1982 concert version

Over the next several installments of this "Sammy" series of posts, I'll be sharing various stories on the creation of the song, its performance history, and some unusual variations of its published form. 

Below is one of the most interesting of the "creation" stories. It comes from L. Frank Baum himself. Unfortunately, little of Baum's tale is true—entertaining though it may be. As Paul Tietjens's first wife, Eunice Tietjens, said in her autobiography, "Everything that [Frank Baum] said had to be taken with at least a half-pound of salt."

The following article appeared June 11, 1903, in the Birmingham, Alabama, Age-Herald.

"Sammy" Song Written in a Hurry.

"The 'Sammy' song, which is one of the hits of The Wizard of Oz, was composed by Mabel Barrison like a flash of lightning—or, to be more exact, she wrote the words and set them to music in forty-three minutes," said a well-known musician yesterday. Mr. L. Frank Baum, author of the book of The Wizard of Oz, tells the matter thus—whether he is writing seriously or is having fun must be left to the discretion of the reader:

"She completed the work at 5 o'clock on the afternoon of the initial production of The Wizard of Oz. But at that time Mr. Moulton, the musical director, had gone home to put on his dress suit and he did not reach the theatre until late, so that the orchestra was just being rung in when a rough copy of Miss Barrison's forty-three minute song was handed him, with the request that he orchestrate it.

"Realizing that his time was short, Mr. Moulton began orchestrating 'Sammy' between the musical numbers of the Wizard, but only four bars were completed for each of the twenty-four musicians when the time came for Miss Barrison to sing her song. Nothing daunted, however, the intrepid leader signaled to the orchestra to begin, and then, leaving it to conduct itself, he made his pen fairly fly over the paper, with the result that he kept ahead of the orchestra during the entire song, and the musicians were obliged to pause only at the last note—which delay was not noticed by the audience.

"While the house echoed with applause Mr. Moulton turned to me and, shaking the perspiration from the end of his nose, remarked: 'That, I believe, is the quickest orchestration on record.' Yet so excellently was the work done that Messrs. O'Dea and Hutchison (under which nom d'Apollo Miss Barrison composed the song of 'Sammy') did not care afterward to alter the score save in a single instance—Mr. Moulton, in his haste having inadvertently sharped a note for the bass drum instead of flatting it."

Baum's tongue is lodged firmly in his cheek for much of his story. He even ends the tale with a musical joke. A bass drum is not a pitched instrument. You either beat the drum or you don't. The idea of sharping or flatting the drum, much less upon a specified note, is nonsensical. As is the idea that the conductor of the show could orchestrate a number during a performance.

Neil McNeil as Pastoria and Mabel Barrison as Tryxie Tryfle (1902).
But Mabel Barrison had wanted to make the most of landing the role of Tryxie Tryfle, her first featured part in a show. Prior to The Wizard of Oz, her stage roles had been limited to being a member of the chorus. Wizard was her chance to shine and she wanted a standout number in the show. She probably pushed hard for a show-stopping number, which she found in "Sammy," and she may well have told Baum (and others) that she had been instrumental in writing it, though I doubt she wrote any actual lyric, and certainly didn't write a note of the tune.

Next time on "Sunday with Sammy," I'll tell you a different story about the creation of this "fine and dandy" hit from The Wizard of Oz.


Copyright © 2021 David Maxine. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Trollkarlen av Oz - the Swedish Production

In my previous post, I discussed the only British production of the 1903 Wizard of Oz extravaganza presented in London over the 1942-'43 holiday pantomime season. That was the only foreign production until 2016, when producer Dick Lundberg presented a Swedish version of the Baum and Tietjens extravaganza.

Trollkarlen av Oz premiered on February 6, 2016. A second performance was given the following evening. I have seen a video of the production, but am not at liberty to share it. Baum's script and lyrics are performed in Swedish. The amateur production features a cast largely made up of young adults and a few younger children—exceptions being a middle-aged woman wearing a tuxedo as the Wizard, producer/director Lundberg playing both the Scarecrow and Sir Wiley Gyle, the latter played against type as a tall and attractive young man. Lundberg says, "I had to blow up Gyle in the end of the Emerald City part to make [my playing the two roles] work."

The show begins with a computer-animated Kansas scene and tornado, utilizing the "Poppy Song" as underscoring. The show features digitally-created musical accompaniment.

The score for Act I includes "Niccolo's Piccolo," "In Michigan" (Lundberg wrote new music; the original music is not known to survive), "Carrie Barrie," "The Scarecrow," "Love is Love," and "When You Love, Love, Love."

Dick Lundberg wrote two additional numbers, including a song for the Good Witch of the North, "Vindarna i kalla nord" [Winds in Cold North], at the end of Act I, omitting the "Poppy Song" and all of Tietjens's Act I "Winter" finale. He also wrote a new Act II finale "Trollkarlen är inte längre kung" [The Wizard is No Longer King] with different lyrics from the Baum/Tietjens version.

The show's second act (merging Acts II and III) begins with an instrumental version of "Guardian of the Gates." An instrumental version of "Tale of a Monkey" is used as underscoring. The pun-filled "Hurrah for Baffin's Bay" becomes "Hurra för Trollkarlen" with new verses sung by the Wizard and choruses by Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and Tinman as they get help with at least some of their requests. "Sammy" is included, as are "Traveler and the Pie," "Must You?,"  "The Sweetest Girl in Dixie," and "I Love You All the Time," the last with new lyrics by Lundberg. The show ends with a tiny bonus scene where the Lion and Imogene get a moment and run off together.

Lundberg, the director of this production, has shared a few promotional videos of himself singing a handful of songs from the show. It's rather fun to listen to these songs in Swedish. Enjoy!


"Alas for the Wan Without Brains" or "The Scarecrow"

"Love is Love"
 "When You Love, Love, Love"
 "The Sweetest Girl in Dixie"

Copyright © 2021 David Maxine. All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

The Wizard of Oz in London

From the earliest days of The Wizard of Oz stage show, the producers tried to get the show to London.

David Montgomery, who played the Tin Woodman from the premiere of the show in June 1902 until May 1906, spent his summer vacations from the show in London. He also tried to interest British producers in The Wizard of Oz. The reports back were always optimistic, but the plans always came to nothing. 

Perhaps the probable lack of Montgomery and Stone squelched the deal. David Montgomery would have loved to have taken the show to London. He seems to have much loved his time spent across the pond). But Fred Stone, on the other hand, hated sea travel. He suffered from motion-sickness, and after he returned from England in Spring 1902, he declared he would never cross the ocean again.

There were additional proposals for doing The Wizard of Oz in Paris . . . in Berlin . . . in Australia . . . but all came to nothing.

Exactly why is hard to say. Some contemporary reports theorized the transfer failed because several West End shows had already stolen some of the most popular songs from The Wizard of Oz's score—but this seems an unlikely reason—Hamlin and Mitchell easily replaced "Sammy" in the United States with several successors: "Can't You See I'm Lonely," "The Tale of a Stroll," "Are You Sincere?"

Perhaps the show was just too American, too different.

But when the MGM film version of The Wizard of Oz premiered in London in December 1939, the story and songs and technicolor were a wonderful escape from the World War that England had entered three months earlier. The film spawned an interest in a stage version, perhaps a splendid holiday pantomime!

On September 6, 1940, Paul Tietjens received a letter from Sargent Aborn [1867-1956], head of Tams-Witmark, "regarding new prospect of London production of Wizard." Aborn had also written to Maud Baum. Tietjens replied that he "thought it best to interview Samuel French myself, which seemed to upset [Aborn]. I said I would wait until he had Mrs. Baum's reply."

I've found no further record of what transpired in the correspondence hereafter. And I am not wholly sure why Tietjens wanted to talk to Samuel French. Perhaps Samuel French was handling the Tams-Witmark catalog in England? Or did the Brits want to use the script of the "Junior League" Wizard of Oz play that Samuel French had published in 1928, but with Tietjens's score?

It is not clear when this production was to have been scheduled. But on the afternoon of September 7th, the day after Teitjens got the letter from Sargent Aborn, German planes appeared over London. The "Blitz" had begun, and no doubt, the London premiere of The Wizard of Oz was going to be delayed.

The "Blitz" lasted until mid-May 1941. Finally, a little over two years after the original inquiry into obtaining the stage rights to the Wizard of Oz extravaganza, the following announcement appeared in the December 24, 1942, issues of The Stage:

The Wizard of Oz will be the Christmas attraction at the Grand, Croydon, where it will continue for an indefinite season. The performance on Boxing Day [the day after Christmas] will mark the first production of the dramatized version in this country. Produced by John McCormick under the supervision of Reginald Fogwell, the company include Gus Chevalier (Cowardly Lion), Max Adrian (Scarecrow), Rolfe Slater (Wizard of Oz), Donald Ferguson (Tin Man), and Lorna Dean (Dorothy), supported by Marjorie Page, George Hurley, and Dorothy Kendall. The corps de ballet of the Allied Ballets, with their premiere danseuse, Mela Carter, and Helena Sidonova, Sonia Arova, and Ronni Martin, are in support with new ballets designed for this production by choreographer Jashf [sic] Crandall.

The cast list does not list any character names beyond the typical Wizard of Oz principals that an audience would know from the film version, but the show is clearly represented as being the American stage show. The most important name in the cast is Max Adrian [1903-1973] as the Scarecrow. One clue that this production may not have been following the Baum script very closely is the casting of film actor and comedian Gus Chevalier as the Cowardly Lion—originally a silent part in the stage show.

The following advertisement appeared in The Norwood News on Christmas day 1942.

I have not been able to locate any reviews of the Croydon Wizard of Oz that might tell us exactly what they did, how closely it followed the American stage version. But the show was a hit!

On January 8, 1943, The Norwood News reported: "Owing to previous bookings, the present highly-successful run of The Wizard of Oz must end on Saturday, January 16 . . ." 

Back in the United States, Paul Tietjens was living in New York City, his finances were fairly tight, and he was suffering from bladder cancer—he had already had surgery on his prostate. In May, Paul and his wife Marjorie moved to St. Louis to be with his sister and her husband. Paul Tietjens died a few months later on November 25, 1943.

In his obituary, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of November 26, 1943, reported: "The Wizard of Oz has been produced from time to time since its initial success in 1902. Mr. Tietjens received a royalty check several weeks ago from Croydon, England, where the old play was revived."

The Wizard of Oz became a popular holiday pantomime in London. The following year they switched to the MGM score, though they may have continued to use Tietjens's incidental music. Baum's script was out, a new script having been written by Janet Green. But the holiday pantomimes retained Paul Tietjens's name as creator.

A vintage three-fold program for the Grand Theatre, Croydon.

Copyright © 2021 David Maxine. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Happy Birthday!

On this date, June 16, 1902, Baum's and Tietjens's musical extravaganza The Wizard of Oz opened in Chicago at the Grand Opera House. Happy Birthday!

Covid-world has slowed my blogging over the last year. But much of the time has been spent researching and writing the next chapters of the book (and some other fun discoveries!) and I will be able to start sharing them with you soon.

Peace and Concord! — David Maxine


Copyright © 2021 David Maxine. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The dreams that you dare to dream ...

I am ecstatic to announce that I am the happy new owner of an original poster for The Wizard of Oz extravaganza -- and it is from the original 1903 run at the Majestic Theatre in New York!

Posters from the show are exceedingly rare, and most are known by a single example, and few are in private hands.

Another example of this poster is held by the New York Public Library, though mine (above) is in better condition.

The poster measures 19" x 30" and is lithographed in two colors: a warm yellow and a deep navy blue. It was printed by the Gillin - Print Co. of New York and Philadelphia.

Lithographer's Imprint

I strongly suspect this poster was printed for the post-Chicago but pre-Broadway run of the show, since the red "Majestic Theatre" designation at the top is not part of the original lithographic process, but added in a blank space for each theatre to list its own name. Hamlin and Mitchell had an array of new and full-color lithographed posters printed for the Broadway run by the Russell-Morgan Company.

That might make this one of the earliest known posters for the show to survive. [Note: there is an earlier Chicago-era poster of "The Poppy Girl," which survives as well.] 

The imagery for this poster is taken from one of the most iconic photographs of Montgomery and Stone used for the original Chicago publicity blitz. The photo was taken by the Windeatt Studio in Chicago in 1902.

I have long dreamed of owning an original poster for this show, which has become such a large part of my life. I am very thankful to the wonderful and generous seller who wanted to make sure it ended up in the right collection.

Copyright © 2021 David Maxine. All rights reserved.