|NYPL poster - click to enlarge.|
Back in 2018 I was offered what was believed to be an original poster from the 1903 Broadway Wizard of Oz musical (see photo below). The provenance seemed ideal, the poster having been purchased by the current owner from Brenda Baum, widow of L. Frank Baum's third son, Harry Neal Baum. The Baums had run a Wizard of Oz Lodge named Ozcot, which hosted the earliest Oz club conventions.
From the seller's description, I thought it was going to be another example of a well-known Wizard of Oz poster at the New York Public Library (seen at left). Indeed, I've had a black-and-white photocopy of the NYPL poster for over twenty years, which used to hang in my studio in San Diego. Curiously, the poster I'd been offered was mounted to a piece of green-painted plywood with a wooden frame around it. Hmm...The original NYPL poster is oddly proportioned - approximately a foot wide and about four feet long. The NYPL poster appears in a number of scholarly publications, including Mark Evan Swartz's Oz Before the Rainbow (2000) and Allan Eyles's The World of Oz (1985).
Although the poster I was recently offered (see image below) is identical in size to the NYPL poster, it has several differences. The first is that it was printed in black and white, not green and white with red enhancements. Well, I reasoned . . . maybe the show's producers decided to reprint this poster more cheaply as the show progressed in its run after "its 23d Week of Phenomenal Success."
|The Poster I was offered for purchase.|
I asked the owner of the poster (friend and longtime Oz Club member) Mark Frederic Dereng for a more detailed photo and on receipt found a most curious thing. The black-and-white poster had exactly the same date as the green-and-white NYPL original: "Now in its 23d Week . . ."
|Character Lettering from original NYPL Poster.|
|Character Lettering from black-and-white version.|
|The ABC version|
The quirks of this poster set-off some alarm bells in my head. Yet, the poster supposedly belonged to Baum's son — a solid vintage provenance, it would seem. Could that be confirmed? I asked friends who had attended the old OzCot conventions in the 1960s if they recalled the poster being at Harry Baum's OzCot lodge. One long-time friend quickly replied: he had first seen the poster reproduced in the December 1962 issue of American Book Collector and then on exhibit at OzCot in 1963. He attached high-res scans of the poster from the magazine. (The American Book Collector version of the poster can be seen at right - click to enlarge.) They matched the poster I had been offered. The poster's provenance as belonging to Harry Baum was now verified.
I received several additional phone camera photos of the poster I had been offered. In every way the photos match the American Book Collector version of the poster.
But that black-on-white lettering looked so much like 1960s Oz illustrator Dick Martin's work! And Martin had helped procure the graphics for the 1962 American Book Collector. Had he possibly modified the poster for reproduction in the American Book Collector and then, perhaps, given his photostat to Harry Baum to adorn the Ozcot Lodge? My friend had verified that the poster was at Ozcot by June 1963 — but had Harry Baum owned the poster for sixty years or six months?
As I mentioned up above, once that lettering started shouting Dick Martin, the entire history of the poster became suspect to me. You see, Oz illustrator Dick Martin often tweaked, altered (and sometimes completely invented) graphics back in the late 1950s and '60s, sometimes to make them reproduce more easily, but more troublesome, he occasionally faked vintage research in scholarly publications he worked on.
Below is an early example of a fake 1903 Wizard of Oz poster Dick Martin "invented" for publication and printed in The Musical Fantasies of L. Frank Baum (1958). The Tin Woodman and Scarecrow drawings are Dick Martin trying to look like W. W. Denslow. The poster is based on nothing I have ever found in my very in-depth research into the show.
|Dick Martin's "faked" WIZARD poster from MUSICAL FANTASIES OF L. FRANK BAUM.|
|Dick Martin lettering circa 1958.|
|Dick Martin lettering at top, forged poster lettering at bottom.|
In my opinion, the clear similarity in lettering style clinched it. The black-and-white version of the poster I was offered seems to have been heavily modified by Dick Martin. It is, in my opinion, a modified photostat of the NYPL original, which, you'll recall, was printed in green and red and celebrates the 23rd week of the run. Here's what I suspect Dick Martin did and some of the reasons why.
Dick Martin certainly knew how important the 1903 show was to the history of Oz and its impact on Baum's life and career. Including a poster from the show in the ABC article would have been a great idea. I suspect Martin chose this poster as it was line art, not one of the more lovely full-color lithograph Wizard posters, and thus would reproduce well in the black-and-white magazine. So Martin obtained a photostat of the poster from the NYPL. A stat would have reproduced the line art beautifully - but there was a catch. Red ink reproduced as black in many photo-statting techniques and indeed still does on many photocopiers. My physical copy of the NYPL poster (the one that used to hang in my studio) was made by taking the poster to the NYPL copystand and simply making a few photocopies. The red ink printed as totally black, obscuring the drawings of the Tin Woodman, Dorothy, and the Scarecrow. Note, too, in the image below, the sort of ugly original Courier typeface of the names "Imogene, the Cow" and "The Cowardly Lion." Why do I point out the ugly Courier type? Because I think the typed names are what Dick Martin found to be so ugly - on an otherwise handsome and reproducible poster - that he felt he ought to "improve" the lettering for the reproduction in the American Book Collector.
|Photocopy of poster at NYPL showing how the red ink copies as black.|
|NYPL original on left, redrawn version on right. Click to enlarge.|
|NYPL original on left, redrawn version at right. Click to enlage.|
|NYPL original on left, redrawn version on right. Click to enlarge.|
Here's another example: the title THE WIZARD OF OZ was printed in both red and green - producing a rather ugly brown. But the original NYPL poster is not in perfect registration and the title lettering is quite unattractive. But in a photostat of the NYPL poster, both red and green will reproduce as black, so the text of THE WIZARD OF OZ is thicker and blobbier. You can see below that the Martin version of the poster for American Book Collector is reproduced directly from the NYPL version of the poster, as the shape of his lettering matches the shapes of the combined red AND green inks. I have digitally prepared a version of the word OF showing only the green ink. If the offered poster had been printed in 1903, the printer could have simply used the green printing plate with black ink and gotten a crisp, accurate reproduction of the original typography.
|Comparison of the word "OF" - NYPL version, Martin version, then NYPL green ink only.|
If the show's producers had wanted to do a black and white version of the poster in addition to the green, red, and white version, all they really had to do was use black ink on the green printing plate (and move the red text block over to the new plate). There is ZERO reason to redraw the sections backed by the red, unless you're working from a black and white photostat of the green and red poster. It is the incredibly time-consuming workaround to achieve a clean drawing that most proves the poster a 1960s era creation by Dick Martin.
So, in my opinion, that's it - Dick Martin modified the stat of the poster he made from the NYPL copy, fancied up the lettering of the character's names, and after he was finished with his modified artwork, he presented it to Harry Baum as a decoration for Ozcot Lodge. Then Brenda Baum sold the poster to my friend who innocently believed he was buying an original 1903 Wizard of Oz poster.
But to end this on a more positive note, I'd like to explore a bit more history in how the original poster came to be. The source of the artwork for the original 1903 poster is a drawing printed in the February 2, 1903, New York Evening Telegram.
|Original version of artwork in February 2, 1903, New York Evening Telegram.|
This artwork was drawn by Henry C. Coultaus (1862-1923), a cartoonist for the New York Evening Telegram, who specialized in drawing illustrations for that paper's Drama section.
|Cartoonist Henry C. Coultaus (1862-1923),|
Quite probably, the Wizard of Oz's producers were taken with the newspaper artwork and asked to turn it into an inexpensive poster. But those actors names! Some of them were not even with the show anymore by the 23rd week when the poster is first known to have appeared. And besides, the cast changed frequently enough that there would be little accuracy or even point in saying who played whom. So the producers modified the original design - probably having gotten a photostat from the Evening Telegram, and (perhaps in a rush) they painted out the actor names and simply "typed" the character names onto the Evening Telegram's photostat.
This is interesting, I hope, and not too confusing: the newspaper version is about HALF the size of the poster as it was eventually printed. If the "typing" to replace the actors' names with character names was done on the paper's photostat by an actual typewriter, it would explain why the Courier lettering of the poster looks so much like it was done with a typewriter - it was! At first, I'd assumed it couldn't be, because the font was too large to have come from an actual typewriter - but blowing up the newspaper-sized stat (with normal typing on it) would result in the oversize Courier font found on the poster.
I really do wish the offered poster had been genuine. Owning an original poster from the show is still a dream of mine. And you know, a large 58-year-old photostat, mounted on green plywood, created by an official Oz illustrator, and from the personal collection of Harry Baum isn't a bad thing! But it's not the hundred-and-eighteen-year-old poster I had so very much wanted it to be.