Wednesday, 19 May 2010

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz


BBC1's talent show Over The Rainbow largely overlooks the fact the musical was based on a children's book by L Frank Baum.

Don't get me wrong, my family and I have been hooked on Andrew Lloyd Webber's hunt for a girl to play Dorothy in a new West End production of The Wizard of Oz.
A number of the contestants are from the north west of England and live in the circulation areas of several newspapers I work for, so that has been an added interest. But little if no mention of Baum has been made.

The BBC rectifies this with a special documentary this weekend. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The True Story is being shown on BBC4 on Sunday. It looks good, too.

Baum's ambition was to write America's first real fairy tale. And that's pretty much what he did. Of course the film has played a major role in cementing the iconography of the story in our consciousness. Nevertheless, all the key ingredients - the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, the Yellow Brick Road - all these were Baum's creation.

Baum was one of those great 19th century figures who tried all sorts before discovering their true vocations. He'd been a poultry breeder, a newspaper editor and man of the theatre. Then he picked up his pen to become a children's author and struck gold - or yellow brick, more precisely.

What's perhaps not very well known is that Baum wrote a string of books set in the 'merry old land of Oz'. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is the one still read the most today, naturally.

One extra fact I'll share with you.

Last summer my family and I visited my brother who lives in San Diego and paid a visit to the Hotel del Coronado, which is on Coronado island, reached via an amazing mile-long, curving bridge. It's an impressive historic hotel, boasting turrets and spires. It's said that L Frank Baum got the idea for the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz from the hotel when he was living in the area.

You might be familiar with the hotel, too - it was used by Billy Wilder in the movie Some Like It Hot.

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