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Oz on Film, Part One: The Royal Producer of Oz

L. Frank Baum, the real Wizard of Oz, surrounded by his characters, including Romola Remus as Dorothy (right, behind the feather on Prince Evring's cap)
L. Frank Baum, the real Wizard of Oz, surrounded by his characters, including Romola Remus as Dorothy (right, behind the feather on Prince Evring's cap)
Photographer unknown

L.Frank Baum published the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900.

Along with Paul Tietjens and others, he created the first stage adaptation of that story in 1902, and went on to create two more musicals set in his marvelous fairyland.

So it should come as no surprise that he was the first to create filmed adventures in Oz, in the multimedia presentation The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays, in 1908.

I covered this at some length back when I wrote about Baum’s life and career. If I may be permitted to quote myself:

“The title, particularly its latter half, bears some explaining. Frank coined the term 'fairylogue' from 'travelogue,' since the presentation was basically a documentary of travels within a fairyland. As for 'Radio-play,' it had nothing to do with the medium of radio, which was at that time still in its infancy. It was named for a (possibly fictitious) Frenchman named Michael Radio, who was said to have been an innovator in the art of hand-tinting photographic slides to show color images of various scenes.”

This was a massive undertaking, and sadly, not as well financed as the stage musical had been. But it brought delight to all of the Oz fans who had been blessed to see it while it ran. The touring production would begin with Baum in a white suit coming out to greet all present and prepare them for a journey to lands unseen by any but himself. Accompanied by music by Nathaniel D. Mann, scenes from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Marvelous Land of Oz, Ozma of Oz, and the non-Oz book John Dough and the Cherub (though those personages were on hand for Ozma’s birthday in the book The Road to Oz) appeared on a backdrop.

Though many will tell you that Judy Garland was the silver screen’s first Dorothy Gale, they would be mistaken. Indeed, there were two big-screen versions of Wizard before 1939, one in 1925 starring Dorothy Dwan and the other in 1910 starring Bebe Daniels.

But before all of them was an eight year-old girl with the unlikely—but evidently genuine—name of Romola Remus.

Little Romola was the daughter of George and Lillian Klauff Remus; her father had run an interesting gamut of careers, from pharmacist to lawyer to bootlegger. Romola herself was delighted to work with Baum, who treated her, as he did all children, with great respect and deference. In later years, when she had married and was then known as Romola Dunlap, she was fond of recalling how Baum would call her his “little Dorothy” and treat her as if she really was his literary creation come to life. Looking at photos of her and seeing how closely she resembled John R. Neill’s illustrations of Princess Dorothy, it’s not hard to see why!