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Oz on Film, Part Three: End of the Yellow Brick Road? Hardly!

The silver screen's second Dorothy Gale, Bebe Daniels
The silver screen's second Dorothy Gale, Bebe Daniels
Photographer unknown

The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays, which had received a mammoth marketing campaign, was a hit with the few audiences who got to see it, but ended up a financial disaster for Baum. The sheer cost of transporting the personnel and equipment (including Frank Joslyn Baum, the eldest of Frank's sons, who ran the projector), added to the money spent on the filmed segments-- spent by the Selig Company with the understanding that Baum would pay them back-- far outstripped what even sold-out houses at the rate of $3.00 per ticket (an exorbitant amount in those days) could net.

September 24th of 1908 saw the show’s first engagement in Grand Rapids, Michigan. From there it went through a good number of Midwestern cities, finishing up in New York City, coming to its abrupt and premature end on December 6th.

Baum had paid for everything but the film out of his own pocket, which, like so many times before, the Royal Historian now found empty. Taking pity on Baum, the Selig Company waived the thousands of dollars he now owed them in exchange for the film rights for his books. This led to the release, in 1910, of the first big-screen adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, clocking in at a little over ten minutes (not at all unusual in those days; Thomas Edison’s movie production of Frankenstein, made that same year, was also that length).

Whereas the films used in The Fairylogue had been shot in Chicago, the new Oz movies would be produced in California, where the film industry was starting to grow by leaps and bounds. The new Dorothy Gale was nine year-old Bebe Daniels, who was to have a long and prolific career in movies during and after the Silent Era, as well as becoming a star of stage, radio, and even television.

The names of some of the other cast members are known, but no record exists of who played what roles. It has been deduced that Lillian Leighton played Glinda, Winnifred Greenwood was Aunt Em, and Eugenie Besserer was the film’s antagonist (whose identity you will learn in the next article) . Hobart Bosworth, another actor bound for silent film stardom, is believed to have played the Wizard, while the Scarecrow was likely played by Robert Z. Leonard.

The Baum – Tietjens stage extravaganza The Wizard of Oz was still fresh in the minds of the American public, and indeed still in production in some theaters. Therefore, the costumes used in the movie, like those in The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays, were strongly reminiscent of those used in the stage show. It is even possible that the Cowardly Lion costume was used in one of the tours.

Other elements of the stage show included a dark-haired Dorothy, a cow traveling (along with a bunch of other farm animals represented by performers in costume) to Oz with her, and a Tin Woodman who plays a piccolo.

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