Like The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays—and, if one is honest, many of L. Frank Baum’s projects throughout his life—The Oz Film Manufacturing Company proved to be a wondrous, well-regarded failure. Children were delighted by the movies, including the short films in which Violet MacMillan starred (and which were based on Baum’s non-Oz writings), but adults were less kind.
Things had looked good at the beginning; The Patchwork Girl of Oz was picked up by none other than Paramount for distribution, but did not do the business that the company had hoped, so Paramount refused to handle any more of Baum’s company’s output. A firm called Alliance distributed the rest, but the firm began to lose money, even when a more adult-oriented fantasy feature, The Last Egyptian, was released.
In an effort to plug the leaks in the sinking ship, Baum turned the helm over to his son Frank Joslyn Baum. The younger Baum changed the company’s name to Dramatic Feature Films, but under this banner only one feature was to be produced. It was called The Gray Nun of Belgium, and by all accounts was a gripping war-era tale. Not much more than a year after it was formed, Baum’s movie company was forced to shut down.
The films themselves vanished for many decades, the only proof of their existence being press releases, advertisements, and frame enlargements seen in books on Oziana. But in the 1980’s, the three Oz-inspired fantasy films of the Oz Film Manufacturing Company were discovered and released to home video. Oz fans and film history buffs hailed their return and praised the films themselves. I first acquired my videotape copies of them from a Tower Records store. Not right away, however.
I had heard of the films being released in a VHS box (along with the second feature film based on Wizard, but more on that at the proper time) and went along to the store. I encountered living proof that books are not to be judged by their covers; the girl who waited upon me had dyed-black hair, white makeup, black lipstick, a pierced lip, and multiple piercings in her ears. She was all dressed in black as well.
Goth, you say? Probably a bit on the dark side, you say?
Not in the least! When I came to the counter, she broke into the sunniest smile imaginable and proved to be the most earnest, giggly, warm-hearted darling you could ever wish to meet. She eagerly looked for what I had asked for, and was all over herself with apologies when she couldn’t find the tapes; she did order them for me, however, and within a couple of weeks I was enjoying Baum’s own Oz films.
The reels of The Last Egyptian apparently still exist, but have not been restored or released. But Oz fans for all time to come can witness the innovation, the humor, and the spectacle that sprang from L. Frank Baum and the Oz Film Manufacturing Company.