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Age of Bronze

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L. Frank Baum
and His New Plays

By D. E. Kessler

The Theatre -- August 1909

L. FRANK BAUM of "Wizard of Oz" fame, and author of a most delightful series of children's hooks and fairy tales, does not look the part of overworked author and playwright, but in the quiet depths of his dark eyes, the square-cut jaw and firm mouth, are revealed the capacity for sustained effort and the ability to make every whit of that effort count.

The morning sunshine painted dancing yellow patches across the floor of the pleasant room, a room at once typically Southern Californian, and reflective of the artistic temperament of its owner. Lounging chairs, and tables covered with books and magazines, invited repose and entertainment, photoographs banked the mantel, and on the piano, piled high with automatic records of the best and latest music, a jolly "Billikens" image grinned the spirit of good cheer that pervaded the place. And everywhere that a vase could perch were bouquets of the California wild flowers in all the vivid glory of their pink and purple and gold.

"Yes, my workshop is a busy place these days. My orders have piled up so during my absence the early part of the winter on a lecture tour, that I am fairly swamped. Not only are the three pieces on which I am working for the coming season approaching completion, but the new fairy book, the fifth of the Oz books, is now reaching its final chapters.

"The new operas will all be put on early in the season. The one that I may say is practically finished is ‘The Pipes o’ Pan.’ Paul Tietjens is writing the score for this, and it is a true comic opera. Tietjens did the music for the ‘Wizard of Oz,” you will remember. This opera will be presented by the Shuberts at the Lyric, in New York, early in the fall.

"I am not neglecting the musical comedy idea. An extravaganza that will go either by the name of ‘Ozma of Oz” or ‘The Rainbow’s Daughter,’ will he put on the first week in October by Montgomery and Stone at the Studebaker Theater in Chicago. This is going to be a big thing scenically, something on the order of Bailey and Austin’s big hit, ‘The Top of the World.’ You can tell that the mechanical effects will be remarkable, for we have working with us Arthur Voegtlin, who is without a doubt the greatest scenic painter in America. His ‘Battle in the Air’ is probably the most wonderful thing ever produced in this line. The music for this play is being written by Manuel Klein, composer of ‘The Land of Nod,’ and several other musical successes.

“I am particularly engaged just now, though, with an opera I am doing for Mr. Dillingham, that will be put on by Montgomery and Stone, succeeding ‘The Red Mill.’ Their ideas are being largely worked out in the plot in order to bring out their specialties. During the play they will represent nine different characters. That means many quick changes for them. This play will be very scenic also. The exact date of this production is not decided yet, and neither is the title, though we are thinking favorably of ‘Peter and Paul.’ One of the big things in it is the music. Arthur Pryor has written it, and it is going to make a great hit. It is the first musical play he has ever written, his efforts having been confined principally to band music. He is the greatest trombone Player in the world, you know, and it is pretty well conceded that the success of the Sousa marches was largely due to him. He would play out the heavy trombone airs, and Sousa would write around them. Have you heard a Sousa march that amounted to anything since they separated? I was up at Pryor's country place last summer, and he has stacks of the same kind of music, music that sticks in your mind, full of melody, that is in the score of this new opera of ours.

“In all this talk of coming operas, I would like to say a word for ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ It never grows old. It is just as bright and fresh and popular today as it was at its first performance eight years ago. The ‘Wizard’ is an extraordinary thing. It is the only musical comedy that has lived for eight years. One reason is, it has an original idea. A manager will pay fifty times as much for an idea as he will for a whole written opera that is not original. And that is precisely the cause of the many failures the see on the boards today--thcy are imitations. The ‘Wizard’ makes good because it is good. It has the idea.

“It isn't through opera, though, that I hope to live that I base any hopes I may have of having my name written in bronze. My important wont: I consider to be in), fairy tales, not my plays. The ‘Wizard’ was written as a child's book three years before it was put on as a play. My fairy stories are a radical departure from the old regulation fairy talc about princesses and princes, and so on. But there is not one transplanted idea either in the Oz series or any of my fairy books. Of the twenty-two books of fairy tales I have written, five, counting the one I am working on now, arc Oz books. That one which will soon be finished will be called ‘The Road to Oz.’ I will write one more next year, and that will close the series of the chronicles of Oz.

“The bulk of these books have been written right here in Coronado, and are so signed, so you see Coronado comes in for a little fame in connection with them. I have turned out more books at Coronado than any other writer. In fact, I am often called a California writer.

“My books have been translated into almost every language, including Japanese, and in my travels abroad I have found them cherished by children, from Egypt, in Nubia on the edge of darkest Africa, to the interior of the Philippines, and a friend said he saw one in a house at Hong Kong, in China. The children are all friends of ‘The Gingerbread Man,’ ‘John Dough,’ ‘The Hungry Tiger,’ ‘The Cowardly Lion,’ ‘Dorothy,’ ‘The Scarecrow,’ ‘Tiktok,’ and the ‘Mischievous Mifkets,’ and all my queer people, and I am a friend of the children.”

Interested as he is in his work, and heavy as arc its demands on him, Mr. Baum does not allow it to interfere with his enjoyment of the California out-of-door life. Every morning and until halfpast two in the afternoon he spends in his "workshop," and then he plays golf until half-past four.

"My one recreation is golf, and conditions here are ideal for the game. Every afternoon sees me out on the Coronado links."

An article on Mr. Baum's work would be incomplete without mention of his pet enterprise, the Children's Theatre, the only playhouse of its kind in the world. The theatre is being built in New York, on West Fifty-seventh Street, near Carnegie Hall, and will probably be opened early in the coming season. “It is for the production of fairy plays, suitable for children, and actively interested with Mr. Baum are Mrs. Carter Harrison, of Chicago, and a number of other prominent eastern society women.

--D. E. Kessler

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Copyright © 2003 David Maxine. All rights reserved.

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