After it was a published book, but decades before it hit the silver screen in the Dorothy Garland-led adventure we know and love, “The Wizard of Oz” was a hit play on Broadway and beyond. The stage show premiered in June 1902 in Chicago, and moved to NYC at the beginning of 1903. There it very successfully ran through 1904 before going on tour across the country. Here’s a little insight from author L Frank Baum — truly the Great Oz — on how it all came to be.
How “The Wizard of Oz” was written
“It is quite true that some playwrights have success thrust upon them,” said L Frank Baum, the fairy tale author, whose extravaganza, “The Wizard of Oz,” is now in its eighth year and boasts the longest successful run in its class of entertainment.
In the words of Baum
“The thought of making my fairy tale into a play had never even occurred to me when, one evening, my doorbell rang and I found a spectacled young man standing on the mat.”
“Mr Baum?” he inquired.
“Yes,” I said, “What can I do for you?”
“I want to write the music for your opera of ‘The Wizard of Oz,'” he answered.
“There’s a mistake,” I said, somewhat stiffly, “‘The Wizard of Oz’ is a book.”
“But it ought to be a play — an opera or extravaganza or something — and I ought to write the music,” he insisted.
The young man interested me then.
“Come in,” said I, more cordially, and he walked into the hallway.
“Have you ever written the score for an opera?” I inquired.
“No,” said he, shifting on his feet uneasily, “but I –”
“Ah, I thought not. I’m afraid that –”
“Did you ever write a libretto?” he interrupted.
“N — no. But I –”
“Ah, I thought not. But there’s no reason why you can’t, or why I can’t write the music,” he suggested easily.
“Take off your coat,” said I, “and come into the library. Your name is?”
“Tietjens. Paul Tietjens. I’ve come from St Louis to do this work with you,” he explained.
I thought it over for a moment. The idea seemed good, and I wondered I had never thought of it myself. Doubtless I could dramatize my book if I set about it, and the extravaganza suggestion caught my fancy at once.
But my visitor was wholly unknown to me, and I hazarded a question as to his musical accomplishments. For answer, he sat down at the piano and began to play. It was a minuet, a delicate, dreamy morceau, so dainty in conception, so rippling with melody that I drew a long breath when the last sweet notes died away. It was afterward the famous “Poppy Chorus” in the “Wizard of Oz.”
Top illustration: One of the several promotional posters for Broadway musical, showing The Scarecrow, Dorothy Gale, the Tin Woodman (with bagpipes and in a kilt) and some of the poppies. Second: Copyright registration application for Baum and Tietjen’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, 1901.