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Frank Baum's Oz


L. Frank Baum, the man who wrote “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” famously did it with one pencil, in one great blast.

But the Wizard of Oz didn’t come out of nowhere. Baum was 44. By 1899, he’d worked and failed as a chicken farmer, an actor, an oil-can merchant, a traveling salesman.

He’d ventured west to the Dakotas. Seen wonders. Feared Sitting Bull. Suffered a fierce mother-in-law. Searched for his own True Self.

And then, wrote the great American fairy tale. Of Kansas and Dorothy, Toto and a wizard. He was the JK Rowling of his day. This hour, On Point: Finding Oz.

You can join the conversation. What is it about this story — the book, the movie, Dorothy, Toto, “There’s no place like home” — that gets us going? Can you feel the currents that must have inspired L. Frank Baum? Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.


Evan Schwartz is a former editor at BusinessWeek and author of “Finding Oz: How L. Frank Baum Discovered the Great American Story.”  His previous book is “The Last Lone Inventor: A Tale of Genius, Deceit, and the Birth of Television.”

You can watch Evan Schwartz introduce “Finding Oz” and read an excerpt from the book at his website.


More links:

Find an illustrated reprint edition of Baum’s original “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” (1900) using Google Book Search.

The full text of the original edition is online at Project Gutenberg.

And here is a famous scene from the 1939 movie (from YouTube):

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  • Chris S

    Does anyone remember Jack Ritter playing L. Frank Baum in that TV movie? Was that movie at all accurate?

  • Brian

    I hope you’ll talk about The Wizard of Oz as elaborate allegory for the politics of its time — I’ve heard about this and wonder if contemporary readers got that message.

  • http://ozmapolitan.spaces.live.com blair frodelius

    I recently did an interview with Evan Schwartz on his new book. It is located at:


    Look for the category called Wizard’s Wireless.

    Blair Frodelius

  • marlene

    I read the book, and found it very interesting. Evan explores the times/events of Frank Baum’s life and how they influenced him to create the story of Oz. Evan is also good company at a dinner party.

  • Travis Tarpy

    This is an allegory for Capitalism?
    Yellow Brick road is Gold?
    Tin Man is the Industrial age?

  • Rita O’Brien Forbush

    Our family loved the entire OZ series. My husband read each of the books aloud to our two sons when they were young (they’re now 28 and 23) and on long car rides would play their own version of “20 Questions” with the Oz characters and events as the focus. We still find many times when aspects of the stories come up as references as our lives. Such a brilliant series and I recommend it to any family looking for a way to connect with a wonderful story that the entire family can enjoy.

  • Derek

    I also hope that Tom will ask Evan about the book as a political allegory. A high school history teacher first introduced the concept, claiming that the Yellow Brick Road represented the movement of the Gold Standard for money, The Wizard was the President (Teddy Roosevelt? Lots of bluster but no substance was the idea); the Tin Woodsman was some sort of statement on Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, and I think Toto had to do with William Jennings Bryant. Interesting concept.

  • Kat Morgan

    I’d love to hear your guest talk about the whole Oz series, not just the one book Hollywood made famous. I read them all, over and over, as a child, and would love to hear Evan Schwartz’s take on them all.

    In addition, I’d love to hear his thoughts on Gregory Maguire’s derivative novels (Wicked and Son of a Witch).

  • Kathy

    I recently read that Frank Baum was traveling through Syracuse when the Cardiff Giant was on display. He was probably impressed how easily people could be hoaxed, maybe it influenced his idea of ‘the wizard’.

  • Marty Calkins

    I am surprised a Business Week journalist does not mention early on David Schoenbrod’s “Yellow Brick Beltway.” He argues, L. Frank Baum drew the book’s symbolism from William Jennings Bryan’s campaign for the national government to
    back its paper money with silver as well as gold. Bryan’s opponent in the 1896 and 1900 presidential elections was William McKinley, who supported the gold standard. Bryan argued that the gold standard depressed the economy, thereby crucifying America on a “cross of gold.” The hard times are represented by the bleakness of the Kansas in which Dorothy finds herself at the beginning of the book. Dorothy represents everywoman, and the cyclone that carries her to the land of Oz is a silverite victory at the polls, according to the historian Richard Jensen. The land gets its name from the silverites wanting 16 ounces (oz.) of silver
    to be the monetary equivalent of one ounce of gold. Her own house lands on the wicked Witch of the East (the Eastern bankers), killing the witch and freeing the Munchkins (ordinary people) from bondage. The good Witch of the North (the Northern electorate) tells Dorothy that the Wizard of Oz may be able to help her get home. To reach him, she must travel the yellow brick road (gold ingots), which may be done only with silver slippers (the movie changed them to ruby for better contrast). She meets Bryan’s supporters along the way — the Scarecrow (the farmer who thinks he has no brains) and the Tin Woodsman (the industrial laborer who thinks he has no compassion) — and Bryan himself represented as a Cowardly Lion.

  • John Barnett

    Hello Tom and Evan,

    I have long heard that the Wizard of Oz had a lot of political symbolism related to current issues at the time of its writing. The yellow brick road was the gold standard, the wizard represented the hypocrisy of the washington politicians, in fact Oz was the capitol, the scarecrow represented the farmers (who did not understand the politics – no brain), the tin man was the industrialists and factories magnates that had no heart, and the lion were the politicians that knew better but had no courage.

    This I heard long ago and so remember just these details, that there were issues at that time that affected the workers, the farmers, and the people regarding the gold standard, Washington politics, and the national policies and response. I don;t know any more about that though. I think I had heard even more symbolism.

    Has your guest heard of any of this?? Thanks.

  • euonymous

    Thank you for this …. wonderful. Photos of the original Peekskill, NY yellow brick road are up on Flickr


    cool. I read through all the Oz books in my school library as a child and loved every single one of them. Of course I also loved the Judy Garland movie, Gregory Maguire’s book (and the musical) Wicked! and Gregory Maguire’s book Son of a Witch (possibly soon to be a major motion picture, I hope). There’s something fundamentally American and good about these stories.

  • J G. in Providence

    Hi Tom & Evan!

    I’ve heard Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon make a great soundtrack to the film. Was Pink Floyd applying L. Frank Baum’s sense of timing while in the studio?

    The myth continues.

  • Andy

    I simply can not think of the Wizard of Oz without thinking of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”. Anyone who has tried to synchronize these two great works knows what I’m talking about. I would like the guest to speak about this topic, if possible!

  • Jamie

    What about all the subsequent books written? There were something like 16 books written, how do these reflect on the original?

  • Vicki

    The movie still captures me when I watch it. But I remember reading the book as a kid and being absolutely carried away by Baum’s description of the Emerald City. I wanted to go there in the worst way. To hear the author talk about the spiritual basis for the book really helps put it in perspective.

  • Amy Mossman

    I’ve never called or made a comment and whythis owuld drive me to it, I don’t know but it’s making me batty! The 1939 movie, while wonderful is it’s own right, is not the same as the book. The differences are immense! Please stop making them the same! ARGH!

    Okay, I’ve caught my breathe but I wish it this discussion was actually about the book and the author (Oz and Baum) and not happy memories of the movie. The Oz books, the whole series, and many other fantasy books by Baum are truly enjoyable reading, whether you are a child or adult. I reccomend rediscovering them all.

  • catherine

    Can Mr. Schwartz talk a little bit more about the Theosophist movement in the Central NY State? The mystical architect, Claude Bragdon, was very involved in this movement. Thsi area was, earlier in the century, labeled the “burned Over District for all the new religions cropping up.

    Also, he green glasses that Dorothy. et al. wear remind me of Joseph Smith’s seeing stones, who also came from Palmyra in Central NY.

  • Sarah Getty

    Comment – Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch in the movie was played by a graduate of Boston’s Wheelock College.

  • kent

    I’m a writer. You’re not giving nearly enough credit to Baum’s imagination, his ability to simply make stuff up. Everything doesn’t have to have a source outside his head or a symbolic meaning. Read it with your feelings, not your magnifying glass.

  • Alec Lipscomb

    Great show! My favorite moment has always been the “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain”…SO “on point” for our time when the media is used for so much deception

  • Donna

    Listening to this show reminds me of so many phrases that are used in today’s contemprary culture from the Wizard of Oz:
    I’m going to get you my little pretty
    Follow the Yellow Brook Raod
    Toto we’re not in Kansas anymore
    Australia is called the Land of Oz
    I have a T hsirt that says, “Auntie Em, Hate you, hate Kansas, took the dog, Dorothy
    And Somewhere Over the Rainbow sung by artists all over the world.

    Even when people do not know the whole story, they refer to these and use them frequently in every day discussions! The Wizard of Oz Lives on!!

  • lynn

    Please be sure to mention that there were many more books. I stumbled on a collection owned by a friend’s mother when I was in high school. I had read several of the series when I was younger and loved them so even though I was much older, I borrowed and read all the rest. I have never understood why no seems to have discovered these delightful and imaginative books with characters such as Ozma and Jack Pumpkinhead.

    They were wonderful reading.

  • http://www.OzClub.org Cheryl

    Author L. Frank Baum was a republican, a McKinley supporter and a staunch advocate of Woman’s Suffrage. Anyone who respects the author, has read all the man’s published works, and has studied his biography knows perfectly well that all the “political allegories” and other hidden meanings attributed to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz were never the author’s intention.

    This has been a great interview, however the guest was writing about the 1900 novel, and too many questions have focused on the classic film, Judy Garland and Wizard. It’s unfortunate that more people didn’t ask about the subject at hand.

  • Cynthia Gilliatt

    Here in Virginia we had a man run for governor, if I remember correctly, who wanted The Wizard of Oz out of school libraries because it ‘promoted superstition.” He lost. He nwo runs an ultra conervative college for home-schooled kids. I feel sorry for his!

  • Marc Kohler

    This is a great show, and let us not forget that here are at least 14 books in the series by Frank Baum, and about 6 or 7 others written by relatives and freinds. To not include these other books in a discussion of Baum’s work. In one of the book, smart creatures can attack you by throwint there heads at you, but then they have to spend hours finding their heads, becfause they are now blind. We need to look at all of these books, because Baum refused the theary later developed by CS Lewis and Tolkein, that childrens’ fiction rtequires a EU-Castrophy. That childrren’s ficrtion has to be a struggle between good and evil, good wins in the end, but good also suffers losses along the wway. Baum’s “good” is there, an his Evil is in the books as well, but they are emasculated, weakened, quite paficist in character. There is litlle or no killing in the books. So, Baum’sgood is good, but it’s not superpowerful, and thwe evil is almost always stupid and vulerable–many times, the evil figures are, in fact, trapped by others into their situations.

    Also, Baum TRIED to stop writing OZ books, but could not succeed. He has other books that are great, too! Take the time to read all 14 of his OZ books, and you will get to know Baum and his pacifist worlds much better.

  • Jane

    Great show; congratulations.

    Like a few other posters above, I’m a bit sorry the interviewer and producer kept steering the conversation back into the wonderful MGM musical. The Schwartz book was written about events in the author’s life 40 years before that film was made. I’d have loved to hear more about his book and findings from his research rather than so many sound bites from the film and questions about those associated with it. Leave that stuff to 70th anniversary tributes, and let shows with writers like Evan actually focus on the fantastic imagination of L. Frank Baum.

  • Brian

    Please inform your listeners about the beautiful graphic print adaptations by Eric Shanower.

  • Jeff Lord

    One of the best programs I’ve ever heard on “On Point”! It brought tears to my eyes…literally.

    Just a few remarks:

    1. Great works of art are truly great — among other reasons — because they allow for MULTIPLE CREDIBLE interpretations. There is absolutely no inherent incompatibility between the “thread” of Theosophy (i.e., the “Flying Monkeys” — who directly recall Hanuman, the “Monkey God” who was one of the Hindu avatars, and who was well known to the Theosophists), and the “thread” of contemporary politics in the late 1890s, involving the banks, the Gold Standard, and Bryant. Works which receive “higher inspiration” from the artistic pre-consciousness, into which great artists are able to “tap”, are capable of operating on several different levels simultaneously.

    2. My one regret about this spectacular program is that no passing credit was given to E.Y. “Yip” Harburg — who was not only the lyricist for these truly iconic songs, but also the professional “script doctor”, who personally re-wrote the entire movie script from top to bottom, after several other writers had made a botch of it. Yip Harburg is one of the guiding genisuses behind “The Wizard Of Oz” in its film incarnation, and he needs to be honored as such.

    Other than that, FABULOUS PROGRAM! I loved it, and I’ll be sharing the podcast link with many others, as soon as it becomes available.

    Dana Prescott]
    Amherst, MA

  • Sam

    What I liked about this book was the story of how Baum overcame so many trials and adversity before the Wizard of Oz emerged. Evan spins the story like Slumdog Millionaire – how each piece of the Oz story is inspired by Baum’s life events.

  • Mike

    if u have not, than try watching oz with the pink floyd tringle album playing. pretty cool

  • Marty

    For the record, the making of Pink Floyd’s album “Dark Side of the Moon” had nothing whatsoever to do with the Wizard of Oz movie. The supposed synchronization of the two was invented in the late 1990s by folks with nothing better to do. I’m sure one can do this with many albums and many movies with similar results.

  • Clark

    Pretty interesting. Baum wrote a couple very successful Broadway shows about Oz, and the Populist message was that the Emerald City (USA dollars) was only valuable because the Wizard said so (mandatory green glasses.)
    Another entire rant could be posted about seeing your psychiatrist as The Wizard, then exposing him as a fraud, and then discovering he is only human but he can help you.
    Danny Peary said Home is not always good, and John Waters wonders why Judy Garland wants that dreary black and white farm when she can have a friend with green skin and flying monkeys to wait on her.
    Basically, the movie is about a teen aged runaway with a head injury.
    Baum experienced the Phenomena of Oz almost immediately, and even though he grew to dislike it, his personal finances compelled him to write more about Oz.
    The Pink Floyd episodes grew out of ’70′s pot heads.

  • Matthew Biewener

    While we might all love his story, the life of L. Frank Baum raises questions about how we deal with the tension between a broader message, or even work of art, that we might appreciate and the unfortunately horrific personal convictions of the author. While the guest may apologize for Baum’s genocidal writings as a “dark” moment in his career, his endlessly incendiary language as editor for the Aberdeen Sunday Pioneer reflected a racism that was all too common and all too deadly. This was not a response to indigenous violence — it was, as would be described today, aggression. Days after advocating for the complete annihilation of all native people in America, he wrote: “we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up… and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth.”

    We can apologize for such hatred, or we can admit our own legacy of brutality and recognize the importance of understanding these stories and works of art in their real context

  • Matthew Biewener

    for more, please see Stannard’s “American Holocaust”

  • Maria Greenberg

    A few years ago while sledding I hit a tree. The severe head concussion transported me to another space and time. I was awake and talking yet not present in the present. In the hospital I kept telling my husband that I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. I actually thought it was a pleasant feeling and tried to hold on to the “weirdness” as my mind returned to the present. I wonder if Baum had ever had such an experience that may have inspired his books.

  • http://germaneconsulting.com Anne Perschel

    Great to hear this broadcast. Dorothy is a role model of transformational leadership. She leads people to higher levels of aspiration and achievement and guides them to discover their most capable selves. For more on what we can learn about leadership from Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz go to

  • Julianne Ravely

    I grew up hating The Wizard of Oz. I terrified me as a very young child. My poor, unknowing Dad took , me to see it when I was only 4. Glinda terrified me! I slid off the theater seat in total terror when that bubble loomed large on the screen. It irritated me to no end that my younger sister adored the movie when she finally got to see it. (She was a newborn back in 1954 when I saw it) I took delight in imitating Margaret Hamilton and threatening “get” her. My perspective on the movie, the story, the characters and the actors changed when I was working for Milwaukee’s Melody Top Theater, one of the few remaining summer stock tent theaters in the country. Not only did I get to work with John Fricke, one of the consummate Judy Garland, Wizard of Oz and all things related experts, but I also met the Wicked Witch herself, Margaret Hamilton. I can’t remember the exact year, but it was in the early’70s. the show was “High Button Shoes” and it starred Monty Hall and Margaret Hamilton. She was wonderful. Tiny, warm and friendly, and so funny. She resisted our requests to repeat her famous line until dress rehearsal night when her costume was a bit too tight and she came sweeping through looking for our wardrobe mistress, cackling and threatening “I’ll get you my pretty…”, complete with those marvelous hand gestures. I started to look beyond the face of the story. Evan Schwartz has piqued an even deeper curiosity in me. I’d love to hear more, but I go buy the book! Thanks for an unexpected delight.

  • Steven Sternfeld

    I only recently read the original book after watching the film with my grandson. Initially I was surprised how much richer I found the book than the movie, which I had always loved. Then I realized how much I had been surprised by the difference between all the film versions of PInocchio and the original book by Collodi.

    One of the key elements that are missing from the film adaptations of both the Wizard of Oz and PInocchio is how much time a true voyage of discover takes. In the book Pinocchio takes years to become a real boy, in the original Oz Dorothy and friends are sent off on yet another voyage to the south before Dorothy can return home.

    I think a good deal is lost when these film adaptations shorten the time frame of these stories, giving the false impression that we can achieve our dreams in a “reasonable” amount of time.

  • dave pierson

    A few thoughts, of possible amusement:

    One may ponder that Tesla, Edison’s peer at the time,
    and also an exhibitor of standing, at the Chicago
    World’s Fair had, i think, a wizardly air. Science,
    to some extent, was practiced more publicly then.

    …Tin Man…
    Popular fiction of the time (‘dime novels’) teemed
    with ‘steam men’, at least one actual specimen was

    …No Place Like Home…
    While occurring in the novel, i wager it preceded
    the novel in popular culture, as did other imagery:
    witches and broomsticks date back centuries.

    On another radio show, dunno if it makes it to this
    book, it was commented the the Oz reality has been
    translated and extended, worldwide: there is
    apparently, an entire Russian continuity of tales.


  • http://www.age-of-bronze.com eric shanower

    I don’t understand where one of the commentors above gets the idea that Baum wrote “endlessly incendiary” anything in the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer. Anyone taking time to read what Baum wrote in that newspaper will see that the claim is false. The paper lasted about a year under Baum’s guidance before sputtering to an end, and he wrote two–that’s right, only two–of these “Indian editorials.” It’s absolutely true Baum called for American Indian genocide in these editorials. At the same time, he stated in the same editorials that this genocide would be wrong. He also deplored–again in the very same editorials–the legacy of devastation caused to the American Indians by Europeans and their descendants. Baum was, as is obvious to anyone who takes time to read his writings, capable of seeing many sides of an issue, capable of being on different sides of an issue at different times of his life. His mother-in-law, a woman he respected and spent much time with, was an adopted American Indian herself. Anyone who thinks Baum wanted her dead knows very little about the man. L. Frank Baum, who wrote the infamous “Indian genocide editorials” in the ASP, who wrote the rivalry of the Blues and the Pinks–as well as the rivalry of the Sunset Tribe and the Sunrise Tribe–in Sky Island, and who wrote the imperialistic depredations of the “Boy Fortune Hunters” in that series of books, also wrote the Oz books–his most enduring legacy–which fly proudly the flags of pacifism, tolerance of other, and the embracing of the outsider. Let those who have created a legacy as life-affirming as L. Frank Baum’s cast the first stone.

    And to the next person pompously spouting that the “Parable on Populism” is what L. Frank Baum actually meant while writing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, despite Baum’s written statement in the book’s introduction that he meant something quite different, well, just wait till you get a load of the one about a Munchkin actor who hanged himself during shooting on the set of the 1939 MGM motion picture adaptation of the story. Lap it up, bunky!

  • http://www.onpointradio.org/about-on-point/wen-stephenson/ Wen Stephenson

    On the supposed Pink Floyd connection to the Oz movie, Evan Schwartz sends us the following note:

    It’s amazing how many people bring this up, and I didn’t have chance comment on it on the air.

    I too have enjoyed using “Dark Side of the Moon” as an alternative sound track. It’s kinda cool, but I believe members of Pink Floyd have said there was no intention whatsoever.

    The connection seems to have been made up in the 70s by someone who perhaps had one too many bong hits.

    However, there are some eerie moments that synch up, and you can learn about them here:


  • http://N/A John Conlin

    You all need to read the book titled Web Of Debt
    Bet not one of you can get through it.

  • Clark

    Don’t forget Baum the film maker! Baum went broke putting on Magic Lantern shows and was a pioneer film maker. Other Oz films include “The Wiz” and Disney’s “Return to Oz,” which used more of Baum’s other Oz books beyond “Wizard of Oz.” There’s also a really bad cartoon entitled “Journey Back to Oz” which was released in 1974 but was created a few years earlier.
    So Baum’s Oz exists in books, on film & tv & now, the internet.

  • chad

    The message “there is no place like home” has been a very hard lesson learned for me recently. Thanks for reminding me what is really important in life.

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