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Ooohs and `Oz' Go Beyond That Brick Road

L. Frank Baum, born 150 years ago, created a magical land far larger than many realize. One man's collection helps widen the view.

May 21, 2006|Lynn Marshall | Times Staff Writer

SPOKANE, Wash. — It is considered by some to be America's first home-grown fairy tale: "The Wizard of Oz," a fantastical story that began as a book and became one of the most popular movies of the 20th century.

The shoes Judy Garland wore in the 1939 classic film are enshrined in the Smithsonian. The Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man and the Wicked Witch of the West are among the most well-known characters of the cinematic world.

But what about Princess Ozma, the Woggle-Bug and Tik-Tok? Not many people remember them. They're all part of the same make-believe land.

"The Wizard of Oz" was only a small part of the universe created by L. Frank Baum. The prolific author died in 1919.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday May 24, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 47 words Type of Material: Correction
L. Frank Baum house: An article in Sunday's Section A about an exhibit honoring the work of author L. Frank Baum said that Baum's Hollywood home, known as Ozcot, was at the corner of Cahuenga and Yucca. The house was at the corner of Cherokee and Yucca.

In honor of Baum's 150th birthday this month, the Foley Center Library at Gonzaga University in this eastern Washington city has opened an exhibit called "Oz and Beyond: Highlights From the L. Frank Baum Collection of Currie Corbin."

The exhibit, in the library's rare-book room, a third-floor rotunda with a view of the Spokane River, consists of more than 100 objects in nine glass cases.

One case is devoted to material from the film, including an original movie still and a full-page ad from Life magazine's Aug. 28, 1939, edition. Another case holds objects from Oz stage productions, such as a 1913 advertising poster.

But most of the exhibit space is given over to books, the core of this collection. First and other rare editions fill the cases; some of the books are open to show off the intricate color illustrations.

"Baum's books were a package -- a compelling story and the wonderful color illustrations. They were advertised both for the stories and for the beauty of the books," says Peter Hanff, deputy director of Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley and a longtime Baum collector and scholar.

"The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," published in 1900, was preceded by Baum's "Mother Goose in Prose" and "Father Goose: His Book."

They were the first books published in the United States intended solely as amusement for children, Hanff said, and some of the first to have color plates and illustrations.

"The Wizard of Oz" was America's first fairy tale, says Frank J. Evina, curator of the Library of Congress' Oz exhibit in 2000. "Baum really was America's Hans Christian Andersen."

The Oz books were a phenomenon at the turn of the 20th century, not unlike today's Harry Potter books.

It was the beauty of the books that first caught the eye of collector Currie Corbin when he was 11.

"I was on a flight coming back from L.A. with my family," says Corbin, 28, who grew up in Miles City, Mont. "And I read an article about collecting the books in an in-flight magazine. The pictures and illustrations in the article were beautiful, and I was hooked."

On a recent day, Corbin stands next to one of the exhibit displays.

"As soon as I got home, I went over to my grandparents' house to look for my mother's old copy of 'The Wizard of Oz' -- that's it, right there," he says, indicating one book in a case filled with 30 "Wizard of Oz" editions.

Baum wrote 14 Oz books. He also wrote many other children's stories, mostly under pen names, and he ran a short-lived film production company, the Oz Film Manufacturing Co., in Hollywood, to which the New York native moved in 1910. He lived on the corner of Cahuenga and Yucca in a house he named Ozcot.

The Oz series was continued by other authors, commissioned by the publisher. The last official Oz book, the 40th, was written in 1963. Corbin's collection includes early editions of some of these works as well as Baum's other, lesser-known books.

In the second book in the Oz series, "The Marvelous Land of Oz," published in 1904, readers meet the enchanted boy Tip, who turns out to be the rightful monarch of Oz, Princess Ozma.

That book also introduces readers to the Woggle-Bug, a grasshopper-like insect who dresses like a man and is very proud of his education. He became the star of the Sunday newspaper comic serial "Queer Visitors From the Land of Oz" which ran from August 1904 to February 1905.

Tik-Tok, a mechanical man who must constantly be wound like a clock in order to live, first appears in the 1907 book "Ozma of Oz." He would go on to have his own short-lived Broadway musical in 1913, and his own book, "Tik-Tok of Oz," in 1914.

Hanff, who is also past president of the International Wizard of Oz Club, puts current membership at approximately 1,200 people.

He estimates that 300 people around the country have serious collections of the Oz books.

One of the most noted U.S. collections of books and memorabilia, that of Willard Carroll, was on exhibit at the Los Angeles Central Library in 2000.

Hanff remembers his start as a collector in junior high, searching bookstores in Southern California in the '60s. Currie Corbin was doing much the same in Montana in the early '90s.

"It was a wonderful experience for a kid, combing through old books -- hunting for treasure," Corbin says.

He says he worries that the human touch has left collecting in the Internet Age.

"I'm not sure I'd get hooked if I were starting out now, looking at listings on eBay -- I don't think it would have the same magic.... Every one of my books has a story behind it."

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