on November 18, 2002
Prior to reading this wonderful book, I was somewhat of a newbie to the works of L. Frank Baum. I was familiar with the Wizard of Oz movie, but had never bothered to read the book from whence it came. Reading Mark Evan Swartz's "Oz Before the Rainbow" opened my eyes to Baum's additional works as well as the 1903 stage extravaganza based on "The Wizard of Oz".
Before the 1939 Judy Garland film, the 1903 stage adaptation was THE definitive version of Baum's first book. David Montgomery and Fred Stone were the definitive Tin Man and Scarecrow. In fact, the play made the team of Montgomery and Stone household names for several years after the play's successful run. While the storyline of the musical did differ from Baum's original work, you'll be surprised to find out how much of it translated over to the '39 movie.
Several adjustments were made to the story in order to get it to the stage, rendering the story vaguely recognizible, but way off from Baum's originial work. While wary of the many differences, Baum and songwriting partner Paul Tietjens composed several tunes for the show -- none of which carried over to the film versions. But through extensive research, Swartz provides the words to many of these forgotton melodies -- a real find for any Oz fan.
There are also many other interesting revelations concerning the 1903 play as well as the other film versions that followed. For instance, did you know Oliver Hardy (of Laurel & Hardy fame) played a part in one of the early versions of Oz?
This is a great book for any fan of the Oz books or movies. It's all beautifully arranged between text, documents and pictures. It'll make a wonderful addition to your Oz colletion and make you want to discover more about Oz prior to 1939. Highly recommended reading!
on November 29, 2000
This is a marvelous book for Oz lovers, but especially for those interested in the history of musical comedy and silent movies. Mark Evan Swartz has has written a scholary, meticulous book that is clear and exciting. The book pays off in loads of information about Baum and the development of his ideas for Oz in print, on stage and in motion pictures. What I found most fascinating was Swartz's account of how "The Wizard of Oz" became one of the biggest hits in American theater and about the business of managing a big production that ran, in New York and on tour, for years.
Swartz performs a near-miracle in marshaling information about business issues into a cogent and exciting story. His retelling of how the show looked and sounded to audiences of the time is masterful. The show made enormous stars of the comedy team Montgomery and Stone as the Tin Man and the Scarecrow. (Stone lived long enough to act in movies in the 30's and 40's, so that it's possible for us to see one of the biggest broadway stars of the eary 20th century in movies like "Alice Adams" and "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine." Even as an old man he has some of the twinkle that enchanted theater audiences.)
Swartz is equally good in drawing a picture of the Oz silent movies and of how MGM came to make the "Rainbow" version in 1939. And speaking of pictures -- the book is lavishly illusrated with pictures of the original production and its stars, with shots from the silents and with wonderful color reproductions of posters and other ads. It's a scholarly book that is fun to browse and a handsome book you can learn something from.
on September 23, 2001
Oz Before the Rainbow (L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz on Stage and Screen to 1939) is an amazingly well researched and thorough piece of work by archivist Mark Evan Swartz. This piercing view is directed at the 1902-3 stage version and the three subsequent incorporations of the story into the silent movies, often rather loosely incorporated in odd and often surprising ways for those familiar only with the book. All of these versions of Baum's first book have fallen out of public consciousness, pushed aside, as it were, by the memorable 1939 film verion (the version that remained the truest to the spirit and not just some of the ideas of the book). Concepts from the previous incarnations do leak into the 1939 movie and it is fascinating to watch this evolution. This is a tremondous piece of research that is a must for fans of Oz.
on April 2, 2003
Everything you've ever wanted to know about Baum's Oz career, written, alas, by a perfectly dreadful stylist who can't synthesize information, can't shape a thought, and, basically, can't write.
The photos are nifty, though.