The Wonderful Wizard of Ed

John Ritter as L. Frank Baum

The Dreamer of Oz, Copyright Hanna-Barbera Productions, All Rights Reserved.

Last week I posted about America’s Forgotten Fairyland, the marvelous land of Oz. This week I’m going to build upon that foundation and discuss how I fit into the story.

I first became aware of L. Frank Baum and his wonderful works through the 1990 NBC Movie of the Week, “The Dreamer of Oz”. This was the first of those made for TV special effects event films that NBC would become famous for all through the 90’s (“Gulliver’s Travels”, “Merlin”, “The Tenth Kingdom”, Etc…) but it wasn’t produced by Hallmark Entertainment and The Jim Henson Company as many of those were but was made by Hanna-Barbera. Although it only had a scant amount of effects scenes this was clearly the vehicle to see if much more elaborate productions were even possible as this was the first time CGI, models, and composite computer technology had ever been attempted on a television budget before. The film starred John Ritter in the title role with Annette O’Toole as his supportive wife Maude, and Rue McClanahan as his mother in law Matilda Gauge. The film features a script by frequent “Twilight Zone” writer Richard Matheson and was critically acclaimed and proved to be so popular that it re-aired for a few years ever Christmas season. Ritter shines in this performance and if he didn’t win an Emmy for his portrayal then it is a tremendous shame. It was because of that film I began to look at some of the Oz books. When people ask me what my favorite Oz film is I always cite this one because it’s the story of L. Frank Baum and it first got me interested in the Oz books and what could be more important than that? My school library only had copies of the first two Oz books, however, but their copy of “Marvelous Land” had a plot synopsis for the remaining books. It was then that I really first became aware that Oz was a series.

John Ritter as L. Frank Baum

The Dreamer of Oz, Copyright Hanna-Barbera Productions, All Rights Reserved.

John Ritter & Annette O'Toole as L. Frank and Maude Baum

The Dreamer of Oz, Copyright Hanna-Barbera Productions, All Rights Reserved

I never watched the MGM movie much growing up but I remember it being around. I remember the big to-do over the 50th anniversary in 1989. I remember Oz film tie-ins being a staple at Media Play and Suncoast Video. I remember the film airing on CBS every year too but I rarely watched it. There was also the 1985 Disney film “Return to Oz”. I think I first saw that on PBS in the early 90’s. It scared the crap out of me when I was younger than that just from the bits and pieces I’d seen before that. I do remember my 4th grade teacher having a sticker box that had Return to Oz stickers in it and I always picked those because I had stickers of Denslow’s Oz art at home and I’d mix the characters up together in my sticker album.

The Wizard of Oz Copyright MGM, All Rights Reserved.

The Wizard of Oz Copyright MGM, All Rights Reserved.

I also remember renting the anime version from one of the first video rental places in the early 80’s but I haven’t seen it since. I also used to watch the Cinar animated Oz series based on the first few books in the series when it aired on HBO in the early 90’s. I haven’t seen them since either but it must have made a lasting impression on me. Probably the one Oz film I watched the most was the “Thanksgiving in Oz” special that was written by acclaimed writer and my hero Romeo Muller and produced by Fred Wolf. I picked up the novelization online of this special, titled “The Green Gobbler of Oz”, when I was in high school. Among the first DVD’s I ever bought were the old WB release of “The Wizard of Oz” and I picked up “Return to Oz” a few months later at KMart.

Return to Oz, Copyright Filmation, All Rights Reserved.

Return to Oz, Copyright Filmation, All Rights Reserved.

When I began to write my own stories some people began to compare my writing style to that of Mr. Baum. In the summer of 2002 when my first printed novel, “Jill Chill & the Baron of Glacier Mountain” (it was the second novel I’d written) was getting ready for press I began to pick up the Oz books at my local Barnes & Noble and read them during the down time at my job manning the ticket booth of the local Drive-In Theater. Unfortunately my B&N only carried the first six books so my excursion into Oz ended there. These are among the most important things I ever bought in my life as it would turn out. A few years later I picked up the book “The World of Oz” at a comic con in Rochester, NY and that rekindled my interest. Written to coincide with the 1985 Disney film “Return to Oz”, the book is a great overview of the entire Oz phenomenon up to that point and although it‘s a brief book I find myself returning to it for reference every now and then. I always love to learn about the story behind the story no matter what it is and Oz is the ultimate man behind the curtain tale.

Jill Chill & The Christmas Star Cover, Copyright Ed McCray Productions, All Rights Reserved.

Jill Chill & The Christmas Star Cover, Copyright Ed McCray Productions, All Rights Reserved.

In 2006 I ordered the remaining Oz books by L. Frank Baum from Amazon.com (Hey, that even rhymes! 😀 ) But although there are nice hardcover reprints out there they edit out content and make them politically correct. I believe in reading books unedited as the author intended them to be. The author may revise their work while alive, everyone from Charles Dickens to J.R.R. Tolkien have done that, but once they’re silenced by death the work should be as they last left it and meant it to be. The Dover Editions of the Oz books are a nice affordable way to get all of the Baum books, averaging out to about $10.00 a book and they don’t change a word. If you want to get into the Oz series it’s the best way to go. Plus they look great next to my Narnia, Tolkien, and King Arthur books on the shelf. 😀 Dover also prints most of Baum‘s other books and they‘re all about the same format size so if you really want to get into Baum this is my preferred way to go. Because I so enjoyed these Oz books and wanted to get people interested in them again for a time I’d even considered doing my own Oz book since I’d been told so often that my own writing style is so similar but nothing ever worked out.

In the spring of 2011 I found myself starting over in many ways just as L. Frank Baum had when he became an author and once more Oz found me again. At the time I was thinking about how to present the library of titles that I had completed years ago and have been sitting on for all of this time. I found myself in a used book story and came upon a storybook where Baum’s text and W.W. Denslow’s illustrations for “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” had been edited down to 60 pages and I began to think about doing that with some of my novels since we were currently living in an economy where people were less likely to spend money on a novel than they had been a few years prior.

My curiosity in Oz had also been perked up again and I found my way onto one of the Oz internet forums. I forget what originally brought me there but through the conversations I learned about a book of paper dolls that had been produced back in Baum’s day and had recently been reprinted. As an Oz buff I wanted to get a copy and I was also interested as I had just bought a substantial amount of character artwork from my illustrator and was looking for ways to return my investment and a paper doll book seemed like a novel idea. I didn’t have the money to buy a copy of the book but I traded the person who restored and reprinted it a copy of my comic book “Jill Chill & the Christmas Star” for one. To my surprise I was asked if I’d ever consider writing stories for The International Wizard of Oz Fan Club. This was just one of those God events in my life because I had only began thinking about Oz again because I found that book and I only traded a “Jill Chill” comic book because I was strapped for cash. You never know when these sorts of things will happen either and it just goes to show that even when you’re going through a poverty stretch it can be a blessing in disquise otherwise I’d have never been given this opportunity.

"The Love-Bug of Oz" by Ed McCray, Copyright Ed McCray Productions, Story & Artwork All Rights Reserved.

The Wizard of Oz from “The Love-Bug of Oz” by Ed McCray, Story & Artwork Copyright Ed McCray Productions, All Rights Reserved.

That summer I set to work on figuring out what my “Oz” stories would be like. Because Oz has no set Bible of continuity my approach has been to treat it like a comic book. In the 1990’s and early 2000’s Warner Bros. Animation produced a series of animated TV shows based on the DC Comics characters. To many people those are the definitive versions of these characters. What they did was boil down each character to their essence and not worry about continuity found in the comics. The result was a hybrid of each character that had aspects of all versions. This has been my approach to the Oz characters. My ultimate goal is to get people interested in them again so that they’ll read the original Oz books. Each of my stories comes out of defining who each character is and plugging them into a particular scenario and building stories around that.

Glinda the Good Witch of the South from "The Love-Bug of Oz" Story & Artwork Copyright Ed McCray Productions, All Rights Reserved.

Glinda the Good Witch of the South from “The Love-Bug of Oz” Story & Artwork Copyright Ed McCray Productions, All Rights Reserved.

My take on the Baum characters was so well received I was asked to consider doing the same for the Thompson Oz characters. I had never read any of the Ruth Plumly Thompson Oz books because they’re difficult to find and I’d read bad things about them. I was sent a copy of “The Silver Princess in Oz” and I was VERY impressed. It’s a very well written fantasy novel appropriate for all ages and it captures what it’s like to be a young boy and like a girl perfectly well. Within a few days I even had a story in mind with those characters as well. Last fall I began to track down as many of her other Oz books and they’re just as good as L. Frank Baum’s fantasy works. The Thompson Oz is just another flavor of a familiar brand kind of like Coke and Vanilla Coke.

Professor Woggle-Bug from "The Love-Bug of Oz" Story & Artwork Copyright Ed McCray Productions, All Rights Reserved.

Professor Woggle-Bug from “The Love-Bug of Oz” Story & Artwork Copyright Ed McCray Productions, All Rights Reserved.

Over the past few months I’ve been illustrating my first story, “The Love-Bug of Oz” for “Oziana”. As far as I know it will be in the 2013 edition and I recently found out that it will be just in time for a new Disney Oz film so people will be thinking about Oz. Perhaps for once in my life my timing is right. 😀 I’m going to attempt to contribute at least one new story to the publication each year for the foreseeable future as my schedule permits. I may even do a cover for them at some point. What I desire to do with my Oz work is to not only tell entertaining stories with these beloved characters from America’s forgotten fairyland but to also shine a spotlight on the earlier works in hopes that more people will read them and let these characters live once more. I’ve been greatly enjoying my little excursions into Oz on these expeditions to bring back the finest Oz stories I can tell.

Ed & Jill Chill at the 2003 Pittsburgh Toy Show

Ed & Jill Chill at the 2003 Pittsburgh Toy Show

So now I find myself part of the Oz story too and I didn’t even have to journey down the fabled yellow brick road or need a pair of silver shoes or a magic belt to get me there, it found me. It has been a joy to be a part of America’s favorite albeit forgotten fairyland. To be a part of this glorious Oz legacy and asked to come into it has been a tremendous honor and I take this mantle very seriously. I hope my stories are well received and succeed in drawing attention back to the original books. For me it has been very exciting to help make characters live again who have been hidden by the sands of time for so many generations. I’m especially looking forward to breathing life into the Thompson Oz characters again because many of them have laid dormant since the time she used them which is a shame. I can promise that my first Thompson inspired Oz story will star Planetty the Silver Princess, Randy the Purple Prince, Kabumpo the elegant elephant, Thun the thunder colt, in addition to some of Baum’s beloved characters.

Return to Oz Copyright Walt Disney Productions, All Rights Reserved.

Return to Oz Copyright Walt Disney Productions, All Rights Reserved.

I’ll be sure to post any Oz updates I have on this blog between the other topics I cover so if this interests you be sure to check in. My favorite part of the whole experience is that now I can sign my stationary “The Wonderful Wizard of Ed”. See you on the yellow brick road on the other side of that rainbow. Along the way we might even regain those silver shoes (not ruby slippers) that Dorothy lost on her original visit.

Oz the Great & Powerful, Copyright Walt Disney Pictures, All Rights Reserved.

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All content, unless otherwise noted, copyright Ed McCray, All Rights Reserved.
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