If you’re like me, you’ve seen The Wizard of OZ movie many times. But have you ever stopped to wonder how it came to be? It turns out that The Wizard of OZ has quite the backstory and history!
I don’t remember now why I decided to read Finding Dorothy. My to-be-read pile is quite sizeable and yet this book jumped in out of nowhere to be at the top of the stack. And I’m so glad that it did.
Finding Dorothy is a novelized biography of Maud Gage Baum. Historical fiction. Yet the amount of research and love that the author, Elizabeth Letts, put into this project leaves me feeling like it was written by Maud herself.
Here’s how the author herself describes the book-
“Almost one hundred and twenty years after L. Frank Baum wrote the classic tale, countless stories have been set in the Land of Oz that Baum created—new books, films, hit musicals, and, of course, the iconic 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, which is the most-viewed film of all time.
In Finding Dorothy, I look behind the story at the lives of the real American family that inspired this famous tale.
I approached the story just as I’d done with my nonfiction books—with reams of research. But when I sat down to write, I put on my fiction-writer’s hat. I hope what I’ve come up with is true in the best possible sense of the word—true to the people who lived and breathed and left behind the gift of one of our greatest cultural treasures, the story that has been called America’s first homegrown fairy tale.
I hope you will read it and be as fascinated as I was, and most of all that it will lead you back to the originals: the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and the classic 1939 MGM film. Reacquaint yourself with your old friends Dorothy and Toto, the Wizard and the Witches, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Lion. I’m sure you’ll be glad you did.”-Elizabeth Letts, author of Finding Dorothy
It worked. I was absolutely fascinated by this tale. And the part that really drew me in was that it was written from Maud’s perspective. There have been several biographies written about L. Frank Baum in the past but I doubt I would have been interested in them the same way I was reading about his wife.
The Wizard of Oz was Frank’s creation and you can see how the many different experiences in his life shaped what he wrote. In that way, it was fun to see how the story I know from the 1939 MGM movie came to be.
Frank himself was happy, handsome, and imaginative but totally impractical. He absolutely loved the arts and drama. In contrast, his wife, Maud, was no-nonsense and practical. A case of opposites attract!
An Interview with the Author, Elizabeth Letts
I really enjoyed this interview with author Elizabeth Letts. She talks a lot about what drew her to the story and her research into the woman – Maud – behind the man – Frank.
Reading the book was great but I definitely recommend this video as well.
The Smithsonian calls The Wizard of Oz America’s first home-grown fairy tale and after reading this book I can see why. So many of Maud and Frank’s experiences were quintessentially American and those experiences were translated into the magical world of OZ, bringing real-life into the land of fairy tales.
From Novel to the Silver Screen – How the Wizard of Oz became an American classic film
I enjoyed reading about the backstory of Frank’s life and all the things that influenced his writing. But I also really enjoyed reading more about the making of the movie itself. You know me – I’m all about behind-the-scenes stuff! The movie is now 82 years old but remains popular.
The book does an excellent job of showing both Frank and Maud’s lives and also the creation of the epic film that lives on today.
If you want to know even more about the making of the movie, check out this book by Aljean Harmetz, The Making of the Wizard of Oz. It tells how the Wizard of Oz was made specifically but also about how movies used to be made in Hollywood so many years ago.
I found this October 2014 presentation by Aljean about her book for the Culver City Historical Society.
Harmetz’s book was also part of a PBS television documentary called The Wonderful World of Oz- The Making of a Movie Classic. You can watch it on Archive.
Bringing Women’s Contributions Into the Spotlight
As I’ve mentioned already, I really enjoyed reading the story about The Wizard of OZ from the woman’s perspective. Too much of mainstream history is focused on men. Women have been here all along and contributing just as much (if not more!) to the world and I’m happy to support strong women and see them get recognition.
I’ve noticed that recently it seems like we’re starting to get more attention on the women’s side. There are more podcasts and books showcasing these stories, and it’s definitely becoming more mainstream to look at the women that were involved in history, as well as current-day achievements.
More Wizard of Oz Women’s History
Can’t get enough Wizard of Oz backstory? Check out these two podcast episodes from The History Chicks.
Episode 37 talks about the women associated with the stories of Oz, specifically Dorothy, Ozma, the witches, Maud Gage Baum and others, as well as L. Frank Baum himself.
The Women of Oz Minicast talks about the women of the movie, Wizard of Oz, specifically Judy Garland, Billie Burke and Margaret Hamilton.
Watch the Most Recent Oz Documentary
This one isn’t as women-centric as the other references above but PBS has just released a new documentary about L. Frank Baum and the Wizard of Oz. Here’s the trailer:
More Books About the Origins of The Wizard of Oz
As always, one book just isn’t enough! This picture book, The Road to Oz by Kathleen Krull, tells Frank’s story.
For slightly older readers, I enjoyed What Is the Story of the Wizard of Oz.
My full Oz book stack…
Out of all the books, Finding Dorothy was my favorite!
I made a Wizard of Oz list over on Bookshop. You should check it out!
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Can’t get enough Oz?
Check out the Oz Museum in Kansas and the Oz-themed city park in central Illinois (coming soon).