One-hundred, nineteen years ago, today, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz children’s novel was published. It was written by L. Frank Baum, illustrated by W. W. Denslow and published by the George M. Hill company in Chicago, IL. The title was shortened to The Wizard of Oz for the Broadway Musical adaptation in 1902 and the Musical Film adaptation in 1939.
The book is one of the best-known stories in American literature and has been widely translated. The Library of Congress has declared it “America’s greatest and best-loved homegrown fairytale.” Its groundbreaking success and the success of the Broadway musical adapted from the novel led Baum to write thirteen additional Oz books that serve as official sequels to the first story.
Baum dedicated the book “to my good friend & comrade, My Wife,” Maud Gage Baum. In January 1901, George M. Hill Company completed printing the first edition, a total of 10,000 copies, which quickly sold out. It sold three million copies by the time it entered the public domain in 1956.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is considered the first American fairy tale because of its references to clear American locations such as Kansas and Omaha. Baum agreed with authors such as Carroll that fantasy literature was important for children, along with numerous illustrations but, he also wanted to create a story that had recognizable American elements in it such as farming and industrialization. Baum did not offer any conclusive proof that he intended his novel to be a political allegory.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has become an established part of multiple cultures, spreading from its early young American readership to becoming known throughout the world. It has been translated or adapted into well over fifty languages, at times being modified in local variations. For instance, in some abridged Indian editions, the Tin Woodman was replaced with a horse. In Russia, a translation by Alexander Melentyevich Volkov produced six books, The Wizard of the Emerald City series, which became progressively distanced from the Baum version, as Ellie and her dog Totoshka travel throughout the Magic Land. More recently, the story has become an American stage production (The Wiz) with an all-black cast, set in the context of modern African-American culture.
Seventy-three years, ago, today, the long forgotten variety show Hour Glass debuted on NBC. It was the first hour-long musical/skit/comedy in television history. Co-hosts were Helen Parrish and Eddie Mayehoff. Edgar Bergen appeared on November 14 performing his ventriloquism, a rare thing for radio personalities. He later became host of the program.
Hour Glass was sponsored by Standard Brands, promoting Chase and Sanborn Coffee and, Tenderleaf Tea. The program included comedians, musicians, entertaining films (such as a film of dance in South America) and a long, live commercial for the sponsor’s products. Such famous names as Doodles Weaver, Bert Lahr, Dennis Day, Jerry Colonna, Peggy Lee and Joe Besser appeared on the program.
The Columbia History of American Television attributed the program’s short life to its cost, saying, “Standard Brands invested $200,000 in this series over its ten-month tenure at a time when that level of investment just couldn’t be supported and sustained, leading to the Hour Glass’s abbreviated run.” Another factor was that James Petrillo, president of the American Federation of Musicians, forbade musicians from performing on television without an agreement between the AFM and the networks, thus, limiting directors, and performers, to use of recorded music.
From the Television Academy Foundation:
It is historically important, however, in that it exemplified the issues faced by networks, sponsors and advertising agencies in television’s formative years. The program was produced by the J. Walter Thompson agency […]. The lines of responsibility were not completely defined in those early years and the nine-month run of Hour Glass was punctuated by frequent squabbling among the principals. Each show was assembled by seven Thompson employees working in two teams, each putting together a show over two weeks in a frenzy of production. It must have been the curiosity factor that prompted some stars to appear on the show because they certainly were not paid much money. Hour Glass had a talent budget of only $350 a week, hardly more than scale for a handful of performers. Still, Standard Brands put an estimated $200,000 into the program’s nine-month run, by far the largest amount ever devoted to a sponsored show at that time. In February 1947, Standard Brands canceled Hour Glass. They were pleased with the show’s performance in terms of beverage sales and its overall quality, yet, were leery about continuing to pour money into a program that did not reach a large number of households (it is unclear if the show was broadcast anywhere other than NBC’s interconnected stations in New York and Philadelphia). The strain between NBC and Thompson played a role as well. Still, Hour Glass did provide Thompson with a valuable blueprint for the agency’s celebrated and long-running production, Kraft Television Theatre.
More information from Eyes of a Generation
Seventy-five years ago, today, the #1 song on Billboard (pre-hot 100 era) was My Heart Tells Me (Should I Believe My Heart?) by Glen Gray, his Casa Loma Orchestra and singer Eugenie Baird. Written by Harry Warren (Lullaby of Broadway, Jeepers Creepers & That’s Amore) with lyrics by Mack Gordon (Chattanooga Choo-Choo), this was the theme for the 1943 musical film Sweet Rosie O’Grady. Betty Grable sang the song in the movie.
Glen Gray & his Orchestral version was number one for five weeks from January 29 to February 26, boosted by the popularity of the musical. As a popular standard for the 1940s, other well-known artists with their own versions include Etta Jones (1961), Frank Sinatra (1945), Nat King Cole (1958) and Tony Bennett (1955). Glenn Miller & his orchestra had a go in 1944, broadcasting to German soldiers. From Dance in the City (Page 191):
“One of the paradoxes of the Nazi terror was that SS officers themselves demonstrated a fondness for swing (Vogel, 1962).
Mike Zwerin (1985), in his exploration of jazz under the Nazis, described a Luftwaffe pilot who switched on the BBC hoping to catch a few bars of Glenn Miller before bombing the antenna from which these forbidden sounds were being broadcast. Allied propagandists recognised the potential for exploiting the contradictory allure that jazz possessed with Nazi society.
The sound barrier of 1944 was marked on the one hand by the music of the Nazi marches and on the other by the big band swing of Glenn Miller. The Allies attempted to exploit the popularity of swing inside Germany. On October 30, 1944, Miller’s swing tunes were aimed at German soldiers through the American Broadcast Station in Europe (ABSIE) in an effort to persuade them to lay down their arms.
Major Miller addressed German soldiers in their own language with the assistance of Ilse Weinberger, a German compere and translator. Ilse introduced Glenn Miller as the ‘magician of swing’ and, through a strange act of cultural alchemy, tunes like Long Ago and Far Away and My Heart Tells Me were rendered in German by vocalist Johnny Desmond.”
It’s Flick Friday. The number one movie 40 years ago, today, is…Grease! I was 11 years old when it was released. I was such an Olivia Newton-John fan. I begged my mom to buy me the album soundtrack. I nearly wore it out. I still have it to this day. And, I remember those shoes… I was headed to seventh grade that year and ALL the girls had to have a pair of the Candies that ‘Sandy’ made famous. Can you imagine a bunch of tween girls in the late 70s trying to change classes, going up and down stairs…in ‘Sandy’s Candies’? Oh, my…
I STILL love this movie. What wonderful memories… ~Vic
Produced by Robert Stigwood and Allan Carr, it starred John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing, Jeff Conaway, Barry Pearl, Michael Tucci, Kelly Ward, Didi Conn, Jamie Donnelly, Dinah Manoff, Eve Arden, Frankie Avalon, Joan Blondell, Edd Byrnes, Sid Caesar, Alice Ghostley, Dody Goodman, Sha-Na-Na, Susan Buckner, Lorenzo Lamas, Fannie Flagg, Dick Patterson, Eddie Deezen, Darrell Zwerling, Ellen Travolta, Annette Charles and Dennis Stewart.
During a visit to America, Australian Sandy meets Danny Zuko at the beach and falls in love. She is heartbroken when summer ends [as] she has to return home and their last kiss on the beach is a very emotional one. But, fate lends a hand — her parents decide to stay in America and she finds herself attending the same school as Danny.
But, Danny at school is different from Danny at the beach. He is the leader of the T-Birds, a black leather-clad gang and has a reputation to keep up. He can’t be seen to fall in love with just one chick! Sandy is upset and seeks solace with some new friends she has made – a girls’ club called The Pink Ladies. But, her prim and proper virginal ways do not fit in and she soon finds herself almost alone. A change must be made. Does she attempt to get her man by turning him into a jock? Or must she get rid of her “Sandra Dee” image?
From Vincent Canby:
“”GREASE,” the film version of the still-running Broadway musical show, is not really the 1950’s teen-age movie musical it thinks it is but, a contemporary fantasy about a 1950’s teen-age musical—a larger, funnier, wittier and more imaginative-than-Hollywood movie with a life that is all its own. Somewhat in the manner of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” which recalls the science-fiction films of the 50’s in a manner more elegant, and more benign, than anything that was ever made then, “Grease” is a multimillion-dollar evocation of the B-picture quickies that Sam Katzman used to turn out in the 50’s […].
The gang at old Rydell High, which is the universe of “Grease,” is unlike any high school class you’ve ever seen except in the movies. For one thing, they’re all rather long in the tooth to be playing kids who’d hang around malt shops. For another, they are loaded with the kind of talent and exuberance you don’t often find very far from a musical stage.
Olivia Newton-John, the recording star in her American film debut, is simultaneously very funny and utterly charming as the film’s ingénue […]. She possesses true screen presence as well as a sweet, sure singing voice […]. John Travolta […], a not-so-malevolent gang-leader, is better than he was in “Saturday Night Fever.” I’m still not sure if he’s a great actor but, he’s a fine performer with the kind of energy and humor that are brought to life by the musical numbers.
It’s to the director’s credit that the musical numbers slip in and out of reality mostly with hugely comic effect. Let me emphasize, then, that “Grease” stands outside the traditions it mimics. Its sensibility is not tied to the past but, to a free-wheeling, well informed, high-spirited present.”
 The opening beach scene was shot at Malibu’s Leo Carrillo State Beach, making explicit reference to From Here to Eternity.
 The exterior shots of Rydell High, the Summer Nights musical number and the athletic scenes were shot at Venice High School in Los Angeles, CA.
 Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee & Hopelessly Devoted to You, sung at the slumber party, were performed at a private home in East Hollywood.
 The drive-in movie scene and the musical number Sandy were shot & performed at Pickwick Drive-In in Burbank, CA (torn down in 1989).
 The Frosty Palace (exterior shot), Greased Lightnin’ and Beauty School Dropout were performed at Paramount Studios
 Rydell interior shots and the dance in the gym were filmed at Huntington Park High School in Los Angeles, CA.
 The race was filmed at the Los Angeles River‘s dry riverbed, starting at the 6th Street bridge and u-turning after passing the 1st Street bridge.
 The carnival scenes, You’re the One That I Want and We Go Together were shot & performed at John Marshall High School in Los Angeles, CA.
♦ Rizzo’s hickeys were real. Stockard Channing said in an interview that Jeff Conaway insisted on applying them himself.
♦ “Hopelessly Devoted to You” was written and recorded after the movie had wrapped.
♦ Elvis Presley turned down the role of The Guardian Angel in the ‘Beauty School Drop-Out’ scene.
♦ Due to a zipper breaking, Olivia Newton-John had to be sewn into the trousers she wears in the last sequence (the carnival at Rydell).
♦ Jeff Conaway was so infatuated with Olivia Newton-John, he was tongue-tied whenever she was around. He later married Olivia’s sister, Rona Newton-John.
♦ Danny’s blue windbreaker at the beginning of the film was intended as a nod to Rebel Without a Cause.
♦ Jamie Donnelly had prematurely grey hair, which she dyed black to play Jan. Her hair grew really quickly, so her roots had to be coloured in daily with a black crayon.
♦ Rydell High is a reference to teen idol Bobby Rydell who had a million selling hit with “Swingin’ School” in 1960.
♦ The “blonde pineapple” line was improvised by Barry Pearl.
♦ Olivia Newton-John insisted on a screen test for the role of Sandy. She was concerned that she didn’t have the acting skills and would look too old to be a high school student. The part was originally meant for Susan Dey, who turned it down on her manager’s advice.