Ruth Plumly Thompson honored with historic marker

Ruth Plumly Thompson: New State Historical Marker in West Philadelphia Commemorates Children’s Author of 19 Oz Books

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission recently approved an official state historical marker to commemorate children’s author of 19 ‘Oz’ books, Ruth Plumly Thompson.

The enduring popularity of the Wizard of Oz is a testament to its durability. Perhaps less known is that Ruth Plumly Thompson contributed more to the series of books than its creator L. Frank Baum. Between 1921 and 1939, she wrote one Oz book a year, including the Royal Book of Oz, Kabumpo in Oz, and The Wishing Horse of Oz . In total, she wrote nineteen books (in the fourth floor study of her home at 254 S. Farragut Street in West Philadelphia) and created 320 characters, 100 more than Baum had. She encouraged readers to correspond with her at her home address, published at the beginning of every book. She lived with her widowed mother and sister, and her annual income from the Oz books financially supported all three of them.

Thompson was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 27, 1891 (d. 1976) and began her career in 1914 working for the Philadelphia Public Ledger as a weekly columnist for the Sunday children’s page. Her work there drew the attention of William Lee, vice president of L. Frank Baum’s publisher Reilly & Lee, who offered Thompson the opportunity to continue the Oz series after Baum’s death in 1920. Later, the International Wizard of Oz Club published two more stories by Thompson, Yankee in Oz (1972) and The Enchanted Island of Oz (1976), the latter of which was issued posthumously. In 1968 The Oz Club recognized Ruth Plumly Thompson with the L. Frank Baum Memorial Award.

The idea to create a sense of pride in the literary history of West Philadelphia turned into the reality of a ten-foot tall official marker with gold lettering with the generous donation from the Oz Club along with the financial contributions of the residents and neighbors of Farragut Street and Spruce Hill. This state historical marker will be a permanent reminder of a prolific writer and independent-minded Philadelphia woman whose whimsical and humorous writing about the magical Land of Oz will delight a new generation of readers.

The celebration and dedication ceremony will take place on Sunday, November 4, 2018 at the University City Arts League from 11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. From there the group will walk in parade style to the historical marker at 254 South Farragut Street for the official unveiling at 1:00 p.m.

For more information about the historical marker or the dedication ceremony, please contact Lisa Weidman, Historical Marker Sponsor, at rpt.historicalmarker@gmail.com

Oz en pointe in Kansas City

Kansas City Ballet premiered a lavish new ballet of The Wizard of Oz. Since KC is my hometown, I was there for opening night, but also for a number of local events designed to promote the production. There was a kick off at Union Station, a talk at the library, a rehearsal, and a book club discussion leading up to opening night. Every event was memorable.

It was hard to focus on remarks by Artistic Director Devon Carney and Mayor Sly James at the kick-off event at Union Station, because the area was teaming with Poppy Girls and Emerald Citizens. The costumes were lovely, and the promise of great things to come.  The company gave us a taste of the choreography and our first chance to hear some of the original score written for this ballet. Afterwards they shared the dance floor with the public during a flash mob to Ease on Down the Road. Great fun! Photo ops included posing with a pair of Ruby Slipper ballet shoes. Posters were handed out to the crowd.

It’s the Tin Man’s hat!

Choreographer Septime Webre joined Carney at the Public Library for a packed audience. Costumed mannequins allowed us to get up close to the Tin Man, the Wicked Witch of the West, Munchkins and Yellow Brick “Roadie” costumes. This time the stories held my attention. Webre grew up with the Oz books and first produced the story as a child with hand-costumed marionettes.  His desire to bring a fresh new version of the story to the stage has been with him for decades; only now did he feel really prepared to create his vision of Oz.  He shares some of that story online here.

My friend Paul with “Dorothy”, Amanda DeVenuta.

I was invited to a rehearsal (the perks of being president of the Oz Club!) and took my friend Paul Schneider with me. It was a working rehearsal, so we held our desire to burst out in exclamations and applause. It wasn’t easy.  The company was rehearsing the Muchkinland scene, giving me an idea of how Dorothy, the two Witches, and an absolutely scene stealing Toto would appear on stage. We met many of the dancers at a reception afterwards, including Amanda DeVenuta who dances the role of Dorothy.

Just days before opening night the KC Public Library’s Book Club met to discuss Baum’s original novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. We compared the book to the classic film, and when Devon Carney joined us with his laptop to show us costume and set designs, our collective enthusiasm grew. There was an article in the paper about our discussion you can read if you’re interested. (Link)

And finally it was opening night. But that was so incredible a night it calls for a blog all its own….

Left to right, Paul Miles Schneider, author of the Silver Shoes trilogy, me, Amanda Devunta (Dorothy), and choreographer Septime Webre.

Performances, Presentations and an Oz Auction; It Can Only Be an Oz convention

OzCon International (Aug. 10-12) offered a wonderful program packed with enough great Oz activity to appeal to all kinds of Oz fans.

James Ortiz, right, used audience volunteers and a twisted paper figure to demonstrate how a team manipulates a life-sized puppet on stage.

The year marked the centennial of The Tin Woodman of Oz, so our friend Nick Chopper received extra attention. James Ortiz, for example, joined us to talk about his fascinating and critically acclaimed off-Broadway production of THE WOODSMAN. David Maxine presented what we know about Broadway’s first Tin Woodman, actor David Montgomery.  Eric Shanower walked his audience through different ways the character’s been illustrated.  Jack Haley’s grandson Barry Bregman shared family stories about the MGM star. And Dina Schiff Massachi’s talk brought us clear up to Todrick Hall’s Tin Man.

When my friend Keith Holman dropped by to show me literature for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences museum, I was able to introduce him to another friend, Chris Rickard, author of A Legend in Straw: The Spirit of My Uncle Ray Bolger.

That was just the Tin Woodman; there were roughly two dozen other presentations, too. Baum sites in Los Angeles, JOURNEY BACK TO OZ, Marriages in Oz, MGM special effects, Animated Oz, and Ray Bolger each had a spotlight. Authors shared new books about Matilda Joslyn Gage, Gay Fans of Oz, and newly published Oz fiction.  It was a glorious abundance.

Artist John Coulter showcased his fine art prints, but also shared his childhood hand puppets — proof of his life-long love for Oz.

There was much more than presentations, of course. The dealer’s room offered rare book specialists, collectibles and fine art.  Dramatics included the delightful Raymond Wohl’s one-man performance as L. Frank Baum, and a “readers’ theater” skit about Baum’s Tin Woodman of Oz. The costume contest, “It’s the Baum” game show, after-hours karaoke, and much, much conversation keep the adrenaline going all weekend.

Freddy Fogarty shared a rare Return to Oz handkerchief from Japan during show-and-tell.

If you’ve never attended an Oz convention, 2019 is the perfect time to change that!  The Club will host Oz: The National Convention outside New Orleans in June, and OzCon International will return to Pomona, California, in July. Conventions attract fans of all ages, and with all interests. There are always first-time attendees as well as those who make it an annual event. We’d love to have you join the fun!