L. Frank Baum (1856-1919) children's author, playwright and journalist wrote the American classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. (1900). He also wrote under numerous pseudonyms including Edith Van Dyne (Aunt Jane's Nieces and Mary Louise series), Floyd Akers, Capt. Hugh Fitzgerald, John Estes Cooke, Laura Bancroft, Schuyler Staunton, and Suzanne Metcalf.
Lyman Frank Baum was born 15 May, 1856 in Chittenango, New York. His father was Benjamin Ward Baum, who would make a fortune in Pennsylvania Oil, and his mother Cynthia Stanton. Frank, as he preferred to be called, was born with a weak heart so wasn't a boisterous child, but timid and shy. He was home schooled and having few playmates, he also spent hours reading in his father's library. He developed an aversion to the usual scary creatures and violence of folklore and popular children's fairytales of the time and would end up creating his own adaptations of them in order to give other children, later including his own, delight in stories rather than grim and frightful moral lessons. Baum's childhood and home life with nine siblings was happy and no doubt set the tone for his future Oz series.
In 1869 Baum entered the Peekskill Military School but the atmosphere of harsh discipline and strenuous activity was too much for him physically and he was removed. The experience left him with distaste for academics and the military though his creativity was undaunted and he turned to creative writing. After his father bought him a printing press, with his younger brother Harry, he started his own newspaper, the Rose Lawn Home Journal, named after the family estate. Baum started to write the articles, editorials, fiction and poetry that would fill its pages. He would also write about the raising and breeding of chickens in The Book of Hamburgs. (1896)
At the age of twenty-five, Baum started studying theatre in New York City. From 1881 to 1882 he managed an opera house in Richburg, New York. He wrote the play The Maid of Arran in 1882 which he acted in. On 9 November, 1882 he married Maud Gage with whom he would have four children. Baum became a theosophist, his beliefs often reflected in his writings. He left theatre life in 1883 to go into private business though it floundered for a few years and in 1888 he decided to move the family to Aberdeen, South Dakota. He opened a department store there which failed. He edited the newspaper, Saturday Pioneer, though it failed too. In 1891 the Baums moved to Chicago. After more failed attempts to establish himself financially, Baum, encouraged by his mother-in-law, started to write down the nursery rhymes he had improvised and told to his sons over the years. Mother Goose in Prose was published in 1897. It met rave reviews and in 1899 he collaborated with Chicago cartoonist and poster designer W. W. Denslow on yet another success, Father Goose: His Book. It would be the best-selling book for that year with an estimated 175,000 copies sold.
1900 was the year that the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published to instant success, another collaboration between Baum and Denslow. A copy sold for $1.50. It would be adapted as a musical for a long run on Broadway in 1903 to great critical acclaim. Encouraged by positive reviews, this was now the time Baum would turn his full attentions to writing. Under various pseudonyms he would also write many children's stories, songbooks and plays such as Mary Louise. (1916) The next book in the Oz series, The Land of Oz, (1904) was Baum's response to the demand for more and also to supplement his dwindling finances due to the high theatre production costs of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Ozma of Oz, (1907) Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz (1908), and The Road to Oz (1909) followed. America now had its own home-spun fairy tale which combined elements of traditional magic, a witch, and make-believe fantasy of a talking scarecrow and tin man. Dorothy and her dog exemplify the girl next door and the cyclone sweeping them away from home and the ensuing journey back appeals universally. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has been translated into many different languages all over the world. The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus was published in 1902 and The Enchanted Island of Yew in 1903.
The Baum family moved to Hollywood, California in 1910 whereupon the release and success of The Emerald City of Oz (1910) overshadowed The Sea Fairies (1911) and Sky Island. (1912) Baum had to declare bankruptcy in 1911. Thereafter he referred to himself as "Royal Historian of Oz" and commenced writing one Oz book per year including; The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1913), Tik-Tok of Oz (1914), The Scarecrow of Oz (1915), Rinkitink in Oz (1916), The Lost Princess of Oz (1917), The Tin Woodman of Oz (1918), The Magic of Oz (1919), and Glinda of Oz, his last book published posthumously. Baum started the Oz Film Manufacturing Company which experimented with film effects and he would write many and direct two but the company folded a year later. He started acting again with an amateur group called The Uplifters.
Three years later after failing health Baum would became bedridden, still suffering from a frail heart. L. Frank Baum died of a stroke on 6 May, 1919 and is buried in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, in Glendale, California. An obituary was printed in the New York Times 8 May, 1919 edition.
L. Frank Baum's papers and manuscripts are housed at Columbia University. To Please a Child: A Biography of L. Frank Baum, Royal Historian of Oz (1961) is written by Baum's son Frank J. Baum and Russell P. MacFall. The Baum Bugle is a journal founded by the International Wizard of Oz Club in 1957. The 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is the best-known version of the Wizard of Oz though there were many others made.
From an inscription in a book that Baum had given his sister he notes: "I have learned to regard fame as a will-o-the-wisp, which when caught, is not worth the possession; but to please a child is a sweet and lovely thing that warms one's heart and brings its own reward." from The Wizard of Oz and Who He Was (2012).
Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc 2005. All Rights Reserved.
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