Friday, February 25, 2011

The Wizard of Oz Comes to Providence

About two years after Lovecraft died, Technicolor came to the movies. Both Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz exploded across the giant screen. He never got to see them. Growing up with silent movies, he might have simply yawned, crotchety at "them" ruining the movies with sound and color. Then again, he may have oohed and ahead like we do when we first got to see high def.

However, when he was but a wee lad of ten, a new book hit the stores called The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by a chap named Lymon Frank Baum. Between 1900 and 1903, the book soared to success, and a play was almost immediately discussed. Not just any play, but an "extravaganza". You see even in those days competition for viewers dollars was keen.

Two comedians - no not Bert Lahr - were obtained and they were the core of the humor. After debuting in Chicago, it moved to New York to WOW crowds, and then two companies split to tour the country. The original cast hit Boston and Providence.

They played four shows at the stalwart Providence Opera House. The book, Oz, Before the Rainbow (Mark Evan Swartz, 2002, John Hopkins Press), discusses the creation and production in great detail. Here, Chrispy has made it personal to Lovecraft.

However, I have not come across any evidence that HPL saw this show. He would have been 13 years old at the time, and his family still wealthy. Did he? I just don't know. If he did, or if any of the family did, or if any of his friends did, there seems not to be any impact. Perhaps because rumors had already gotten out that there were adult themes in the show (it was slightly Vaudevillian with a mildly risque song included sung by Lotta Fauste) HPL was not allowed?

To most of us of a certain age, the 1939 movie splashed across TV screens in the 1960's, 70's, 80's and more. In those days, the 1939 cast were all alive - just very, very old. (I still recall Bert Lahr doing Lays potato chip commercials.) Now, on Blu-Ray we can see more of Oz than the folks who watched it on the screen at the debut. The impact that the movie made on us, is exactly the impression that the extravaganza play made on the elite of America for the two generations BEFORE the movie.

However, it does not seem that The Beast in the Cave (HPL, 1904) was a cowardly lion.

PS, the Providence newspaper illo is precisely that of the cover photo for Oz, Before the Rainbow. It shows the scarecrow being oiled by the tin woodman, and it is dated to 1902.

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