Early Wizard of Oz Films

Early Wizard of Oz Films

In 1908, Baum began touring with his “Fairylogue and Radio Plays,” which mixed short filmstrips based on The Wizard of Oz, The Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz with slide shows and his own narration. The special effects in the films were state of the art for the time, but Baum had paid for expensive hand-painted filmstrips that put the show in the red. He had to pay back Selig Polyscope, which had provided the film stock, with the right to adapt the books for the silent screen.

Oz on the Big Screen

In 1910, Selig released the first Oz movies, three one-reel films in which Dorothy visits Oz, helps the Wizard defeat an evil witch, then has further adventures. While Wizard of Oz is available on DVD, Land of Oz, and Dorothy and the Scarecrow in Oz are both lost.

Baum Goes to Hollywood

In 1914, Baum founded Oz Film Manufacturing to adapt his books for the movies, starting with The Patchwork Girl of Oz, his seventh Oz book. The movie followed the plot, in which a patchwork doll helps a young boy free his grandfather from a magic spell, but added romance and some gratuitous special effects.

The end results weren’t bad, but the audience was mostly kids, playing matinee prices, so the film made little money.

Baum then adapted Wizard into His Majesty the Scarecrow of Oz (1914), but couldn’t find a distributor until 1915. By then, Oz Film had become Dramatic Films, adapting some of Baum’s adult works, such as the novel The Last Egyptian and making fantasy shorts.

None of that helped. Dramatic Films folded without ever releasing its third film, The Magic Cloak of Oz, based on Baum’s non-Oz fantasy, Queen Zixi of Ix, about a sorceress seeking a magic wishing cloak.

Chadwich Pictures Buys Wizard of Oz

In 1925, Baum’s son Frank sold the film rights to Wizard of Oz to Chadwick Pictures, which turned it over to slapstick comic Larry Semon, one of its contract players. In the film, Dorothy, played by Semon’s wife, is the rightful ruler of Oz, hidden in Kansas until she’s old enough to inherit the throne. This film foreshadows the Garland classic in having everything turn out to be a dream and by spending a lot of time in Kansas at the start of the movie. Otherwise, it’s unremarkable except for the presence of Oliver Hardy before he became half of Laurel and Hardy.