The Fairylogue and Radio Plays

03 Jul

In 1908, 31 years before the movie The Wizard Of Oz, when the Oz books were fresh and the Harry Potter of their day, an astonishing multimedia show involving live actors, film and hand tilted magic lantern slides toured the country playing to sold out audiences.

L. Frank Baum, the author of the Oz books would appear on stage at a lectern to deliver a lecture about the Land of Oz, a fantastical place he was in contact with through the wire. Certain characters would send him updates about events there, which made up the books and stories of Oz.

While Baum spoke, slides and film would be presented. One such slide (out of 114 used in the show) is this original map of Oz, later used in one of the books (Tik Tok Of Oz):

As he would continue characters would appear on screen and he would enter the film and take them off the screen and onto the stage. An ongoing story ensued, some told solely through film and some on stage with Baum going back and forth between the two, recapping the events of the first 3 Oz books,  “The Land of Oz,” “Ozma of Oz,” and “John Dough and the Cherub,” as well as the upcoming as yet unreleased book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”.

The films were produced by the Selig Polyscope Company in Chicago then were hand-colored in Paris by Duval Freres, using a technique developed by a Michel Radio, hence the Radio in the title. No such man has ever been found and Radio may also be a word used to denote modern technology, like “cyber” would be used today. (A cyber play. See, it works.)


Travelogue was a popular documentary film genre of the time so calling it a Fairylogue is also a clever play on words.

Composer Nathaniel D. Mann wrote a full score of 27 cues which was performed by a live orchestra. Since much of the score plays alongside the silent movie clips it is considered the earliest film score ever documented.

In all, it was an amazing production. Alas…

It was financed by Baum himself, it played to packed houses and great reviews, it was astonishingly inventive and multi-media before the word even existed, but it was so expensive to create and tour, that even packed theater houses couldn’t bring in enough money to cover the costs. (a century before Spider Man: Turn Off The Dark!) It folded after a couple of months.

A silent film based on some of the original film scenes from “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was made to cover Baum’s contractual obligations arising from his bankruptcy. The actual film used in the show has long since been lost. Due to the financial disaster of this show, Baum ending selling the rights to the first several books, and despite promising to write no more Oz books, ended up writing them until his death in 1919, the last one being published a year after in 1920. His fans adored them, however and his work continues to thrive as the Broadway musical Wicked breathes new life into his world and keeps it current.

Here is a clip from the 1910 movie based on some of the film from the show and also a 1902 stage musical:



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Posted by on July 3, 2011 in Uncategorized


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