Friday, February 16, 2024

Hanging Munchkins All Around

L. Frank Baum
I complain both privately (pretty often) and publicly (on occasion) about published books and articles that present fallacious information about L. Frank Baum and his Oz projects. The myths presented as fact about Baum and Oz seem never to end.

What is it about Oz and its creator that for more than six decades has prompted people to publish information purported to be truth about Oz and Baum, but which is just plain wrong? Books and articles about Oz and Baum—both in print and online—appear with alarming regularity, spreading their shoddy gospel of half-truths, mistakes, confusions, misleading statements, and outright lies cloaked in the guise of reliability.

Inaccuracies about Baum can sometimes be traced to his first major biography, To Please a Child, by Russell P. MacFall and Frank Joslyn Baum. That book overflows with fanciful stories of the elder Baum’s life, stories that demonstrably did not occur in the manner the book claims—or didn’t occur at all. Oz fandom has known for decades that info spouted by To Please a Child requires independent confirmation. Researchers, scholars, and writers who’ve been part of Oz fandom—or at least in contact with it—should know better than to rely on To Please a Child. Too often, it seems, they don’t.

But it’s not just To Please a Child. Blind spots from plenty of other shoddy research and inept presentations infect Oz fandom. They seem to be ineradicable. They’re regurgitated endlessly. I know. I’ve been in contact with Oz fandom since I was a child, imbibing the fallacies, the half-truths, the false narratives since before I had tools to recognize them for what they were. I’ve needed to work hard to remove blind spots from my own views of Oz and Baum. I may have more work to do.

Then there are those who publish about Oz and Baum from outside Oz fandom. One well-meaning and widely-published author of books about Abraham Lincoln, Hillary Clinton, and the Beatles, as well as one about L. Frank Baum, conscientiously gathered at least three supporting citations for each purportedly factual statement in her manuscripts. Should be a solid technique, right? Unfortunately, no. Not for L. Frank Baum. Since at least the mid-1950s, so much error about Baum has been published that finding three sources to support an erroneous statement is easy. When one writes about Baum, pitfalls loom in every direction. This writer fell in, but she was far from alone. She had plenty of company down at the bottom of the pit.

The books and articles keep coming. Error upon error, the misinformation marches on and is added to regularly by people who should know better.  The type of errors I’m thinking of trouble me more than Littlefield’s “Parable on Populism” and (despite this post’s title) the Hanging Munchkin—laughable, easily punctured, and comparatively recent trifles to bamboozle the ignorant. I’m complaining about both large, senseless distortions and flatly incorrect details that present themselves as reliable and authoritative information about an author’s life and the creation and continuation of his works.

It’s maddening. (And before anyone brings it up, yes, I recognize the inevitable, only-just-beginning nightmare of generative AI regurgitating this crap forever.)

I complain. But I’m not without sympathy. I’m a writer, too. I know firsthand the difficulty in writing accurately, truthfully, and clearly. Writing something worthwhile is hard work. But we must strive to make what we publish worthwhile.

While I wrote All Wound Up, the troubling specter haunting far too much Oz and Baum research hovered close. I hoped that All Wound Up would not turn out to nourish that specter.

Any large non-fiction project on a historical subject presents challenges. Making sure every sentence is based on truth is a task of not inconsiderable magnitude. I didn’t want to perpetuate any fallacies—or create new ones—in All Wound Up. I wanted to eliminate inaccuracy—kill the lies at their roots—back up my statements with reliable sources. And if I couldn’t back a statement up, I qualified it.

But who can anticipate every possible problem when piecing together a puzzle of the past from which pieces are missing? I aimed for diligence. I tried to think critically.  I gathered a wide range of sources, primarily material of the times and places and people involved—letters, contracts, newspaper articles, photographs. During both the writing process and afterward, when I considered the manuscript finished and was designing the book, I discovered new sources with new information, and I adjusted what I’d already written. Several people with critical eyes—people both within Oz fandom and outside it—read the manuscript—or portions of it—and gave me feedback before publication. But I’m not infallible. No matter what, despite my striving to make All Wound Up worthwhile, it’s bound to have cracks.

Then there’s another nightmare—who knows what material unavailable to me while I wrote will come to light in the future and contradict All Wound Up?

The only way to avoid all mistakes is not to publish. But that’s no answer. That does no one any good.

So here’s my answer to any mistakes in All Wound Up: this weblog. Here I can correct those mistakes, clear up confusions, and address any downright stupidities (few, I hope) in the published book. The main reason the book includes the web address of this blog is so readers can easily access updates, corrections, and further information about The Tik-Tok Man of Oz.

So here’s a correction to All Wound Up.

In the summer of 1912, the composer Louis F. Gottschalk visited his hometown of Los Angeles, California. There he read L. Frank Baum’s stage script Ozma of Oz (which would be produced the next year as The Tik-Tok Man of Oz). Gottschalk liked the script and sent a letter to Baum. Gottschalk claimed that he sent his letter to Syracuse, New York, where Baum was visiting. And I repeated this information. Twice it appears in All Wound Up—on page 51 and again on page 325.

However, Baum wasn’t visiting Syracuse, the city where he’d grown up from childhood.

Baum had gone to Chicago, the city where he’d lived before moving to Los Angeles.

On July 15, 1912, L. Frank Baum and his wife, Maud, left Ozcot, their Hollywood home in Los Angeles for an extended visit to Chicago. Shortly before September 19, the Baums returned home. Local Hollywood newspaper articles make this clear.

Why did Gottschalk claim Baum visited Syracuse? Gottschalk told his story in June 1913, nearly a year after it happened, so perhaps Gottschalk didn’t remember the city correctly. Or maybe he sent his letter to Syracuse by mistake, though that seems less likely to me. Anyway, I relied on Gottschalk’s testimony and wrote that Baum was in Syracuse. I should have verified Gottschalk’s statement before All Wound Up was published.

So, I confess, I’ve published inaccuracies about Baum and Oz, just like all those other writers. But I’ve brought my mistake into the light for all to see and I’ve corrected it. This probably won’t be the last time. But while we’re waiting, any of you other writers want to take a turn?


“City Briefs,” Hollywood (CA) Citizen, 12 July 1912, 4; “City Briefs,” Hollywood Citizen, 19 July 1912, 4; “City Briefs,” Hollywood Citizen, 13 September 1912, 4; “Gottschalk to Write Opera Here,” Chicago (IL) Examiner, 8 June 1913, VII 6.

Copyright © 2024 Eric Shanower. All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Flora Wulschner, inadvertent lyricist for The Tik-Tok Man of Oz

As lyricist for the song "Forgotten," interpolated by Eugene Cowles as the Metal Monarch into The Tik-Tok Man of Oz, Flora Wulschner never knew she'd contributed to a part of Oz history. Here's her story:

Flora Sullivan Stewart Wulschner
Flora Sullivan Stewart Wulschner
(1848-1909) was born Flora Sullivan in Indianapolis, Indiana, daughter of William Sullivan, a justice of the peace, and Clarissa Tomlinson. She married twice, first to Colonel Robert Reed Stewart (1827-1873), who fought in the Mexican War and commanded the Eleventh Indiana cavalry regiment in the US Civil War. They had one son. Her second marriage was to musician Wilhelm Emil Wulschner (1847-1900), whom she'd met while she resided for a time in Germany. Together they established a successful music company in Indianapolis, selling pianos and other musical instruments. Upon Emil’s death, his stepson, Alexander McGregor Stewart, took over the company.

Rich, educated, and influential in Indianapolis society, Wulschner was well known for her activities in many women’s organizations, serving on the boards of the Children of the American Revolution, the Spanish Literary Club, the Woman’s Relief Corps, and the Citizens’ Committee for Women’s Patriotic Societies, among others. Through practice and practical application, she developed her talents for music and literature. She studied languages, including Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, Dutch, and German. Though Wulschner lived much of her life in Indianapolis, she had a passion for travel, journeying to such places as Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, the Netherlands, Puerto Rico, and Germany.

In 1892, Wulschner wrote a poem, which Frank Leslie's magazine published under the title of “Absent.” At Wulschner’s request, the poem was published anonymously. In 1894, Eugene Cowles ran across the poem and set it to music. As the song “Forgotten,” it became one of Cowles's standards. In 1903, Cowles performed in Indianapolis and became friendly with Wulschner. Learning that she had translated some French songs into English, Cowles suggested she write some songs herself. She mentioned that she had already written one—a favorite of Cowles—and revealed for the first time that she had written the lyrics of “Forgotten.”

By 1907, Wulschner’s health declined. She spent some time at a sanatorium in Atlantic City, New Jersey, until the physician there recommended she travel to Italy. She lived in Naples for nearly a year. In March 1909, she traveled to Rome on a charitable mission, planning to return home to Indianapolis later that spring. But at a hospital in Rome she died unexpectedly of pneumonia and bronchitis, attended by the president of the American Methodist College in Rome, Rev. E. B. Spencer. She left an estate estimated to be worth $300,000. Her body was returned to Indianapolis for burial.


“Personal and Society,” Indianapolis (IN) Journal, 27 January 1899, 3; “The Eleventh Indiana,” Indianapolis Journal, 16 May 1902, 3; “Indianapolis Woman who Wields a Gavel,” Indianapolis (IN) Morning Star, 27 December 1903, 6; “Porto [sic] Rican Paper’s Comments on Indianapolis Woman Visitor,” Indianapolis (IN) News, 25 March 1905, 26; “Mrs. Flora Wulschner Dies Far from Home,” Indianapolis News, 15 April 1909, 3; “Doubts of Death Slowly Give Way,” Indianapolis (IN) Star, 16 April 1909, 16; “Death News Confirmed,” Indianapolis Star, 17 April 1909, 7; “Answers from Readers,” New York (NY) Times, 15 December 1918, VII 10; “Lifelong Resident Dies,” Indianapolis News, 11 November 1932, 12; Max R. Hyman, editor, Hyman’s Handbook of Indianapolis (Indianapolis: M. R. Hyman, 1909), 222.

Copyright © 2024 Eric Shanower. All rights reserved.

Monday, December 11, 2023

Talkin' About Tik-Tok

Colin Ayres of The Oz Connection conducted a video interview with me recently about All Wound Up: The Making of The Tik-Tok Man of Oz. We talked about my extensive research for the book and the features that make the book unique, including the first publication of L. Frank Baum's complete 1913 script for The Tik-Tok Man of Oz.

The forty minute interview is free to watch on Youtube. Here's the link.

And if you haven't read the book yet, here's the link to order it from the publisher, Hungry Tiger Press. All copies ordered directly from the publisher come autographed by me.

Copyright © 2023 Eric Shanower. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Evelyn Des Roches: Chorus Girl Nostalgia

Click to enlarge.

In October 1937, these nine women gathered in Chicago, Illinois, for a reunion of Ziegfeld Follies alumnae. Each had appeared in at least one edition of producer Florenz Ziegfeld's celebrated revue at one time or another.

What does this have to do with The Tik-Tok Man of Oz? Well, the woman in the center--fifth from either side--is Evelyn Helen Des Roches Harris, who was in the Follies during the 1915 and 1916 theatrical seasons. As Evelyn Des Roches, she earlier appeared in the chorus of the original 1913 production of The Tik-Tok Man of Oz. You can compare a photograph of her on page 140 of All Wound Up: The Making of The Tik-Tok Man of Oz.

The other women are, from left to right: Annabelle Whitford Buchan, Frances Stewart Nolton, Marie Vernon Lotz, Ethel Calahan, (Evelyn Des Roches), Leona Porter Roberts, Naomi Dale Coe, Ray Price, and Betty York Herriott.

Copyright © 2023 Eric Shanower. All rights reserved.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Mrs. L. H. Coulter, Wardrobe Mistress

One of my aims for the book All Wound Up: The Making of The Tik-Tok Man of Oz was to flesh out the lives of the people connected with the original 1913-14 production. So I wrote capsule biographies for many of them, drawing my info from primary sources whenever I could. This proved relatively easy for the principal actors. Less easy to find information about were the members of the chorus. Backstage workers turned out to be even harder.

One figure I wished I'd learned more about was the wardrobe mistress of The Tik-Tok Man of Oz, Mrs. L. H. Coulter. My initial attempts at researching her produced virtually nothing. I couldn't even determine her full name. But since then, I've uncovered much of the tapestry of her life, while kicking myself for not finding it before publication. I knew while writing the book that this sort of thing would happen--new information would come to light after the book was out there for everyone to read. Fortunately, this weblog exists. I can present new findings here. So, this post presents the capsule biography of Mrs. Coulter that I wish the book contained.

Mrs. Lucia Hays "Mother" Coulter
Lucia "Lucy" Hays (1862-1936) was born the youngest child of a farming family in Stanford, Kentucky. In 1879, at sixteen years of age, she married dry goods clerk William D. Coulter in Delta County, Texas. The couple moved to Fannin County, Texas, where they had one son and three daughters. They divorced about 1890 and William died in 1903. As a single mother with four children, Coulter ran a boarding house in Denton, Texas. Aspiring to the stage, she sang in churches and at concerts in Dallas. Coulter joined Lottie Kendall’s Olympia Opera company and for eight years sang professionally, touring the country between Los Angeles and New Orleans, her children in tow. As Coulter waited backstage to go on in such roles as Katisha in The Mikado, the princess in The Chimes of Normandy, and Little Buttercup in H. M. S. Pinafore, she sewed children’s clothes. The company manager recognized her sewing talent and delegated her to making theatrical costumes. After leaving the Olympia company, she sewed costumes for Kolb and Dill’s San Francisco Opera company, traveling up and down the west coast of the USA for several years. She adopted the affectionate nickname “Mother” and was known professionally as “Mother” for the rest of her life. As her children married, Coulter settled in Los Angeles. Her job as wardrobe mistress for The Tik-Tok Man of Oz brought Coulter to the attention of Universal Studios. She joined the motion picture industry, where in 1918 as part of Universal’s wardrobe department, she helped to costume The Kaiser, the Beast of Berlin directed by Rupert Julian. She moved to Thomas Ince’s Triangle Studios and remained there for the next seventeen years. The studio developed into Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer where, beloved by movie stars and studio executives, she rose to head the women’s character wardrobe department. Coulter made resplendent gowns for the most popular movie actresses of the day, such as Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Marion Davies, and Norma Shearer. She made Lon Chaney’s gloves and scarves when he played an old woman in The Unholy Three. She outfitted Jackie Cooper for Treasure Island. She costumed movie versions of The Merry Widow twice, first with Mae Murray, later with Jeanette MacDonald. For the 1925 movie version of Ben Hur, she clothed 50,000 miniature figures. Other movies she costumed include The Big Parade, Operator 13, David Copperfield, and The Barretts of Wimpole Street. Reports credited her with more than 135,000 character costumes during her career. A heart attack struck her in late 1935. After seven months she returned to work at MGM, but minor heart attacks continued to trouble her. On October 20, 1936, news of movie producer Irving Thalberg’s death brought on another heart attack. Coulter never recovered and died several days later at her home of fifteen years in Venice, California.



“‘Tik-Tok’s’ Mother,” Inter Ocean (Chicago, IL), 27 July 1913; “Kaiser Exposed,” Windsor (MO) Review, 20 June 1918, 4; “There’s Romance in Job of Wardrobe Mistress, Too,” Daily News (New York, NY), 24 February 1929, 65; Dan Thomas, “Hollywood Day By Day,” Los Angeles (CA) Evening Post-Record, 22 September 1934, 8; Marion Nevin, “‘Mother’ Coulter Ill, Stars Ask After Her,” Evening Vanguard (Venice, CA), 3 December 1935, 1; Marion Nevin, “Popular Wardrobe Head Welcomed Back on Job,” Evening Vanguard (Venice, CA), 17 February 1936, 1; “Death Threatens Studio Veteran,” Los Angeles (CA) Times, 20 October 1936, II 2; Eleanor Barnes, “‘Mother,’” Illustrated Daily News (Los Angeles, CA), 21 October 1936, 18, 20; “Mrs. Coulter Dies Today of Heart Attack,” Evening Vanguard (Venice, CA), 24 October 1936, 1; “Mother Coulter of M.-G.-M. Dies After Heart Attack,” Los Angeles (CA) Times, 25 October 1936, II 2.

Copyright © 2023 Eric Shanower. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Playtime at the Piccadilly

Hank the Mule, the character L. Frank Baum created for The Tik-Tok Man of Oz, lived far beyond the run of the show. Fred Woodward (real name Frederick James Warrington, Jr.), the animal impersonator who played the role for the entire ten-month production of the 1913-14 musical, continued performing as Hank the Mule around the world for the next thirty-five years.

In 1926, Hank the Mule appeared on the entertainment bill of London, England's Piccadilly nightclub. Part of Hank's Piccadilly performance survives on film, and you can watch it here. Fred Woodward plays Hank the Mule. Woodward's fourth wife, Nina Marie Newman Walby Warrington, is his assistant.

The recording includes all the acts on the bill, not just Hank alone, so if you want to watch only Hank's portion, set the progress bar to 3:41, the beginning of Hank's act, and click the "play" button.

Without music and color, the recording can't completely recreate Hank the Mule's performance. But Woodward's act provides a taste of what The Tik-Tok Man of Oz looked like. Despite Woodward's obvious skill, I find it hard to comprehend how a man capering in an animal suit drew cheers and applause from audiences, but Woodward's glowing reviews as Hank the Mule and his decades-long career prove his enduring appeal.

Hank the Mule, played by Fred Woodward, watches himself with his stage partner and wife Nina.

Copyright © 2023 Eric Shanower. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Publication At Last!

I'm happy to be able to finally say that my three volumes on The Tik-Tok Man of Oz, the 1913 stage musical by L. Frank Baum and Louis F. Gottschalk, are published and available from Hungry Tiger Press.

First is All Wound Up: The Making of The Tik-Tok Man of Oz. This hefty softcover volume of 440 full-color pages contains the complete history of the show with a generous load of images and photographs. It also includes L. Frank Baum's complete 1913 script for The Tik-Tok Man of Oz, Baum's earlier complete scenario titled The Rainbow's Daughter, a full biography of composer Louis F. Gottschalk, an account of Hank the Mule's career across the world, and more. You can purchase the book by clicking here.

Next is The Tik-Tok Man of Oz Performance Script. This 114 page volume features the script I synthesized from Baum's surviving materials to create a version that can be performed today. The words are L. Frank Baum's in this two-act musical play for nine principal roles, three minor roles, and a chorus, in a running time of about 2 hours. You can purchase the script by clicking here

The third book is The Tik-Tok Man of Oz Piano-Vocal Score. Its 194 pages hold 26 core musical numbers by Gottschalk/Baum and Schertzinger/Morosco, originally written for the show. Also included are 2 optional numbers by Cowles/Wulschner and Waters/West, interpolated into the 1913 production. The music is arranged for piano. You can purchase the score by clicking here.

All three volumes are offered as a set with a $10 discount of the total price. Click here for the complete set.

Whether you want to act, sing, or just read about Tik-Tok the copper clockwork man of Oz, here's your chance.

Copyright © 2023 Eric Shanower. All rights reserved.