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15 facts about L. Frank Baum (author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz)

October 30, 2012

Maybe you know this, and maybe you don’t. Here are 15 items concerning the life and times of L. Frank Baum, the American author who achieved immortality with a novel called The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

1. Born in 1856, Baum was the seventh of nine children, only five of whom survived to adulthood.

2. The “L” stands for Lyman, after an uncle on his father’s side.

3. At the age of 20, a decade before his first book would be published, Baum became a breeder of fancy poultry, specializing in a line called the Hamburg.

4. As a young man, Baum supplemented his income by selling fireworks.

5. Baum performed as a stage actor, using the names Louis F. Baum and George Brooks.

6. As the result of his love of the theatre, Baum was a financial backer of elaborate musicals, most of much lost money.

7. Originally from New York State, Baum’s depiction of Kansas in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz stems from his years in drought-stricken South Dakota.

8. Baum’s literary inspiration came from the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen.

9. Published in 1900, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was followed by no fewer than 17 sequels, the last three of which Baum published posthumously.

10. The MGM film adaptation (1939) eliminated the novel’s feminist themes and added the it-was-all-a-dream ending.

11. As well as using his own name, the prolific Baum wrote fiction under various pseudonyms, including: Edith Van Dyne, Fred Akers, Schuyler Staunton, John Estes Cooke, Suzanne Metcalf, Laura Bancroft, and Capt. Hugh Fitzgerald.

12. Along with his fiction, Baum published books of non-fiction that ranged from a comprehensive stamp-collecting guide to decorating tips for retail-store window displays.

13. Baum was an enthusiastic supporter of women’s suffrage.

14. In the late 19th century, following the Ghost Dance movement and the Wounded Knee Massacre, the Aberdeen (South Dakota) Saturday Pioneer carried two controversial editorials in which Baum argued that the “extermination” of Native Americans was necessary to ensure the safety of white settlers. They were isolated incidents, but they have left an indelible mark on Baum’s reputation. In 2006, two of his descendants publicly apologized to the Sioux nation for any pain the editorials may have caused.

15. Baum was asked frequently whether his fiction contained hidden political messages. Invariably, his response was that he wrote to entertain children and generate an income to support his own family.

The Wizard of Oz runs from November 15 – December 30, 2012. Visit the Globe Theatre website for more details, cast information, and to purchase tickets.

Nick Miliokas is a freelance writer and editor based in Regina. You can reach him by email at rozenstern@rocketmail.com.

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