I Don’t Think We’re in New Hampshire Anymore!”

The Wiz­ard of Oz!


Yes, again!

As every pas­sion­ate read­er knows, THE REVELATOR has main­tained a long-stand­ing rela­tion­ship with L. Frank Baum and his immor­tal cre­ations. It was THE REVELATOR that first coined the phras­es, a time­less clas­sic and for chil­dren and for adults who are still chil­dren at heart, using both in its 1900 review of The Won­der­ful Wiz­ard of Oz. It was THE REVELATOR that includ­ed free green gog­gles in its issue just pri­or to the 1902 stage adap­ta­tion of The Wiz­ard of Oz. And it was THE REVELATOR that pub­lished Oz com­ic strips for over a decade, com­ic strips that would go on to have a last­ing influ­ence on this graph­ic art form.

It doesn’t end there, of course. Judy Gar­land earned the enmi­ty of direc­tor Richard Thor­pe when film­ing the 1939 movie ver­sion of The Wiz­ard of Oz by refus­ing to act one morn­ing, her excuse, “But I haven’t fin­ished read­ing THE REVELATOR,” becom­ing some­thing of a catch­phrase among teens. The exclu­sive inter­views that THE REVELATOR then pub­lished with Gar­land cement­ed the jeal­ousy of oth­er less­er pub­li­ca­tions, phys­i­cal­ly man­i­fest­ed in the smoke-bomb inci­dent of August 17, 1939 and the Octo­ber 12 Munchkin bar­ri­cade of the same year.

But why now? How do we explain the pro­lif­er­a­tion of Oz motifs in this spe­cif­ic edi­tion of THE REVELATOR?

For that we need take just a sin­gle step back­ward in time, to vol­ume 138 of THE REVELATOR. Here, in a sto­ry by the award-win­ning Richard Bowes, we chance upon this seem­ing­ly throw­away line:

But hon­ey, amidst the mis­ery and despair. God had sent you a sign,” says Georgie, “The Wiz­ard of Oz!”

A sign indeed!

We can only con­clude that Georgie’s pro­nounce­ment lodged in the col­lec­tive sub­con­scious of our read­ers, bur­bling to the fore in con­tri­bu­tions for this issue, appear­ing in ways both large and small, obvi­ous and mys­te­ri­ous.

Hard­ly sur­pris­ing, real­ly. Indeed, Dorothy, Toto, and her boon com­pan­ions of the road and city have assumed such promi­nence in cul­ture that every­one has some mem­o­ry of Oz. Even the remark­ably resilient edi­tors of THE REVELATOR

* * *

Edi­tor Eric Schaller shares this expe­ri­ence with The Wiz­ard of Oz:

My wife and I have an eight-year-old cairn ter­ri­er. He’s whiskered, walks with a prance, chas­es leaves, and twirls in excite­ment before every meal, every day. On sum­mer after­noons, he joins me on the porch, where we lis­ten to music and share parme­san Gold­fish Crack­ers. He can bring a smile to my face on even the dourest of days.

And not just me.

Kids, both girls and boys, have pulled away from the pro­tec­tive grasp of their par­ents and come run­ning when I walk the dog. They fall to their knees. “Toto!” they exclaim and throw their arms wide. In that instant a world first visu­al­ized on cel­lu­loid 75 years ago, a com­mu­nal part of child­hood that has now spanned gen­er­a­tions, sud­den­ly becomes con­gru­ent with ours. In that moment, because all cairn ter­ri­ers are Toto in the eyes of a child, we are in Oz!

* * *

The mem­o­ries of edi­tor Matthew Cheney are a bit more nuanced:

It was my first year out of col­lege, the first year of my first real job: work­ing as an Eng­lish and the­atre teacher at an undis­tin­guished board­ing school in the mid­dle of New Hamp­shire. I got the job because I’d gone to the school myself and I was a cheap hire. For $17,000/year, the school got some­one who would teach four class­es, direct two plays, and do dorm duty in one of the old­est build­ings in town, a four-storey box of brick that hadn’t been ren­o­vat­ed since Ted­dy Roo­sevelt was Pres­i­dent.

After sur­viv­ing two-thirds of the school year — a year in which total sleep depri­va­tion was a way of life, in which I felt end­less­ly incom­pe­tent at even the most basic tasks of teacher­ing, in which stu­dents were both mar­velous and astound­ing­ly awful (“What we want to know,” I remem­ber some­one say­ing at a judi­cial com­mit­tee hear­ing for one of my dorm stu­dents, “is if you were or were not using hero­in after light’s out.”) — after sur­viv­ing the ten-foot drifts of snow, the ice storms, the whips and scorns of win­ter — after all this, things were get­ting eas­i­er. I’d begun to fig­ure out how to man­age my class­es. I’d found places to escape off-cam­pus so that I could get some­thing like a full night’s sleep. And the only the­atre com­mit­ment I had was help­ing as a back­stage super­vi­sor for the school’s musi­cal, The Wiz­ard of Oz.

I had plen­ty of expe­ri­ence as an actor, direc­tor, and writer for the stage. I had very lit­tle expe­ri­ence as a crew mem­ber. I knew what tech­ni­cians were sup­posed to do, but I had no tal­ent for tech. Orga­niz­ing a crew — nev­er mind high school stu­dents — to pull off the pyrotech­nics of a big pro­duc­tion was well beyond my expe­ri­ence. “You’ll be great,” the Direc­tor told me, after I expressed some skep­ti­cism. “You know what needs to be done. Any­way, I’ll be there if you need me.”

The Direc­tor loved The Wiz­ard of Oz. He’d been in pro­duc­tions of it him­self. He’d mem­o­rized the movie and found it to be unfath­omably beau­ti­ful, uplift­ing, cap­ti­vat­ing (among het­ero­sex­u­al men, his pas­sion for Judy Gar­land is like­ly unique). I, on the oth­er hand, hadn’t seen the movie since I was a lit­tle kid, had nev­er seen a the­atri­cal pro­duc­tion of the sto­ry, and had nev­er read any of the books. I had no per­son­al con­nec­tion to the sto­ry (and despite not being much of a het­ero­sex­u­al, I thought Judy Gar­land was kind of annoy­ing). But hey, I thought, he just want­ed me to over­see some things back­stage and make sure the stu­dents didn’t kill each oth­er with jig­saws and nail guns. How bad could it be?

I’m tempt­ed to stop here, because dredg­ing up these mem­o­ries is caus­ing me to grit my teeth, to trem­ble, to feel my break­fast work its way up out of my stom­ach… But I will sol­dier on. The sto­ry must be told.

At the first rehearsal, I dis­cov­ered that the Direc­tor didn’t just want me to super­vise back­stage occa­sion­al­ly. He want­ed me to be the stage man­ag­er for the entire pro­duc­tion.

Stage man­agers — good ones, at least — are remark­able peo­ple. If a pro­duc­tion some­how suc­ceeds and doesn’t fall apart in front of an audi­ence, the stage man­ag­er is like­ly as respon­si­ble for that suc­cess as any oth­er per­son. Stage man­agers know every detail of the pro­duc­tion, they attend rehearsals and tech meet­ings, they run the show when the direc­tor isn’t around. It can be the most impor­tant, and most all-con­sum­ing, posi­tion on a pro­duc­tion.

I am not now nor have I ever been a stage man­ag­er. I know my lim­its.

But once rehearsals began, and once I real­ized I had a job that was very dif­fer­ent from the job I’d agreed to do, what options were there? I could quit, and feel self-hatred and guilt, or I could give it my best shot and hope for the best. Being young and ide­al­is­tic, that’s what I did.

How bad could it be?

I remem­ber sit­ting in my tiny apart­ment with the Direc­tor by my side as I sobbed uncon­trol­lably. I don’t remem­ber how far into rehearsals we were by that point. Prob­a­bly pret­ty far. Per­haps even to dress rehearsals. I don’t know what had final­ly caused me to break down. Some stu­dents hadn’t done what they were sup­posed to, and the Direc­tor yelled at me about it in front of the entire cast and crew. I think I might have thrown my head­set to the floor and walked out of the the­atre. It’s pos­si­ble. It’s like­ly. I was a fac­ul­ty mem­ber, one who had strug­gled through the entire year to devel­op some sort of author­i­ty, and he treat­ed me like a dis­obe­di­ent pet. Or some­thing. I don’t remem­ber and I don’t want to remem­ber. I just remem­ber say­ing to the Direc­tor in my apart­ment, in between sobs: “I’m not a stage man­ag­er! I’ve nev­er been a stage man­ag­er! I don’t want to be a stage man­ag­er! I hate this and I’m no good at it and you treat me like a child!”

Does any of this have any­thing to do with The Wiz­ard of Oz? Prob­a­bly not. What­ev­er show we would have done would have been the same. But the 65 lit­tle chil­dren prob­a­bly had some­thing to do with the ten­sion.

One of the rea­sons the Direc­tor want­ed to do The Wiz­ard of Oz was so he could cast lots of local chil­dren as the munchkins. Their fam­i­ly mem­bers would of course want to buy tick­ets to the show and t-shirts and posters and all the oth­er things par­ents who are excit­ed to have their chil­dren in plays like to buy. The Direc­tor can­ni­ly saw this as a way to raise mon­ey for the the­atre depart­ment, where mon­ey was always scarce.

Thus, any local child who want­ed to be a munchkin got to be a munchkin. 65 or so of them.

Have you ever tried to wran­gle 65 chil­dren through rehearsals and pro­duc­tion of a large musi­cal? I had not. In fact, I had avoid­ed chil­dren for most of my life. I didn’t even like chil­dren when I was a child.

But now my job was to help 65 chil­dren dressed as munchkins to get on and off the stage at the right time.

I have no mem­o­ry of any of it. I have repressed it all. This is per­haps for the best. I do not remem­ber caus­ing any child to lose an arm or leg, or caus­ing set pieces to fall on the chil­dren, or, in a moment of pique, throw­ing juice box­es at them. I do not remem­ber it. It did not hap­pen. Or maybe it did. How should I know?

What I know is that, some­how, the show went on.

I do remem­ber at some point, prob­a­bly about halfway through rehearsals, find­ing the songs infest­ing my dreams. I didn’t like the songs. I thought they were insipid but I could not get them out of my head. I would find myself hum­ming them dur­ing lunch or in between class­es. How could I not? We were rehears­ing for three and four hours every night. Some­times we would rehearse the same song for those three or four hours. Every note of the music, every lyric, every line of dia­logue lodged itself in my sub­con­scious mind.

I remem­ber the deaf­en­ing din of chil­dren scream­ing, cry­ing, talk­ing, run­ning, jump­ing, scream­ing, pulling, touch­ing, mov­ing, scream­ing and scream­ing and scream­ing…

I remem­ber paint­ing the set and the Direc­tor yelling about wrong col­ors in wrong places…

I remem­ber lights not turn­ing on at the right time…

I remem­ber being made to feel like an idiot because I didn’t know how flash­pa­per works for spe­cial effects…

I remem­ber stu­dents quit­ting…

I remem­ber stu­dents smok­ing in the bath­room beneath the the­atre…

I remem­ber stu­dents try­ing to have sex in the bath­room beneath the the­atre…

I remem­ber stu­dents try­ing to use the bath­room beneath the the­atre and dis­cov­er­ing its pipes led back into the bath­room and not to a sep­tic tank…

I remem­ber actors not know­ing their lines dur­ing dress rehearsal…

I remem­ber musi­cians not know­ing their music dur­ing dress rehearsal…

I remem­ber think­ing it was all my fault…

I remem­ber some­one trail­ing yel­low paint across the stage because they didn’t real­ize that the Yel­low Brick Road was still wet…

I remem­ber the lit­tle dog that was Toto tak­ing a large shit on the stage…

I remem­ber think­ing it was all my fault.

I hat­ed the play, I hat­ed the music, I hat­ed life, I hat­ed every­thing. I remem­ber think­ing after­ward: I will nev­er go back to Oz. I hope it crum­bles to the ground. I do not want to be the Stage Man­ag­er of Oz, I want to be the Ter­ror­ist of Oz. Let it burn!

But that was all a long time ago. The munchkin kids are now all in their 20s, maybe even ear­ly 30s. The stu­dents have gone on to have lives, jobs, chil­dren, divorces. The dorm I lived in was demol­ished and rebuilt as a beau­ti­ful, mod­ern build­ing. The school is now wealthy and no longer undis­tin­guished. There are some mer­cies.

And yet…and yet…I am look­ing out the win­dow at the clouds. They’re omi­nous. And that sound? It’s a siren. Don’t you hear? A tor­na­do siren. The wind! Don’t you hear the wind! My home at Rev­e­la­tor Man­sion East has begun to pitch, to turn. Every­thing is in motion. Books are fly­ing. Cats scream­ing.

And just like that






Land of Oz.