The Cake Is a Li-Mon-Eag

I’m back from my fourth OzCon International, and the second to which I dragged Beth. She asked me why I wanted to her go when it’s not something she’s into, but I like having the company and sharing my passions. She doesn’t share all of my interests, but she gets the importance of having interests you really love. And she did like some of the panels. Anyway, we got in on Thursday afternoon, getting a ride from the airport with J.L. Bell. Once we’d checked in, we ran into Erica Olivera, who offered us a ride into town to see the MGM movie on the big screen at the Fox Theater. I knew they were showing it, but I figured I wouldn’t be able to make it there, so that worked out well.

There was a panel discussion before the film, and Kurt Raymond dressed as the Wicked Witch of the West and reenacted scenes while they were happening on screen. The official convention program began on Friday morning with an introduction. Then, after lunch, Dina Massachi did a presentation on how Glinda was portrayed in various media, and how many of them made her a more sinister figure.

While not mentioned in her talk, it reminded me of how Glinda is portrayed in Andrew Heller’s Good. A lot of the reinterpretation of the character came from MGM’s decision to combine two Good Witches into one, hence making Glinda both the one who tells Dorothy to go to the Wizard AND the one who finally helps her get home after the Wizard fails, suggesting that she purposely withheld information. While the book doesn’t have this issue, there’s still the question of whether Glinda was aware of Dorothy’s plight. We don’t actually know whether she has access to her Record Book at that point, but she’s definitely well-informed even without it. Next, we saw Erica talk about the influence of Theosophy on L. Frank Baum’s work, something I’ve looked at a little bit before.

I think the first time I recall seeing a note of Theosophical themes in Baum’s work (and, for that matter, the first time I heard of Theosophy) was his use of elementals as described by Paracelsus. This wasn’t included in Erica’s presentation (although elementals DID come up in a later panel we attended), although the idea of the mineral, vegetable, animal, and human kingdoms had a thematic similarity. I’m probably going to mention things that weren’t discussed for a few of these presentations, but that’s not intended as a criticism. It’s more of an acknowledgement that there’s almost always more ground to cover than is possible in the allotted time. The next panel we saw was on Baum’s best and worst non-Oz books.

While I believe I’ve read all of Baum’s fantasies, I never really delved into his pseudonymous works like Mary-Louise or the Boy Fortune Hunters. It’s probably worth doing so, if I can find copies. After that was a reception for Ozma’s birthday with a cake. There were no monkeys in it, but Kurt did cut it in costume as the Witch.

Next came dinner, and I have to say that’s always a little awkward for me, as are the after-parties. The thing is, even though there are a lot of people at these conventions I like and look forward to seeing, I still have a weird social awkwardness with straight-up asking to sit with people at meals, and initiating conversations. Don’t get me wrong and think I was purposely excluded, because I wasn’t at all. When I did sit with people, they were all very friendly, even when they weren’t people I knew well. It’s just my weird hang-ups. And if you engage me or mention a topic I’m interested in, I’ll gladly talk your ear off after that. It’s the initiation that terrifies me. And that’s also another reason I’m glad Beth came with me, because it meant I had someone to talk to even when I couldn’t screw up the courage to approach someone else.

Getting back to the main program, the evening session started with a talk by Eric Shanower about Fred Woodward and Hank the Mule.

Woodward was a pantomime animal actor, and played Hank the Mule in The Tik-Tok Man of Oz, as well a mules and other animals in Baum’s silent films. What’s interesting is that he also played Hank the Mule at clubs for years to come, even using that name which apparently Baum didn’t own. Not only that, but one of his wives played Hank as well, and continued performing as the character even after their divorce. John Bell examined the manuscript of The Magic of Oz, one of only three surviving Baum manuscripts.

Apparently Baum’s widow Maud burned the others, but gave someone the ones for the last three Oz books. I know at least the Magic one and perhaps the other two are available online, so I’ll have to check them out at some point. The Magic manuscript was written in pencil on scrap paper, and shows signs of being written pretty much straight through, with only occasional brief revisions. We don’t know that Baum always wrote that way, but it seems to have been common toward the end of his life. Finally, the night closed with Raymond Wohl doing his one-man show on Baum, which was quite energetic and engaging.

Saturday opened with the costume contest, and I keep telling myself I should get together a costume, but I never do. I have an idea for next time that should work, but we’ll see. This year’s costumes included Peter and Eleanor Kern as Li-mon-eags, Erica as a steampunk Dorothy, Lynn Beltz and Susan Hall as Trot and Cap’n Bill transformed into bumblebees, David Hall as Ruggedo, Susan Johnson as the Lonesome Duck, Shawn Maldonado as the Wizard of Oz, Colin Ayres as Billie Burke’s Glinda, and Ruth and Neil Cuadra in the Gump.

Ozroy Good and Sam Milazzo dressed as original characters, a Nome Prince and an ancient Emperor of Oz.

I noticed there wasn’t a sequence like the disenchantment of Prince Bobo and Tommy Kwikstep at previous conventions, although there was a theatrical bit with the Nome King being scared off by an egg, the Nome and egg played by Melissa Hollister and Matt Mackenhaupt respectively. I thought after the fact that it probably wouldn’t have been too difficult to get a unicorn costume and work out something to do with Loo’s transformation into a human in Magic.

A talk from Kiki and Dustin Ebsen, daughter and son of Buddy Ebsen, talked about their show in honor of their father. It’s pretty commonly known by now that Ebsen was originally going to play the Tin Woodman in the MGM film, but became too sick to do it after inhaling aluminum dust. You can still hear his voice in some of the ensemble songs. Then came the quizzes, which tend to be sparsely attended, but I always enjoy them. I got a perfect score on the Masters’ Quiz, which means I’ll be writing the one for next year. I’m cool with that, but not so much with finding a prize to go with it. Maybe other Oz fans can help me come up with ideas. I have almost a year to do it, but don’t want to put it off too long. After lunch, we attended a panel on Ray Bolger by Holly Van Leuven, who recently wrote a biography of him.

Then came what I casually referred to as the racism panel, but was officially called “Baum as a Man of His Times,” a discussion on Baum’s infamous editorials from his brief career running a newspaper that suggested the genocide of Native Americans might be a good idea.

Baum was rather progressive in some respects, but did use some ethnic caricatures in his work, although he mostly avoided them with Oz. There’s no evidence that he ever apologized for the Native American editorials, but they do seem a bit out of character. It’s the kind of thing where there’s really no easy answer. It’s a good thing that Baum fans are addressing it at all, though, rather than trying to pretend it didn’t happen, although it’s hardly something I’d tell someone right away when discussing Baum. J.L. Bell talked about Nomes and how a lot of what he wrote about them was contradictory or just unexplained, and included a few theories of his own.

The auction also took place on Saturday afternoon, and while I didn’t attend any of the live bidding, I did get two items in the silent auction, a copy of The Magical Monarch of Mo illustrated by Evelyn Copelman and some old Oz Club calendars, because it’s not 1982 now, but who knows what tomorrow will bring? No, seriously, I’m interested in the art.

The Saturday evening program began with Mike Chamberlin, a news anchor turned singer, who did a sing-along of some MGM movie songs and a few others. He also showed a video of the time he did a news segment with two of the then-surviving Munchkins from the movie, both of whom lived in Arizona at the time, but who didn’t get along. Then Aljean Harmetz interviewed Kurt in full costume, who switched between answering as himself and as the Witch.

A karaoke session followed, but presumably because the program ran long, it was cut short. I had signed up to sing “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” but I never got the chance. What’s weird is that, the next day, someone complained about Nate Barlow’s rather raucous rendition of “Welcome to the Jungle,” saying it wasn’t family-friendly or something. It seemed a little weird, especially considering how old that song is now. Is anyone there, like, offended by eighties metal? It seems more like something you’d come across at some conservative Christian gathering. I think someone did mention Barlow knocking something onto the computer, which is obviously not good, but I wouldn’t blame the song for that. I was also annoyed that, both this year and last year, there was no list of what songs were available to sing. I like some relatively obscure stuff, you know? They probably didn’t have They Might Be Giants’ “Welcome to the Jungle,” for instance. But more to the point, I wouldn’t have minded doing something from one of Baum’s stage musicals, or perhaps XTC’s “Merely a Man,” as we’re all Jesus, Buddha, and the Wizard of Oz.

Sunday began with a panel on the Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz cartoon series. We got in late, as did some other people, because we didn’t know about the schedule change. We did get to watch most of an episode featuring Ojo, who was pretty much nothing like he is in the books, aside from the fact that he’s known as Ojo the Unlucky but eventually changes his perspective and goes by Ojo the Lucky. Since the show is produced by Warner Bros., it can and does include a lot of MGM content. At the same time, though, it also has a Dorothy who’s younger than Judy Garland was and lives with Ozma as her best friend, and a lot of references to the Baum books (and even one to Ruth Plumly Thompson). We don’t get Boomerang, so I can’t watch the series without paying for it, but I might just end up doing that. I’ve heard the show is better while high, but I doubt I’ll test that for myself. Next, we saw the pilot for another cartoon series, Lost in Oz, which has a descendant of the original Dorothy visiting a more modern Oz.

I’ve seen some trite versions of that basic theme, but it seems from the pilot that they’re taking a good direction with this, including some references to the books and original concepts that fit with Baum’s style of humor. I was on a panel after that, along with John Bell, Erica, and Dee Masters, discussing animals in Oz and whether they were separate from human society. It went off on a lot of tangents, and there were some things I wanted to bring up but couldn’t. It’s a topic I’ve looked at before, and it seems like Baum never totally worked out how a land with talking animals and hardly any death would address civil rights, although he did raise related issues at times. It’s the kind of thing that I think bothers adult fans more than children. The last panel had Sam Milazzo talking about how various adaptations incorporated elements from MGM without making them close enough to invite lawsuits.

Then there was a group meeting on how things could be improved for future conventions. My answer is pretty much always that they should have games.

The themes of the next OzCon include the centenary of Glinda of Oz, as well as the Oz authors in general. With this in mind, I think some topics that could be addressed are science fiction elements in Oz and how the authors differed in their basic conceptions of the fairyland. I’m not sure what they’ll do for themes after that. I’d be cool with continuing with the centennials of the Thompson books, but I don’t know that anyone else wants to go that way, and her first Oz book was not one of her best. I think Kabumpo was one of the themes of the 2012 OzCon anyway. I have the idea I’d like to get more involved with the convention, but I’m not sure what I can actually do. I’m also considering going to the Oz Club’s National Convention in East Aurora, New York, which is near Buffalo. That’s the other side of the state, but that’s still easier than the other side of the country.

After the convention ended, we had a while before our flight back to New York, and part of it we spent in meeting with Stephanie, a friend of ours from Brooklyn who moved to Los Angeles. She brought her dog, Chelsea, along with her. We got back to New York in the morning, and took naps. Tomorrow (actually today, at this point), it’s back to the grind.

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11 Responses to The Cake Is a Li-Mon-Eag

  1. Jay Davis says:

    I can understand about the spilled cup during the karaoke upsetting people, but I thought Nate killed “Welcome to the Jungle,” and while it might not be the type of song people might want their kids to hear, I don’t think it contains any objectionable lyrics. And frankly, I wanted us to have karaoke so people could cut loose and have fun. I was a little disappointed with how this one went and yes, think it would’ve been great to have you sing “Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road.”

    • Nathan says:

      Yeah, I thought he did a great job with it. I didn’t notice the spilled cup, but that seems more like a placement issue than a song choice issue. And were there even any kids around at that point?

  2. J. L. Bell says:

    If there were objections to “Welcome to the Jungle,” it’s a good thing I didn’t sing the only tune my throat might have been capable of: “Sunday Morning Coming Down.”

  3. Anthony Will says:

    That edition of Magical Monarch of Mo is on my long time wish list!!

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