Friends of Dorothy
Friends of Dorothy
My friend Alison Lurie died Dec 3 at the age of 94. The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist divided her time between Key West and Ithaca, NY, where she had taught at Cornell. I first came across Alison’s name when I saw her 1974 review of The Annotated Wizard of Oz in the New York Review of Books, and I first met her in Bloomington, IN in 2000.
While her novels were her most well-known works, Alison also wrote about children’s literature. Her 1990 book Don’t Tell the Grown-ups: Subversive Children’s Literature has a fine chapter comparing T.H. White’s work with that of J.R.R. Tolkien.
Some of her writing on fairy tales informed my work on the appeal of The Wizard of Oz for gay men. In her introduction to The Oxford Book of Modern Fairy Tales (1993), she says
The fairy tale survives because it presents experience in vivid symbolic form. Sometimes we need to have the truth exaggerated and made more dramatic, even fantastic, in order to comprehend it. … The message will probably be different for each reader; that is one of the great achievements of the fairy tale—traditional or modern. [xi/xii]
And in Boys and Girls Forever: Children’s Classics from Cinderella to Harry Potter (Penguin, 2003), she says that fairy tales touch us in youth, and we carry them with us into adulthood.
Even today they are a central part of our imaginative world. We remember and refer to them all our lives; their themes and characters reappear in dreams, in songs, in films, in advertisements, and in casual speech. 
In 2000 the International Wizard of Oz Club pulled out all the stops to celebrate the centenary of the publication of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Their big bash went from Thurs July 20 to Sun July 23 at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN. On the Friday of the convention Alison talked about “Oz and the New Woman,” discussing Baum’s strong female characters and his relationship with his mother-in-law, feminist Matilda Joslyn Gage. This talk became “The Oddness of Oz,” an article for the New York Review of Books in Dec 2000.
The next morning, Saturday, I gave my presentation, “If We’re Not in Kansas Anymore, then Where Are We?: The Appeal of Oz for Gay Males.” At lunch Alison came up to me and gave me a souvenir Oz Centennial Cowardly Lion t-shirt, calling it a ’thank-you’ for a marvelous presentation. We sat down together and during the meal, and Alison told me I reminded her of Michael Berman, a friend of hers in Key West. “Michael Berman?” I exclaimed. “We went to high school together, got to be friends on the swim team, and both went to Brown for college! I have visited him in Key West and we are still very much in touch.” I don’t know exactly what it was that I shared with Michael in Alison’s mind, some kind of gay intellectual New York sensibility perhaps.
On the Sunday of the convention, an article about the celebration appeared on the front page of the New York Times! It turned out a cultural reporter from the paper had called Alison for an interview unrelated to Oz, and Alison suggested the reporter join her in Bloomington. The article included this:
''It's like a religion,'' said the author Alison Lurie, who was here to give a talk. ''It has its holy relics, its laity, its clergy,'' the Baum descendants and the heads of the Oz fan clubs.
After the convention Alison contacted me to ask how she should cite my work in her NY Review article. I appeared in a footnote! I chatted with Alison in person again when she gave another speech at on Oz Club convention in upstate New York in 2008. She had always been very supportive of my effort to turn my talk into a book, and when it finally came out, I sent her a copy. Her response:
I was delighted to receive a copy of your excellent book, which I've just finished reading with pleasure. I am really impressed by how good it is, and how very well researched. (And with a wonderful choice of illustrations, too.) … I hope FRIENDS OF DOROTHY will receive the attention and praise it deserves.
I asked if I could make this praise public. She said sure, so I put it on this website.
Over the years Alison and I corresponded about Oz, kids literature, fantasy, Oz, and her appearance in a NY Times acrostic. In 2001, she published Familiar Spirits, a memoir about the poet James Merrill and his partner David Jackson. I was fascinated to learn they had met in my area, when Alison’s husband at the time and Merrill both taught at Amherst College in the 50s. This year, when I doing research on my mother, Eve Merriam, I discovered my mother’s life and output overlapped with Merrill’s. This past August, when I told her Mom and Merrill both had poems in the Feb 1947 issue of Poetry Magazine. She responded the next day, saying that she had written poetry early in her career:
Amazing that you should find this. I knew about it because I knew Jimmy, and also I published my first (and in my case almost only*) poems in Poetry in 1947. I probably saw your mother's contribution there too--do you still have it?
I hope you are well and safe and happy. We are, mostly, though sometimes also bored, or even frightened as we contemplate the uncertain Future. Tompkins County has very few cases of virus and no deaths, but the students are starting to come back, so who knows?
*Soon after this I saw what Jimmy--and two other friends, Robert Creeley and Louis Simpson--could do with verse, and decided to concentrate on prose.
Alison always responded to my emails promptly and wittily, with warm words. On Nov 9, I wrote telling her I found out that in 1977 my mother and Merrill were both on the board of directors of Mystic Paper Beasts, a masked theater company in Connecticut. I see now this message wasn’t answered. :-(
ast May I heard from Katya Gibel Mevorach. She had been a classmate of mine in 4th, 5th, and 6th grades at PS 125 in Morningside Heights in Manhattan, where I knew her as Kathie. We had corresponded by email in 2014, when I was organizing a reunion of classmates to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our graduation in 6th grade, but we hadn’t seen each other since 1964! It turned out Katya had seen a presentation online that I had given about folklore in the gay community related to Judy Garland and The Wizard of Oz film. She asked me if I would be interested in being a guest speaker in the fall for the American Studies Concentration committee of Grinnell College.
The American Studies folks came up with a plan for my talk on Sunday Nov. 10. They screened the MGM film, which was followed by a buffet dinner and my talk, “Gay Boys, Gay Men and the MGM Wizard of Oz.” Grinnell was a particularly lucky choice for a venue; my boyfriend Richard’s sister Angela works in the college administration. So we stayed longer than the one night that is usually part of a speaking gig, and hung out with Angela and her partner John for a few days.
Students and staff at Grinnell’s Burling Library created two displays. One was of Oz- and gay culture-related materials from the library’s collection.
And the other was of items of mine highlighting the MGM/gay connection.
After my talk, the audience of students, faculty and friends participated in a lively discussion about identifying with different characters in the film, current and past gay icons, the origin of the expression “friend of Dorothy” and more. I also sold and inscribed a few books. Word games and fun meals with Angela and John rounded out the delightful long weekend.
Back in May, the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown, PA asked me to give a book talk. This was the first time I had a gig where I didn’t initiate contact! The Center was unusually accommodating: they paid one night’s stay in a hotel, and a lovely dinner for me and one friend after my talk. They also tried to get me other gigs in the area and arranged for coverage by a local paper, and my event showed up in the Washington Blade calendar. Special thanks to Executive Director Adrian Shanker and Liz Bradbury, Director of their Training Institute, both of whom are also authors.
My reading on Oct. 24 went really well; all 16 seats in the room were filled. Fascinating questions and comments went on for quite a while.
Let’s Play Books from nearby Emmaus sold copies of my book, which was really nice. I didn’t have to worry about Square and credit cards, and could simply sign and inscribe books for folks. The bookstore also donated a copy for the library at the Center.
I was delighted that Dee Elliott, a friend from high school, told me she would be there. She won the free dinner sweepstakes! We dined with Liz Bradbury and Patricia Sullivan, the founders of the Center. Liz is a longtime fan of both the Oz books and the MGM film, and I managed to pass her obscure trivia question about the film (what two foods is Dorothy seen about to eat?).
Since I was driving down to Allentown, I decided to make it a real book tour by giving a talk in Philadelphia, about two hours away. Contacting the William Way LGBT Community Center in Philly led to a talk on Oct. 27. The room they gave me was the same one I was in when I spoke at the 2016 convention of the International Wizard of Oz Club. Friends pitched in at the last minute to get equipment for my PowerPoint working. We had a small but enthusiastic audience with engaging questions and comments. One audience member gave me the price of a book, but didn’t want a copy! Another said he had been collecting Oz references in popular culture, and I look forward to seeing his list.
After the talk, a cousin who attended my talk and I wandered around Washington Square West, aka the Gayborhood, looking for a place to get a bite to eat. We stopped at Giovanni’s Room, the venerable LGBT bookstore; because someone had told me they had bought my book there. Sure enough, there was a copy in the “Theory & Criticism” section.
Am leaving in a few days for Grinnell, Iowa, where I’ll give a talk on Sunday at Grinnell College sponsored by the American Studies Department: “Gay Boys, Gay Men and the MGM Wizard of Oz.”
2019, the hundredth anniversary of the death of L. Frank Baum, seems to be the moment for Matilda Joslyn Gage, Baum’s mother-in-law. Her biggest Oz claims to fame are 1) Baum and her daughter Maud were married in her house; 2) she encouraged Frank Baum to publish the stories he told to his sons in Chicago which became the publishing hit of 1900: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; and 3) Baum’s Oz books are full of strong female characters, and his feminism was at least partly influenced by that of his mother-in-law.
Matilda Joslyn Gage was one of the leaders of the suffrage movement in the nineteenth century, along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Why have we heard of them but not her? It seems Stanton and Anthony “wrote her out of history.” Gage was maneuvered out of power in the National Woman Suffrage Association when it merged with the American Woman Suffrage Association in 1890 because of her more radical views, such as being against conservative religious organizations like the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, which wanted to put God into the Constitution.
Last year Born Criminal: Matilda Joslyn Gage, Radical Suffragist by Angelica Carpenter was published. It has been getting great press, with The Midwest Book Review calling it “A deftly written and seminal work of simply outstanding scholarship.” Angelica had previously written biographies of L. Frank Baum, Lewis Carroll, Frances Hodgson Burnett and Robert Louis Stevenson for young people.
This year saw the publication of Finding Dorothy, a novel by Elizabeth about Matilda’s daughter Maud Gage. Letts, a popular author, weaves together Maud’s upbringing and marriage to Baum with a later story of Maud meeting Judy Garland when The Wizard of Oz film is being made by MGM.
I suspect almost all the readers of this novel will not have heard of Matilda Joslyn Gage and many will be delighted to discover her in this fictionalized portrait. At a convention of the International Wizard of Oz Club this past June, Angelica and I were on a panel discussing the book. Angelica also talked about Gage and another Club member enacted her in costume.
Let’s hope these events will let more people know about this important figure in our history.
Matilda Joslyn Gage
Many critics call Baum’s Wonderful Wizard of Oz “An American fairy tale.” In 2001, when I was still early into my research for my book, I wrote a story putting the plot into a modern gay context without referring explicitly to sexual orientation. And of course there is the double meaning of “fairy tale.” :-) What do you think?
Image below from Wendy’s Wizard of Oz page; she gives permission to use.
Timothy, an only child, feels like he lives in the middle of nowhere. He is alienated from his parents; they seem more like an aunt and an uncle who he connects with only occasionally. The neighborhood bully teases and threatens him, calling him “Timid Timothy.” He feels different from those around him. Except for his pet dog, nobody understands him; no one knows what he’s going through. He fantasizes about living somewhere else, where people appreciate and understand him. He is not exactly sure what sets him apart, but he thinks that perhaps in a larger city, where people are more sophisticated, he would be more accepted.
At the end of a particularly brutal and exhausting week at school, Timothy falls asleep in the back seat of his school bus. When everyone has gotten out, the driver doesn’t realize he’s still there. Since the driver is planning to use the bus to go to the big city over the weekend, she parks the bus at her own home. Early Saturday morning the driver takes the bus to the metropolitan center quite a ways away, parks it and goes to visit some friends. Stretching and yawning, Timothy wakes up, and is surprised he’s in the school bus. But where is he? He looks out of the window of the bus. People of all ages and colors are carrying signs and chanting. There are large buildings, beautiful skyscrapers. Billboards with amazing colors. Nothing looks familiar. Timothy he realizes he’s in for an adventure. Unsure of himself, but curious, he decides to explore a little.
As soon as he pokes his head out of the bus, people crowd around. At first he thinks everyone is mad at him, but then a gentle man with nice eyes explains that the chief of police was going to attend a law enforcement convention, but the bus was parked in a diplomats only parking area, and not wanting to get any closer to who he thought were the demonstrators, the chief left. The demonstrators hail Timothy as their hero and welcome him out of the bus.
“Where am I?” asks Timothy. “The Javits Convention Center,” the man replies. Someone else shouts “The Big Apple.” Timothy is still confused. Various helpful people say, “Manhattan,” “New Yawk,” “A really big city.” He is embarrassed to explain how he got to this place. He has no idea where the bus driver is, and wonders what to do next.
The gentle man says, “You must have had quite a ride getting here.”
Overwhelmed, “I’m hungry,” is all Timothy can manage. The young man with the kind eyes (Timothy now realizes he’s not all that much older than himself) reaches into his backpack and offers Timothy an apple (too Snow White), a banana (too phallic), (I know) a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Realizing his confusion, the young man puts his arm around Timothy. “You must be here by magic. The bus driver probably is gone for the day. Welcome to New York. I’m Glen. Who are you?”
Glen introduces Timothy to three younger friends of his, Ray, Jack and Bert. They seem the exact opposite of Timothy’s swaggering school mates.
Ray is sweet and smart, “Do you want to go home? I wonder if we can figure out where the driver of this bus is.”
Jack is kind and caring, “Timmo, do you miss your parents? Don’t you want to go home?”
And Bert is timid and tentative, “Me, I’d be afraid to be alone here in the big city. If I had a home far away from here, I’d rather be there, I think”
Timothy relaxes and feels at home with these new friends. “No, I don’t want to go home, I hate it there. I wanna see what there is to see here. Besides, the driver will be gone for hours, I’m sure.”
Glen has other stuff to do, and leaves Timothy in the care of his three younger friends. Ray and Jack and Bert treat Timothy like a king, or a queen. Very soon he feels like a real New Yorker.
The four are surprised to discover they have all sorts of connections. They like the same movies and TV shows. When teams chose up for baseball, they were all picked last and put in right field where their lack of skill would do the least damage to their teams. They’ve had parallel fears and insecurities. In spite of their weaknesses, Timothy feels strong and happy with them. Timothy feels like he’s known these guys all his life. He tells them things he’s never told anyone before. Some things he’s never even thought about consciously himself.
In the course of the weekend in the fabulous and exciting city, Timothy and Ray and Jack and Bert have many adventures. They go shopping, dress up and see a Broadway musical. On Sunday they go to a pride march, and attend a youth group. Fill in your own adventures.
Late Sunday evening Ray and Jack and Bert put Timothy on a different bus back to New Jersey. Timothy has seen this commuter bus stop near his house, but never thought he’d be riding on it himself. Suddenly he’s home. He runs up to the door. His parents are glad to see him safe and sound and ask him where he’s been. Timothy is full of pride and joy and wants to share his discoveries. He tells them breathlessly about his new best friends and all his adventures, that he’s realized he’s gay.
“You can’t be gay. What a silly thing to say, honey,” his Mom says. “It doesn’t sound like you had such a great time to me.”
His Dad doesn’t say much.
In early January I acquired some fun French Ozzy images. Here’s how.
The Cité de La Musique, Philharmonie de Paris is a music complex with concerts, exhibitions and more. I was there in January, and saw their exhibit about film musicals. My friend Zack, who had told me about the exhibit, was in Paris with his partner Gianni and I was there with my bf Richard. Although only Zack and I are diehard musical fans, the four of us went.
The exhibit mostly focused on Hollywood musicals, especially Singing in the Rain with Gene Kelly, but images from the 1939 MGM Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland were also in abundance, as were those from La La Land. French films were also featured: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Triplets of Belleville.
Selections from several film musicals were displayed on a huge screen. When the soundtrack of a film was in English, there were French subtitles. Captions and descriptions were also translated into English and sometimes other languages as well.
Other areas were devoted to various aspects of film musicals, such as awards, costumes, and choreography, and there were even tap dance lessons!
An area set up specifically for kids had clips from several movies, including Oz, and included a quiz.
Richard and I tried on hats in the costume area at the end.
The gift shop had posters, videos, recordings, books and more.
I couldn’t resist buying three books with Ozzy content.
1. Be Happy contains a cd with songs from film musicals, each musical has a two page spread with text and image.
2. Comédies Musicales! is a workbook, with games and activities to help you create your own musical film.
3. Natalie Dessay Raconte’s Le Magicien d’Oz is a combination of Baum’s original story, the MGM film, and her own ideas, such as Dorothy seeing a rainbow when she is back in Kansas at the end of the story. The book has marvelous illustrations and comes with a cd of songs from the MGM soundtrack.
On March 21, 2008, as I was leaving Forbes Library in Northampton, MA, I noticed what looked like a bag of popcorn in a cake holder at the check-out desk. Next to it were flyers advertising a fund raiser; a handout entitled “The Friends Edible Book Event Guidelines” said “your edible book is your interpretation of a book you find of interest.” Entries “must be 100% edible and preferably fresh!” The popcorn bag was an interpretation of Tomie dePaola’s The Popcorn Book, a cake and covered with red and white striped fondant with real popcorn overflowing the bag.
The idea of an Edible Book was intriguing, so I took an application. After showing it to my partner Scott, we decided to create our own edible book. After batting around ideas, we settled on gingerbread cookies in the shape of birds in homage to Audubon’s Birds of America. Our entry garnered two awards: ‘Outstanding Sculpture,’ and ‘Most Likely to Pass for Sculpture in Our Living Rooms.’
Edible books have been around formally at least since the turn of the millennium, when co-founder Judith Holmberg of Santa Monica, CA got the idea during a 1999 Thanksgiving dinner with book artists. The festival honors French gastronome Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826), famous for his book, The Physiology of Taste. Since 2000, Edible Book events have been held in Australia, Brazil, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, and Russia. The organizers are generally art centers, academic institutions, restaurants, and book arts spaces, and sometimes libraries. More info about the international event can be found at the books2eat website.
Here in Northampton anyone can create an edible book: kids, adults or any combination. Attendees (who don’t have to be creators) get to admire the entries, and judges come up with clever awards for each. Then everyone chows down and eats the ‘books’! Past entries and awards have included a Catcher in the Rye made out of vegetables, dip and rye bread [‘Best Veggie Pun’]; Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham made of green eggs and ham [‘The Al Gore “Let’s Be Green Award”’]; a Very Hungry Caterpillar fashioned from cupcakes; and "How to eat a poem" in which the words of the poem were inscribed on refrigerator magnets made of chocolate wafers covered with white icing [‘Most Metaphorically Layered’]. You can see photos of past entries at the Edible Book Northampton Facebook page.
This year I created an edible Friends of Dorothy and enlisted the help of Scott McDaniel, my collaborator on Birds of America. We used images of Dorothy’s companions from my title page. They were made out of fondant decorated with black food color markers. The title cookies were based on the shiny green letters on the cover that look like an Emerald City. I made gingerbread with honey instead of molasses and with green food coloring, sprinkled with green shiny sugar sparkles. They were set on a jelly roll sponge cake, to represent a page in a book. Our Friends of Dorothy was awarded ‘The Follow the Rainbow Brick Road Award.’ Most of the title was consumed at the event, but a week later, I still have a fair amount of sponge cake and much of the three companions. The cake may end up in tiramisu.
Three far-flung women have recently made fascinating use of my research.
Since Oz is not familiar to many in Poland, and the Oz-gay connection is also not well-known, Joanna Krakowska, the deputy editor, felt the play needed some context. She found my book by googling “why gays love Oz.” Her article in Dialog about my book uses the photo by Dave Harris of some men as Dorothy and her companions in a Europride parade. The title of her essay is roughly translated as “We're not in Kansas anymore, or Gays explain things.”
2 The rabbi at Beth Chayim Chadashim, the LGBT synagogue in Los Angeles is Lisa Edwards. She attended my August talk at the West Hollywood library and bought a copy of my book. In a recent Rosh Hashanah sermon, she spoke about the concept of home, and talked about The Wizard of Oz, holding up my book for the congregation to see. Her online notes for that day begin with the lyrics to “Dorothy,” a song by Hugh Prestwood that Judy Collins recorded.
3 Dina Schiff Massachi teaches about Oz in two classes, ‘Oz: An American Fairytale’ and ‘American Fairytales in Fiction and Film’ in the American Studies Dept. of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. As a member of the International Wizard of Oz Club, she receives the Baum Bugle and read my article on the Oz-gay connection. In her classes and conference presentations, Massachi often discusses the themes that appeal to gay men that I lay out in my article.
This past August, I did my first book tour. The International Wizard of Oz Club was holding its annual convention in Pomona, which is about an hour east of LA. I was on the program to talk about my book, and also had a special book signing slot in the dealers room. My friend, retired librarian Steve Klein, put me in touch with the West Hollywood branch of the Los Angeles County Public Library, and we scheduled a reading. Palm Springs was hosting a ComicCon, and the Prism Comics folks who support queer fans and creators invited me to join them at their table. I now had three venues: the OzCon at Cal Poly in Pomona, West Hollywood Library and ComicCon at the Palm Springs Air Museum. This lead to an almost 3-week trip to Southern California, flying in to LA on Aug. 8 and out of Palm Springs on Aug. 27.
I got a rental car at the LA airport and spent the afternoon of Wed Aug. 8 with my cousin Margot Parker, who was delighted to learn about my reading in West Hollywood. Then stayed overnight with my friend David Chun in Santa Monica, who put out his copy of my book for me to sign.
Drove to Pomona on Thursday and checked in at the Kellogg West Conference Center at Cal Poly. Oz Club Board member Gina Wickwar couldn’t attend and was greatly missed. Angelica Carpenter, another Oz Club friend, suggested I donate a book to Gina and Angelica would have all the Board members sign it. So I dropped into the Board meeting to offer a book.
Angelica has written books about L. Frank Baum, his mother-in-law Matilda Gage, and about other authors of kids books, and we had arranged to share the rental of a table in Baum’s Bazaar (aka the Dealers Room). I spent most of Thurs afternoon making the table look pretty. Friday afternoon I gave a talk about the implications of my research for Oz and for the real world. I was in a big auditorium, and there was a medium-sized crowd, including a smiling Steve Klein who came out from Long Beach just to hear me. Lots of laughter in appropriate places and many good questions after
I was at our sale table for much of Saturday. Angelica’s husband Richard and I managed to get the Square hardware and software to work to take credit cards. I sold and signed almost 20 books, which folks said was excellent. On Sunday I was on a panel Angelica chaired about marriage in Oz. The discussion was very thoughtful and after my summing up, everyone went away saying what a great session it was. During the convention, I managed to catch up with many old Oz friends and made some new ones as well, and appeared in a nice blog post.
I was back in LA from Mon Aug 12 to Thurs Aug 23. I saw cousins and old friends from high school and college, bought show tune recordings at several used record stores, and went country dancing and inside roller skating. When I explained I was in Southern California on a book tour for FRIENDS OF DOROTHY, many folks expressed interest in my book and I got to give them shiny marketing cards.
It turned out the Air Museum, where the ComicCon was, exhibited aircraft, not types of air. 😀 It was fascinating to see all the folks in costumes, many of which I didn’t recognize. While I didn’t sell any books, two people were at least interested. The event and marketing coordinator for Peepa’s, a new store in Palm Springs, was very excited by my title and assured me the store owner would want to carry it and have me in to speak. I also managed to get the head of the Palm Springs Public Library interested in the book enough to maybe order it.
One thing I learned was to contact all possible venues in advance to try and set up readings in/with as many places as possible: bookstores, libraries, Oz organizations and gay groups.
The 2016 publication of Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele’s Queer: A Graphic History (London: Icon Books) shows that stories set in Oz in general and the MGM Wizard and Wicked in particular still have a special place in current queer culture. It contains 171 pages of graphic novel type images. Seven allude to the MGM Wizard, with depictions of the Emerald City, the Yellow Brick Road, the Scarecrow, Flying Monkeys, a melting witch, and shiny shoes.
Two others are of the main characters in Wicked, Elphaba and Glinda.
The MGM Oz and Wicked are mentioned on page 109.
A well-known example of such slashy writing queer writing is Wicked (1995/2003), which imagines a whole different story going on between the scenes of The [Wonderful] Wizard of Oz (1900/12939), destabilizing the narratives and binaries involved in the original.
As far as I can tell, there are no other recurring images related to any other stories in any medium.