15 Wonderful Things You Might Not Know About L. Frank Baum

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

In 1900, L. Frank Baum published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a book that has never been out of print and that has been produced as movies, theatrical plays and musicals, and led to further cultural phenomena like The Wiz and Wicked. In honor of his 162nd birthday, here are 15 facts about the actual man behind the curtain.

1. HIS HOMETOWN HOSTS AN OZ-FEST (BUT NOT THAT OZZFEST).

Lyman Frank Baum was born on May 15, 1856 in Chittenango, New York, to a wealthy family and raised on an estate called Rose Lawn in Mattydale, New York, just outside Syracuse. In honor of Baum, Chittenango holds an annual festival of all things Oz called Oz-Stavaganza.

2. THE FIRST ANIMALS HE WROTE ABOUT WERE CHICKENS.

Baum was a sickly child and his father indulged his hobbies, including buying him a small printing press that he used to produce a newspaper. Another hobby was raising fancy chickens called Hamburgs. At 23, he started his own chicken trade journal, which he soon sold to a rival. He stayed on as a column writer, and contributed a long, serialized article on breeding and rearing Hamburgs. Later, when Baum was 30, the magazine (supposedly without Baum's knowledge) published that original article in full, making it Baum's first published book.

3. DOROTHY'S "YELLOW BRICK ROAD" MIGHT HAVE BEEN BASED ON A CHILDHOOD MEMORY.

When he was 12, Baum was sent to the Peekskill Military Academy in Peekskill, New York, for two years, where he was absolutely miserable. But it is also where he may have first seen a yellow brick road—at that time many of the streets of Peekskill were paved with yellow Dutch bricks. And for a young teen who just wanted to go home, the memory might have provided future inspiration. An alternative hypothesis is that when he was living in Syracuse, a plank road was installed made out of a yellow colored wood.

4. BAUM HAD A BRIEF CAREER AS AN ACTOR.


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Baum’s first ambition as a young man was to be an actor and playwright. He wrote several plays, including The Maid of Arran, which was successfully produced and in which he acted. The only time that Baum was known to have been in Kansas was when he toured in this play in 1882. However, his love of and involvement with the theater lasted throughout his life.

5. BAUM WAS A FEMINIST, AS WERE HIS WIFE AND IN-LAWS.

L. Frank and Maud Baum on a trip to Egypt
Wikimedia Commons

In 1882, Baum married Maud Gage, daughter of the noted feminist and suffragist Matilda Joslyn Gage. He had a warm relationship with his mother-in-law, who, along with his new wife, helped him become a lifelong suffragist and feminist. According to biographer Katharine M. Rogers, Baum was "a secure man who did not worry about asserting his masculine authority." In fact, most of his books had girls as the heroes. Matilda Gage was the person who convinced Baum to write for children, having listened to him tell his children the stories that he created.

6. MOST OF HIS CAREER PATHS, INCLUDING RUNNING A NEWSPAPER, FAILED.

After several financial reverses—Baum failed as an actor, as a salesman, and in other careers—he moved his family in 1888 to Aberdeen, Dakota Territory, in what is now South Dakota. He opened a store (which failed) and a newspaper (which failed, too). In his newspaper, he strongly supported women’s suffrage, but he is also thought to have written two racist editorials calling for extermination of Native Americans. (In 2006, two of Baum’s descendants apologized to the Sioux Nation for the editorials.) In 1891, Baum lost the newspaper and he and his family moved to Chicago.

7. HE STARTED WRITING CHILDREN'S BOOKS IN HIS FORTIES.


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In 1897, at the age of 41, Baum published his first book for children, Mother Goose in Prose, with illustrations by Maxfield Parrish (his first big commission; Parrish went on to become a top illustrator for books and magazines). It was a success. Baum followed it up in 1899 with Father Goose: His Book, which also sold very well. He then wrote two alphabet books, and publishers began to consider him an important children’s author.

8. THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ IS CONSIDERED THE FIRST TRUE AMERICAN FAIRYTALE.

In 1900, Baum published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, with illustrations by William Wallace Denslow. It was an instant hit. Although there have been many theories on how the book is an allusion to the politics of the United States in the late 1800s, there is no conclusive proof that Baum intended any such connections. But Baum did create the Land of Oz as a distinctly American utopia, making it the first truly American fairytale.

9. THE LAND OF OZ WAS NAMED FOR A FILING CABINET.

Baum’s original title for the book was “The Emerald City,” but publishers had a superstition that a jewel in a book title was bad luck and asked Baum to change it. Baum got the name for his fairy country off a drawer on a file cabinet that was marked “O-Z.” He named his plucky heroine Dorothy Gale after an infant niece named Dorothy Louise Gage who died while he was writing the book.

10. WICKED WAS NOT THE FIRST OZ ADAPTATION ON BROADWAY.

In 1902, Baum collaborated on a stage version called The Wizard of Oz that ran on Broadway for two years and toured until 1911. The plot was decidedly different from the book, with Toto being replaced by a cow and more people from Kansas traveling to Oz along with Dorothy. Because of the success of the play and subsequent Oscar-winning movie, the book has often been published without “wonderful” in the title.

11. THERE ARE 40 OFFICIAL 'OZ' BOOKS.

Baum continued writing Oz books—14 in total—until the end of his life, with a new book usually coming out in time for Christmas. In his later years, he answered children’s letters on letterhead that proclaimed him as the "Royal Historian of Oz." He often used suggestions from children when creating the Oz books. The series was continued after his death by Ruth Plumly Thompson, who wrote an additional 19 Oz books, and several other authors who added seven more.

12. BAUM WROTE UNDER A VARIETY OF PSEUDONYMS.

In addition to the Oz series, Baum wrote other books for children and teenagers, including romances and science fiction, under an assortment of pen names. Under the name Edith Van Dyne, he wrote a successful series of books called Aunt Jane’s Nieces that were as popular as the Oz books. Other pseudonyms included Laura Bancroft, Floyd Akers, Schuyler Staunton, and Capt. Hugh Fitzgerald.

13. BAUM LOST THE RIGHTS TO HIS MOST FAMOUS BOOK BECAUSE OF FINANCIAL DIFFICULTIES.

Baum created a stage show in 1908 called “The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays” that combined a lecture by him with live actors, a movie, and projected slides. Critics and audiences loved it, but it cost more to produce than it brought in. Baum declared bankruptcy, which caused him to lose his royalty rights to his earlier books, including The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

14. BAUM WROTE AND DIRECTED A NUMBER OF OZ FILMS HIMSELF.

In 1914, Baum started a film company. The Oz Film Manufacturing Company lasted only for a few years, but it produced several Oz-related movies, including His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz. For once, Baum didn’t lose any money on this business venture.

15. HIS FINAL WORDS WERE IN REFERENCE TO OZ.

Baum’s health began to fail in 1917, and he died two years later after suffering a stroke. Just before he passed, he had some interesting last words for his wife. In his books, the land of Oz is cut off from the rest of the world by impassable wastelands, including a desert called the Shifting Sands. As Baum lay dying, he supposedly referenced the work that made his legacy: “Now we can cross the Shifting Sands.”

Additional sources: The Making of the Wizard of OzThe Oz Scrapbook.

8 Surprising Facts About Eddie Murphy

David Shankbone via Flickr // CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons
David Shankbone via Flickr // CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Few entertainers have enjoyed the kind of success comedian Eddie Murphy has had. Born in Brooklyn, New York on April 3, 1961, Murphy originally found fame on Saturday Night Live, then went on to dominate the box office throughout much of the 1980s with hits like 48 Hrs., Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop I and II, The Golden Child, Eddie Murphy: Raw, and Coming to America, which went unrivaled in Hollywood. Switching from his trademark role of a streetwise, fast-talking fish out of water, Murphy moved on to a string of successful family comedies (The Nutty Professor, Doctor Dolittle) in the 1990s and beyond.

Having taken some time off following the lukewarm reception to Bruce Beresford's 2016 drama Mr. Church, in which Murphy starred, the 58-year-old is coming back into the spotlight with the Netflix biopic Dolemite Is My Name, a return to Saturday Night Live (on December 21), and a sequel to Coming to America (coming in December 2020). The actor also plans on a return to stand-up comedy after a 32-year hiatus. In the meantime, check out some lesser-known facts about Murphy’s life and career, including his plans for a cartoon series and an idea to cross paths with Crocodile Dundee.

1. Eddie Murphy wasn’t always live on Saturday Night Live.

Eddie Murphy stars in 'Dolemite Is My Name' (2019)
Eddie Murphy stars in Dolemite Is My Name (2019).
François Duhamel, Netflix

After enjoying success as a stand-up comedian, Murphy arrived on Saturday Night Live in 1980 at age 19, where he spent four seasons drawing renewed interest to the show that had once been declared “Saturday Night Dead” by critics following the departure of original cast members Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and John Belushi, and series creator Lorne Michaels. By the time Murphy was ready to depart the show in 1984 to pursue feature films—1982’s 48 Hrs. and 1983’s Trading Places had been hits—SNL's producers were so desperate to hold on to their star attraction that they offered Murphy a deal to essentially stick around for a portion of the 1983-1984 season. Murphy would appear live in studio in 10 of the 20 scheduled shows and tape 15 sketches that they could insert throughout the season.

“We basically just did a private show that was one Eddie sketch after another that we taped with a studio audience,” writer Pam Norris told Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller for their 2002 book, Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live as Told by Its Stars, Writers, and Guests. “And then those were later put into the shows.”

2. Eddie Murphy hosted Saturday Night Live while he was still a cast member.

Before departing SNL, Murphy was scoring box office hits, including his debut in 1982’s 48 Hrs. His co-star, Nick Nolte, was scheduled to host SNL on December 11 to promote that film. When Nolte fell ill the week of the show, Murphy was selected to host at the last minute—the only time a then-current cast member took over hosting duties. “This summer, Nick and I had the opportunity to work together in a motion picture called 48 Hrs.,” Murphy told the audience during his introduction. “Uh, Nick and I grew together, and Nick taught me a lot about myself, and a lot about acting, and he’s a real great guy. You know, we were sitting around in Paramount’s lot this summer, and I said, ‘Nick, why don’t you come and host Saturday Night Live?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, sure, Eddie, anything for you.’ That’s the kind of guy Nick was. When Nick got here, got off the plane, he vomited on my shirt. And we realized Nick was too sick to do the show. And that’s too bad, because Nick was gonna be in some real great stuff tonight. But I know you folks tuned in to see one of the stars of 48 Hrs. host the show, and dammit, you’re gonna see it. ‘Cause I’m gonna host the show. Live, from New York, it’s the Eddie Murphy Show!”

3. Fred Rogers liked Eddie Murphy’s impression of him.

While on Saturday Night Live, Murphy repeatedly returned to a sketch character named Mister Robinson, a less-than-wholesome version of Mister Rogers. Rather than be dismayed by the parody, Rogers was reportedly very amused by it. He once visited Murphy at Rockefeller Center where SNL was broadcast and met Murphy in his dressing room to congratulate him on the character.

4. There was almost an Eddie Murphy Saturday morning cartoon.

In 1987, at the height of Murphy’s powers in the entertainment industry, he was nearly granted one of the biggest honors of any performer: his own Saturday morning cartoon series. Murphy was reportedly in discussions with Hanna-Barbera for a series—the premise was never disclosed—that would presumably have offered a G-rated interpretation of his comic sensibilities.

The idea was not without precedent. One of Murphy’s comic inspirations, the similarly adult-oriented Richard Pryor, headlined Pryor’s Place, a children's show that ran on CBS for one season beginning in 1984. The untitled Murphy production never saw the light of day, though Murphy did eventually find his way back in the Hanna-Barbera fold. He was set to voice the title character in Hong-Kong Phooey, a live-action and computer-animated adaptation of the ‘70s cartoon featuring a martial arts-proficient dog, in 2011. That project was also shelved.

5. Eddie Murphy’s Beverly Hills Cop character almost met Crocodile Dundee.

Eddie Murphy stars in 'Beverly Hills Cop' (1984)
Eddie Murphy stars in Beverly Hills Cop (1984).
Paramount Home Entertainment

Released in 1984, Beverly Hills Cop was a gigantic hit, with its $235 million in ticket sales beating even Ghostbusters to become America's highest grossing film of the year. Murphy starred as Axel Foley, a Detroit police detective whose investigation of his friend’s murder leads him to a culture clash in Beverly Hills. The film spawned two sequels in 1987 and 1994. For the third installment, Paramount kicked around the idea of teaming Murphy’s Foley with Paul Hogan’s Crocodile Dundee character, the star of his own fish-out-of-water franchise. The idea was suggested by Brandon Tartikoff, Paramount’s then-president. Another idea would have Foley in London and working with a Scotland Yard inspector played by Sean Connery. The 1994 film ultimately featured Foley attempting to solve his boss’s murder and chasing a lead back to an amusement park in California.

6. Eddie Murphy shot a Beverly Hills Cop television pilot.

Though the Beverly Hills Cop sequels were not as well-received as the original, the role was still important to both Paramount and Murphy. In 2013, the studio launched a pilot for a television series that would see Foley become the chief of police in Detroit and spar with his cop son, Aaron Foley (Brandon T. Jackson). Murphy appeared in the pilot and was expected to recur throughout the series, but CBS failed to pick it up. Murphy is now expecting to shoot a fourth Beverly Hills Cop feature film once he finishes the Coming to America sequel.

7. Eddie Murphy has a deep vault of music he’s recorded.

Though he drew a mixed response to his musical albums in the 1980s, Murphy has never stopped recording music. Following the release of “Party All the Time,” the performer has been steadily using home recording studios to produce material. Speaking with Netflix’s Present Company podcast in 2019, Murphy said there are a lot of songs left unreleased. “I’ve never stopped doing music … I stopped putting it out, though, because the audience gets weirded out by it. And I don’t want to be that guy.”

8. Barack Obama may have gotten him back into stand-up.

Murphy is expected to return to stand-up comedy beginning in 2020, a move that may be the result of a massive $70 million Netflix deal. But according to Murphy, resuming that career might be the product of a meeting with Barack Obama. He met up with the President in 2015, when Murphy was accepting the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Obama asked when he would be doing comedy again. “When you go into the Oval Office and the President asks when you are doing stand-up, it’s time to do some jokes,” Murphy said.

10 Out-of-This-World Facts About Space Camp

U.S. Department of Education, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
U.S. Department of Education, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Each year, millions of kids fill their summer vacation days with songs, crafts, and outdoor activities at camp. Summer camps across the U.S. share many similarities, but Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama is unique. Instead of canoeing and archery, young attendees get to ride spacecraft simulators, build robots, and program computers. It’s the closest young civilians can come to working for NASA.

Space Camp welcomed its first aspiring astronauts in 1982, and since then, more than 900,000 campers have attended the program. From its famous alumni to its depiction in film, here are some more facts about Space Camp.

1. The movie SpaceCamp boosted its popularity.

SpaceCamp, the movie inspired by the real camp in Huntsville, Alabama, wasn’t a huge hit when it debuted in theaters in 1986. It grossed just $9,697,739—a little more than half its reported budget. But it didn’t fade into obscurity completely. The film saw success in the home video market and became popular enough to leave a lasting mark on pop culture. Dr. Deborah Barnhart, the real camp’s director for part of the 1980s, told AL.com that attendance doubled following the movie’s release. SpaceCamp shot many of its scenes on location at the Huntsville center. The life-sized space-shuttle flight-deck and mid-deck built for the film were donated to the camp and used as a simulator there from 1986 to 2012.

2. Space Camp was the brainchild of a missile designer.

Some people may be surprised to learn that Space Camp is located in Alabama and not Florida, home to Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center (the movie SpaceCamp is set in Florida despite being filmed in Alabama). But Huntsville, Alabama, has been a major aeronautics center since the 1950s when Wernher von Braun and his team of rocketeers moved there. The German scientist had designed ballistic missiles for the United States military after World War II, and shortly after relocating to Huntsville, he redirected his attention to space flight. He launched the U.S. Space and Rocket Center as a way to demonstrate the area’s rocket technology to tourists. Von Braun also came up with the idea for a science-focused alternative to traditional summer camps after seeing children touring the rocket center and taking notes. Space Camp opened at the center in 1982, a few years after his death.

3. Space Camp activities go beyond space.

The kids at Space Camp do more than ride giant rocket simulators. After enrolling, young campers choose a track to focus on. They can study aviation and learn air navigation and combat techniques, choose robotics and build their own robots, or stick to space-centric subjects and activities. The newest Space Camp experience, cyber camp, teaches kids programming and online security skills.

4. The Space Camp simulators don’t make campers sick.

Space Camp is home to three simulators based on real-life training rigs astronauts use to prepare for space missions. The most intense rig is the multi-axis trainer, and just watching a video of it in action may be enough to make you feel queasy. But according to the camp’s website, campers “should not become sick or dizzy on any of our simulators.” On the multi-axis trainer, this is due to the fact that the rider's stomach remains at the center of the chair throughout the simulation, even as the chair itself is spinning in all directions. Motion sickness is caused when your inner ear fluid and your eyes send your brain conflicting information. Because the rig tumbles so wildly, the rider's inner fluid never has a chance to shift and make them want to vomit.

5. Space Camp boasts some famous alumni.

Space Camp attracts bright young minds from around the world, including a few celebrities. Chelsea Clinton attended the week-long program when her father was in the White House in 1993. Amy Carter, Jimmy Carter’s daughter, and Karenna Gore, daughter of Al Gore, also enrolled in the camp. But not every famous Space Camp graduate came from the world of politics: South African actress Charlize Theron is another notable alumna.

6. Several Space Camp graduates went on to be astronauts.

Many kids who go to Space Camp dream of growing up to be astronauts, and for some of them, that dream becomes a reality. The camp’s alumni includes the “Tremendous 12”—a handful of Space Camp graduates who’ve made it to space. Most members of this elite group were trained by NASA, but a few of them went on to work for other space agencies like the ESA.

7. Most Space Campers end up in STEM professions.

Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama.
GPA Photo Archive, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Even if they don’t go on to be astronauts, most Space Camp attendees have bright futures ahead of them. According to the camp, 61 percent of graduates are studying aerospace, defense, energy, education, biotech, or technology, or they’re working in one of those fields already. Of the alumni pursuing careers in STEM, half of them said that Space Camp inspired that decision.

8. There’s a Space Camp for visually impaired kids.

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama hosts a second Space Camp that shares a lot in common with its original program. There are space simulators, astronaut-training missions, and even scuba diving—the main difference is that the kids there are blind or visually impaired. Space Camp for Interested Visually Impaired Students, or SCIVIS, offers children in grades 4 to 12 a crash course in various STEM subjects. They use accessible tools, like computers adapted for speech and reading materials printed in braille or large print. Activities for the week-long camp are organized by teachers familiar with the needs of visually impaired students.

9. Double Dare sent winners to Space Camp.

After conquering the obstacle course of the Nickelodeon game show Double Dare, kid contestants were sent home with various prizes. Though no doubt exciting in the 1980s and '90s, many of the prizes—which included encyclopedias, cassette recorders, and AOL subscriptions—haven’t aged well. A trip to Space Camp was one of the biggest awards players could win, and it’s one of the few that would still have value today.

10. Adults can go to Space Camp too.

If you never went to Space Camp as a kid, you haven’t missed your chance. While the regular Space Camp is only open to kids ages 9 to 18, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center also offers camp programs for older space enthusiasts. Family Space Camp is designed for groups that include at least one child and one adult, and if you don’t plan on tagging along with a kid, you can enroll in the three-day Adult Space Camp experience that’s strictly for campers 18 and older.

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