In 1900, the Chicago writer L. Frank Baum penned The Wonderful World of Oz, a whimsical story set in an emerald city. The book was the best-selling children’s title for two years, prompting Baum to write 13 more in the series and other novelists, most notably Ruth Plumly Thompson, to keep the franchise going after Baum died in 1919. This month, Oz seems to be everywhere: Wicked, the musical at the Oriental Theatre, continues its popular open run; on October 10th, Wicked’s author, Gregory Maguire, reads from his sequel, Son of a Witch, at Barbara’s Books (1218 S. Halsted St.; 312-413-2665); and the House Theatre presents The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz at the Viaduct (3111 N. Western Ave.; 773-251-2195). We asked two local Oz fanatics about the appeal of the enduring classic.
ANTHONY WHITAKER, 37
Photo: Lisa Predko
Whitaker is a singer/songwriter. He lives in Rogers Park.
How long collecting? Thirty years
The collection: A couple thousand items, including trinkets, figurines, records, L. Frank Baum books, and movie memorabilia
Focus: Collectibles from the movie, especially Judy Garland memorabilia. “I also like to find items from other countries, like Wizard of Oz movie posters in different languages. I have copies of the L. Frank Baum books in Spanish, German, and Romanian.”
First Wizard of Oz–related purchase: A set of Meco-brand Oz dolls from the 1970s. “I was eight or nine, and I begged my parents for them.”
Most recent purchase: A tattoo-one of eight Oz-inspired tattoos on his body-of Jack Pumpkinhead, a character from the books
Favorite sources: eBay, and Oz festivals and conventions
The display: Fireplace mantel in his apartment. “That’s the ‘altar of Oz’ at this point. But it’s hard to move around my apartment without seeing something Oz-related. Every room has at least a few knickknacks.”
Oz Conventions: Has attended the Wizard of Oz Festival in Chesterton, Indiana, for 13 years and performed his original Oz-themed folk music at the last two Ozmopolitan conventions.
On Wicked, the musical: “I’ve seen it twice in Chicago, and it’s phenomenal. I love exploring the story from Elphaba’s point of view because I like the witch more than anyone else in the movie.”
Run-ins with the original movie cast: “I was tuning my guitar in the lobby at the Ozmopolitan Convention this year and Meinhardt Raabe [the coroner from the movie and the oldest living Munchkin] came and talked to me for about 20 minutes. That was a complete thrill.”
Fanatic moment: He has visited Judy Garland’s birthplace and grave.
Photo: Lisa Predko
CARRIE HEDGES, 57
Hedges is a staff attorney with the U.S. District Court of Northern Illinois. She lives in Hyde Park.
Photo: Lisa Predko
How long collecting? Almost 40 years
The collection: Hundreds of items, including dolls, movie memorabilia, CDs, and all 40 of the original Oz books
Focus: “Definitely the books-I have first editions of many of them.”
First Wizard of Oz–related purchase: Grampa in Oz, by Ruth Plumly Thompson, written in 1964. “It was the one Oz book that was missing from my local library.”
Most recent purchase: A signed copy of Ojo and Oz, a book in the original series by Thompson, bought for $510 this past August
Prized possession: “A copy of the Wizard of Oz book that the librarians in my hometown of Evansville, Indiana, gave me as a child. They said that they had to give me my own copy so that other kids could get a chance to read it.”
Favorite sources: The three big annual Oz conventions-the Ozmopolitan Convention in Illinois; the Winkie Convention on the West Coast; and the Munchkin Convention on the East Coast
Total value of collection: “I can’t even guess. I used to joke that my dining room wall was worth more than my entire co-op apartment.”
What got you hooked? “My older brothers took me to see the movie in 1954 when the original 1939 film was re-released. When Dorothy opened the door into Munchkinland, I was lost forever.”
On the International Wizard of Oz Club: “We’re serious about it, but we have a lot of fun, too. We’re not a bunch of nut cases-there are a lot of scholarly people.” Hedges has been a member since 1964 and currently serves on the club’s board on directors.