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December 2010, Week 1


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scott hutchins <[log in to unmask]>
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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Sun, 5 Dec 2010 22:15:26 -0500
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I probably asked this a few years ago, but I'll ask it again.

As many of you may recall, I have been doing long-term research on L. 
Frank Baum and the film industry and have made major contributions on 
well-known aspects of the Baum silents for Wikipedia.

The late International Wizard of Oz Club secretary Fred M. Meyer once 
told me in a letter (he never moved from manual typweriters, which made 
communication with him a bit cumbersome in the age of the Internet) that 
the scholar Edward Wagenknecht, who was born in 1900, recalled 
accidentally running a clip while a projectionist in 1918 that showed 
Baum puffing on a cigar and apparently telling jokes or stories.  As far 
as I can tell, no one has ever identified this film clip or corroborate 
its existence.

Baum has only three acting credits on IMDb.  One is for _The Fairylogue 
and Radio-Plays_, which was screened only in roadshow and is probably 
irrecoverable unless an extra copy made it into a lab archive (the film 
was made in Chicago and hand-colored in Paris), and Baum may or may not 
have been in the film footage, as he toured with the show and 
participated live, interacting with the characters onscreen, who would 
made to appear to step out of the screen, the actors touring with the 
show as well.  He did not appear in any moment in any of the surviving 
films of the Oz Film Manufacturing Company (although I thought he might 
have been one of the bandits in _The Magic Cloak_ (Michael Patrick 
Hearn, editor of _The Annotated Wizard of Oz_, believes that I'm 
mistaken, but he has been skeptical of much of my research, especially 
since I collected data (and I do mean data--titles and dates) from his 
book on the web without acknowledgment), nor in the 1910 _Wonderful 
Wizard of Oz_ film, and he died in 1919, before the Larry Semon fiasco 
was ever in preproduction.

The one other known appearance of Baum in film is an adaptation of Moss 
Hart's "Roaring Camp." There is a photograph of this in a number of 
books about Baum, but to my knowledge, none of them ever give the 
details about what it is depicting, other than a stage play, and I've 
seen only one reproduction of the image that does not crop out the names 
of the other two actors.  Mr. Meyer tells me that a crew from Paramount 
filmed the production, but that Paramount no longer had any record of 
having filmed it.  I do not know where he got the information that 
Paramount got involved.  Presumably, this would have been shot prior to 
when _The Patchwork Girl of Oz_ became a box office flop for Paramount. 
If anyone is familiar with books on Baum, the photo in question is the 
one captioned "Warming his toes for the big outing" in which Baum is on 
a card table having his feet shot at by two gunmen played by Dr. 
Edgerton Carter and Carl De V. Hunt.  Will Rogers is believed to have 
directed the stage production, though he would not have been involved in 
the filming, much as filmed plays and operas today have separate credits 
for stage directors and television directors, with IMDb burying the 
former under "miscellaneous crew".  Was it a typical practice for silent 
film studios to film community theatre?  Baum was not acting 
professionally at this point in his career.

The other acting credit for Baum is a 1918 film called _The Flash of 
Fate_, and I suspect this attribution is bogus, because it says "(as 
George Brooks)," which was a pseudonym Baum used as a working stage 
actor in the late 1870s prior to redubbing himself Louis F. Baum for the 
remainder of his acting career.  All of Baum's AKAs on IMDB (possibly 
more than anybody other than Joe D'Amato).

Wagenknecht had met Baum when the latter gave a presentation at a public 
library a few years before this incident, and he was one of the only 
young people present, so I would doubt he was in error about this, as he 
would have recognized Baum's mannerisms in addition to his face.  I am 
not exactly sure when the film cold have been made.  I recall Baum spent 
quite a bit of the end of his life bedridden, but I do not remember 
exactly when this began, other than that he had to remove the 
manuscripts for his last two Oz books from a safe deposit box and revise 
them rather than write any new material.  The books were written with 
the intent of being published posthumously, and they were.

Being quite a famous person during his lifetime (and certainly not the 
one-hit wonder that many today think he might have been--I get asked all 
the time if _The Wonderful Wizard of Oz_ is worth reading, and my yes is 
quite emphatic--the MGM film is its own animal and not very 
representative of what Baum wrote, even if it's closer than the Semon 
film), it makes sense that film would have been taken of him, but it 
seems odd that it would not have been preserved like some of the brief 
moments with VIPs that appear in the Treasures form the American Film 
Archives series that appear to have been made specifically for the 
purpose of preservation, as opposed to these other films that were 
produced for entertainment alone.

This is a particularly obscure question.  Most Oz fans I speak with 
online are not aware of much of what I'm asking, even though by now most 
have seen the surviving silents at least once.  I'm sure many have seen 
the surviving reels of _The Last Egyptian_ when they were screened in 
Syracuse.  I was unable to attend, even though I was definitely an 
instigator on that one.  Michael Patrick Hearn wouldn't believe me for 
the longest time that Bill Morrison used a clip in _Decasia_ that he 
told me he got from MoMA, but once I finally got him to watch _Decasia_, 
he went to MoMA himself and screened _The Last Egyptian_ more or less 
privately (I wasn't able to attend that either, although he invited 
me--I think I was at work at the time, and I wasn't making enough to pay 
museum admission).  While I still have the letter, I would have to 
search for it, and it is, after all, just a letter.  All it proves its 
that I didn't make it up.  I never met Wagenknecht, but from what I know 
about him, I doubt he was lying, but he could also have been mistaken.

I wish I were a film archivist instead of having just been let go from a 
telecommuting copywriting job and interviewing for a tutoring 
position... it seems like a job full of eureka moments, but I don't 
think a cinema studies degree without archivist training will cut it.


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