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Baum's bankruptcy

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L. Frank Baum filed for bankruptcy protection in the Federal District Court in Los Angeles on 3 June 1911.

Baum had run up thousands of dollars in debts that he was unable to repay, largely because of the financial debacle of the Fairylogue and Radio-Plays of 1908. In his bankruptcy filing, Baum listed debts of $12,600. The biggest had been contracted in connection with the Fairylogue project; Baum had borrowed thousands of dollars from his friend Harrison Rountree, and owed thousands more to contractors like the Selig Polyscope Company, which had made the films used in the show. There were various other, smaller debts, contracted when the Baum family had been living largely on credit in the years prior to the bankruptcy.

In contrast, Baum listed only trivial assets in his filing:

  • two suits, worth $50;
  • eleven second-hand reference books, worth $10;
  • and a five-year-old typewriter, valued at $25.

Baum claimed that these items were exempt from the bankruptcy proceeding, since he used them in earning his living.

His earlier financial difficulties had taught Baum a valuable lesson. He had transferred his main assets to his wife Maud Gage Baum, so that they were also exempt from the bankruptcy proceeding. These included his royalties from all of his books with Reilly & Britton, and Ozcot, their new home in Hollywood, California. (Maud had managed the family finances since 1904).

Baum had made efforts to resolve his debts. In 1910 he had transferred to Rountree the royalties to his Bobbs-Merrill books, which included The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The bankruptcy court formalized this arrangement and made Rountree the trustee of Baum's estate. Maud Baum did not regain the rights to her husband's most famous and popular work until 1932. Some commentators have expressed surprise at this long duration, and have suggested that those royalties should have resolved Baum's debts sooner than that.

References

  • Katharine M. Rogers. L. Frank Baum, Creator of Oz: A Biography. New York, St. Martin's Press, 2002.

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