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Oz Film Manufacturing Company

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The Oz Film Manufacturing Company was one of the first movie studios in Hollywood, releasing its first picture in 1914. It was established by the Uplifters, a social club of businessmen and performers that met at the Los Angeles Athletic Club. Writer L. Frank Baum was president, and composer Louis F. Gottschalk was vice-president. Baum and Gottschalk received stock in the firm for their non-monetary contributions: Baum provided the film rights to his books, and Gottschalk composed music for the productions. The other investors raised $100,000. The new company purchased a seven-acre plot of land and built what was then considered the most advanced movie studio in the country, equipped for turning out special-effects-heavy Oz fantasies.

The studio quickly developed its own stock company, which included J. Farrell MacDonald as both actor and director; ingenue Violet MacMillan; animal clown Fred Woodward; and French acrobat Pierre Couderc. A cropped head shot of actress Vivian Reed costumed as Ozma provided the company's logo.

The company concentrated at first on feature-film adaptations of Baum's fantasies:

When these proved poor performers at the box office — adult audiences generally shunned them as kiddie fare — the company took a different approach, producing an adult-oriented film from The Last Egyptian, one of the author's novels for adult readers. Additionally, the company made a set of four one-reel children's films collectively called Violet's Dreams.

The commercial disappointments of the three Oz films meant that the company's later offerings were shunned by distributors, which led to the firm's collapse. In a last-gasp move, Baum turned the firm over to his son, Frank Joslyn Baum, who changed its name to Dramatic Features Co. Yet the company's final effort, a war movie titled The Gray Nun of Belgium, similarly failed to find distribution in March 1915, and the firm folded that summer.

Baum's role

After learning a hard lesson from his Fairylogue and Radio-Plays, Baum invested none of his own money in the Oz Film company. Yet he was intensely active in the company's efforts. The films variously credit him as producer and writer, though evidence suggests that he was working on every level, from the most exalted to the humblest. A contemporary newspaper report on the making of The Magic Cloak of Oz describes Baum as supervising the sets of the film, and designing and making the special-effects devices by hand. He dressed in overalls and worked the full shift of the average employee; "Probably the busiest man" in the company, "He never rested a moment."

References

  • David L. Greene and Dick Martin. The Oz Scrapbook. New York, Random House, 1977.
  • Katharine M. Rogers. L. Frank Baum, Creator of Oz: A Biography. New York, St. Martin's Press, 2002.
  • Mark Evan Swartz. Before the Rainbow: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz on Stage and Screen to 1939. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.

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