20 November 2012

Baum Quotations, Real and Imagined

Jared Davis of the Royal Blog of Oz recently asked about a quotation that many websites and a few books attribute to L. Frank Baum:
Whenever I feel blue, I start breathing again.
None of those sites and books identifies any specific book or article as a source. The idiom “feel blue” was current in the late 1800s, so Baum could have said this. But that’s not good enough. People making a historical claim have the responsibility to provide evidence for it, not shift the burden of proof to skeptics to disprove the claim.

In this case, the quotation doesn’t ring bells with any of us older Oz fans who imbibed our knowledge in past decades, and since close to 99% of Baum’s surviving writing was published before 1920, it would be unusual for a quotable line to be so unfamiliar. I checked Google Books and saw that the “feel blue” saying appeared in books through about 2005 without attribution, and with Baum’s name attached only since 2009.

The internet is a marvelous hothouse for false quotations. As soon as a quote appears on one website, it gets picked up and spread around on others. And soon someone doing a search for a quotation’s source will see what looks like a critical mass of confirmation. Even this page could look like further evidence.

I checked out Goodreads’ page of Baum quotations, and it’s a big mix. There are many quotations from Baum’s books. But there are also many quotations from the 1939 MGM movie misattributed to Baum:
  • Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
  • “Some people without brains do an awful lot of talking, don’t you think?”
  • “Nobody gets in to see the Wizard. Not nobody.”
  • “It’s so kind of you to want to visit me in my loneliness.”
  • “Going so soon? I wouldn’t hear of it. Why my little party’s just beginning.”
  • “My world, my world... How can such a good little girl like you destroy all of my beautiful wickedness?” [Actually, that’s even a misquote of the movie line: “Oh, what a world! What a world! Who would have thought a good little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness?”]
  • “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”
  • “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.” [Which makes no sense at all.]
  • “I’ll miss you most of all, Scarecrow.”
  • “Now I know I’ve got a heart because it’s breaking.”
Lines original to the screenplay should probably be credited to Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allan Woolf, the screenwriters. Even that attribution might be questionable, however, since several other writers also worked on the movie, the last being John Lee Mahin.

In fact, the one person losing the most credit to Baum at Goodreads is probably E. Y. “Yip” Harburg, who wrote the movie’s lyrics and the Wizard’s speech as he presents the gifts to Dorothy’s companions. Harburg deserves credit for:
  • “If I [only] had a heart…”
  • “Lions and tigers, and bears, oh my!”
  • “Courage! What makes the flag on the mast to wave? What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage! What makes the sphinx the seventh wonder? Courage! What makes the dawn come up like thunder? Courage! What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the ‘ape’ in apricot?”
  • “Hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable.”
  • “And remember, my sentimental friend, that a heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.”
The screenwriters adapted some of Baum’s dialogue closely. But even on Goodreads people remember the movie version:
“Oh – You’re a very bad man!"

“Oh, no, my dear. I’m a very good man. I’m just a very bad Wizard.”
Baum’s original exchange was:
“I think you are a very bad man,” said Dorothy.

“Oh, no, my dear; I’m really a very good man, but I’m a very bad Wizard, I must admit.”
Then there are oddities in the list like this one, which has a grammatical error of agreement in the first sentence:
“People would rather live in homes regardless of its grayness. There is no place like home.”
Baum actually had Dorothy say:
“No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home.”
Of course, the final line predates The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by decades. It comes from John Howard Payne’s song “Home, Sweet Home!” (1823).

Here’s another commonly seen quotation:
“Never give up. No one knows what’s going to happen next.”
In The Patchwork Girl of Oz Dorothy really bucks up the moody young protagonist this way:
“Never give up, Ojo,” advised Dorothy. “No one ever knows what’s going to happen next.”
Finally, there’s a platitude that I can easily imagine someone today writing and then attaching to Baum to make the sentiment seem more authoritative:
“Stunt, dwarf, or destroy the imagination of a child, and you have taken away its chances of success in life. Imagination transforms the commonplace into the great and creates the new out of the old.”
But Baum actually said that in a 1909 interview with a magazine called The Advance.

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