15 July 2014

Baum’s Collaborators, Real and Fictional

The Wild Things gang are sharing material they couldn’t include in their new book on their blog, including this article about the partnership between L. Frank Baum and W. W. Denslow on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Here’s a bit about what happened after that book had become such a success but the men’s friendship soured:
Once Denslow received the royalties from the musical, he set off and decided to live the American dream à la Gilligan’s Island. Which is to say, he up and bought himself a tropical island. An honest-to-goodness tropical isle. It was just off the coast of Bermuda, a good four acres (though he would claim to anyone who was listening that it was ten) and it didn’t stop there. With what appears to be a tongue stuck firmly in his cheek (though it’s a little hard to tell) Denslow went on to crown himself King Denslow I of Denslow Island. He turned his native boatman into the “admiral of his fleet” and then went on to make his Japanese cook the prime minister. Said he, “If the government in Washington had got wind of it in the early stages, I have no doubt that they would have sent a fleet to Denslow Island to blow it out of the water.”

Suffice to say, this situation didn’t last. Full-blown island kingships rarely do. Denslow was an alcoholic and after selling a full-color cover to Life magazine he celebrated by going on a two day bender, getting pneumonia, and dying at the age of 58. Baum’s reaction upon hearing of Denslow’s death has been lost to the annals of history. What we do know, however, is that, when he was told, it was with the false information that Denslow had committed suicide.
That extracted extract goes on to discuss a stylometric analysis of The Royal Book of Oz, which I analyzed briefly back here. That 1921 book was credited to Baum but said inside to have been completed by Ruth Plumly Thompson, who had her name on the cover of the next eighteen annual Oz novels.

The computer-aided analysis of Royal Book’s writing style found that Thompson actually wrote the whole book. But that’s not really a discovery. All the way back in 1954 Jack Snow credited that book to Thompson in Who’s Who in Oz. When Reilly & Lee reissued all of Baum’s Oz novels in the 1960s, they let Royal Book go out of print—because they knew it wasn’t Baum’s.

I don’t doubt that the stylometric study of Royal Book showed it fit Thompson’s writing profile far more than Baum’s. But that wasn’t new information about the book. It was new information about the validity of that stylometric method.

No comments: