07 April 2007

The Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman

These days, most Americans know L. Frank Baum's 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as the source for the 1939 MGM movie musical, but in his lifetime most Americans probably knew it as the source for a stage musical that premiered in 1903 and continued to tour for years. And the biggest stars to come out of that extravaganza were Fred Stone and David Montgomery, playing the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman.

How popular were they? Baum's first sequel to Wizard was fully titled The Marvelous Land of Oz: Being an Account of the Further Adventures of the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman, and it doesn't even include Dorothy or the Cowardly Lion. (They reappeared only in the third book.) Baum adopted the Tin Woodman's pre-metallic name in the stage script--Nick Chopper--for his books.

The emotional high point of the first half of Land is the reunion of straw and tin men (shown here). They have been separated by their responsibilities to rule the Emerald City and Winkie Country, but at the end of that book, the Scarecrow cheerfully abdicates his throne and says, "We have decided never to be parted in the future."

In succeeding books, however, the pair does separate. The Tin Woodman moves into a new castle made entirely of tin. The Scarecrow commissions a palace shaped like a giant corncob, about equidistant between his friend's home and the Emerald City.

Baum didn't leave his stars living apart, however. The Tin Woodman of Oz (1918) opens with them reunited:

The Tin Woodman sat on his glittering tin throne in the handsome tin hall of his splendid tin castle in the Winkie Country of the Land of Oz. Beside him, in a chair of woven straw, sat his best friend, the Scarecrow of Oz. At times they spoke to one another of curious things they had seen and strange adventures they had known since first they two had met and become comrades. But at times they were silent, for these things had been talked over many times between them, and they found themselves contented in merely being together, speaking now and then a brief sentence to prove they were wide awake and attentive.
Baum never mentions the Scarecrow's own castle in this book; inconsistency rarely bothered him.

The plot of Tin Woodman has the title character tracking down the young woman he was engaged to marry back before Wizard, when he was an ordinary woodchopper. That engagement ended after Nick Chopper found he no longer had a heart, and then he rusted in the forest. But now that he has both a heart and an oil can, a wandering youth asks him, don't you have a obligation to marry that young woman?

So the Tin Woodman, the Scarecrow, and the youth set out to find the fiancée. Nick admits he doesn't love her--his heart is kind but not loving, he says. But he feels confident she's still pining for him, so it would be unkind to deprive her of his company. In the end, after many difficult adventures, it turns out his premise is mistaken.

But is Nick really incapable of loving, or is he simply incapable of loving that woman? After losing his chance for a show marriage, the Tin Woodman gladly returns home with what the book calls his "chosen comrade": the Scarecrow. "The two friends were sure to pass many pleasant hours together in talking over their recent adventures," Baum assures us.

To quote a Winkie on page 15:
"Perhaps our Emperor is queer," admitted the servant; "but he is a kind master and as honest and true as good tin can make him; so we, who gladly serve him, are apt to forget that he is not like other people."


ericshanower said...

Maybe Baum transferred more than the Tin Woodman's name from the 1903 show. David Montgomery, the actor who played Nick, was known for his liaisons with men.

J. L. Bell said...

So I've read, but only second- or thirdhand on Oz email lists. I haven't seen the evidence from Montgomery's lifetime.

Erin said...

I really enjoyed reading this, it brought back fond memories from a faze when I was 9 or so and read all of the Oz books. :)

ericshanower said...

I think there won't be any first-hand confirmation that Montgomery was gay. He died more than 90 years ago, and as a rule homosexuality wasn't publicly discussed during his lifetime. There is anecdotal evidence about his close relationships with men from an actress who worked with Montgomery. And the fact that such a major star wasn't involved romantically with women is circumstantial evidence.

J. L. Bell said...

That actress's statements would indeed be evidence coming from Montgomery's lifetime. Who was she? Are her comments available in print?

ericshanower said...

Hazel Dawn was a musical comedy actress, her most famous role was as star of "The Pink Lady." She knew David Montgomery. In an unpublished oral interview she said that Montgomery was gay, that his dressers were known as "Dave's boys." This remains third-hand evidence because I was told this by David Maxine who was told it by the person who conducted the interview with Hazel Dawn.

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for the info on Hazel Dawn. (Ah, they knew how to create stage names in those days, didn't they?)

That source also helps to explain why it's not easy to find this information in print. Not that there's much attention given to David Montgomery at all.

Jared said...

I think Baum intended for the two to be very close friends. Due to their physical structures, it would be very difficult for either to pursue a sexual or romantic relationship with anyone. I admit that, given Baum's writing, it does seem as if these two may have some disclosed relationship with each other. I really doubt Baum intended to insinuate a homosexual relationship between the two, though it does seem strange for two men to decide to live together, although, in "Emerald City," the Scarecrow has his own home. (Dropped in later books.)

I guess it's something an Oz fan can decide for themselves.

One Oz fan who is adapting "Wonderful Wizard" as a screenplay (who I may collaborate with in the future) has decided to have Nick and Nimmee reunite in his adaptation.

J. L. Bell said...

I detect very little sexuality in Baum's writing (in contrast to his successor Thompson, where it pops up in awkward spots). He doesn't show or emphasize much physical attraction and contact between married couples in his kids' books, nor even between the few courting couples. And of course many of his characters don't have the anatomy for sex (though, for all we see, Dorothy doesn't, either). As a result, I don't feel that can be a yardstick of the relationships he creates.

On the other hand, Baum does show a wide variety of marriages. In Tin Woodman alone, we see or hear of an unhappy couple (the Yoops), a contented but not delighted one (Nimmie Amee and Chopfyt), and one or two happy ones (the Swynes, the Winkie couple toward the start of the adventure).

Along that spectrum, the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman seem to be among the happiest. Each is indeed the other's "chosen comrade." And in a world without sex, being happy together seems to be all a pairing requires, even if neither man would claim to have a loving heart.