29 August 2008

Giving Credit Where It's Due

In the July/August 2008 issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine, indefatigable quote-tracker Fred R. Shapiro not only documents multiple forms of the Serenity Prayer predating the earliest credit to or claim by Reinhold Niebuhr, but also touches on Wizard of Oz quotations in the "Arts & Culture" column. Shapiro, a law school librarian, writes:

In the Yale Book of Quotations, I have a large section of film lines, but some of the most famous lines in motion pictures are not included there. Sometimes I am asked, for example, why there are ten quotes from the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz--such as "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore" and "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!"--but not other celebrated ones. The answer is that the others appeared earlier in L. Frank Baum's 1900 book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and they are listed under Baum's name:
There is no place like home.
--Chapter 4

"I am Oz, the Great and Terrible. Who are you, and why do you seek me?" . . . "I am Dorothy, the Small and Meek. I have come to you for help."
--Chapter 11

I'm really a very good man; but I'm a very bad Wizard.
--Chapter 15
To me, it makes no sense to a[s]cribe "There is no place like home" to a movie if it is really a Baumism.
To me, however, the "no place like home" line that Baum put into Dorothy's mouth isn't a Baumism at all. "There's no place like home" was the refrain of a song that John Howard Payne (1792-1852) wrote for his 1823 opera Clari, the Maid of Milan. The sentiment became so popular--so cliché, one might even say--that John Bartlett included it in his Collection of Familiar Quotations in 1856, the year Baum was born.

Shapiro goes on to note how some movie lines have their roots in Baum's text, but should be credited to the screenwriters.
One complication is that subtle changes in the adaptation from novel to film might qualify the movie line as a new creation. Perhaps the screenwriter's keen sense of diction and cadence was just the touch that resulted in a quotation that earned cultural immortality. L. Frank Baum wrote, "I never thought a little girl like you would ever be able to melt me and end my wicked deeds" (Chapter 12). In the hands of the screenwriters Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allan Woolf, it became "Who ever thought a little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness?" Clearly the latter is the superior version.
My only caveat here is that although Langley, Ryerson, and Woolf are the credited screenwriters for the MGM movie, some of its most memorable funny lines--particularly the Wizard's speech while giving the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion their symbols of brains, heart, and courage--were written by lyricist E. Y. "Yip" Harburg. (The image from that scene above comes from Film Night's salute to Frank Morgan.)

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