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Pay No Attention to the Inaccuracies Behind the Cover
on November 5, 2013
Spoiler Alert: This book is essentially a Munchkin-free Zone.
I guess I'm selfish--in that I was really looking forward to the authors unveiling some unseen Oz photos, especially those featuring the Munchkins. (My favorite.)
Actually, there are very few photos of the Munchkins in this book and when the authors do present a candid taken on the MGM studio lot, it's not from "The Wizard of Oz" as they claim, but rather it shows entertainment manager Nate Eagle and three little ladies during production of the film "Three Wise Fools" (1946) starring Margaret O'Brien, eight years after Oz. The authors further assert Nate Eagle worked on Oz procuring little people for Munchkin roles, but this is erroneous. Their mislabeled photograph from "Three Wise Fools" includes Mary Ellen Burbach (St. Aubin) who is still alive, if they seek confirmation.
This mistake did not surprise me since the authors, in a previous Oz book, printed the names of several Oz "cast members" who were not in the film at all. For example, Stillman and Scarfone printed that Patsy May and Eleanor Keaton both appeared in the film as child Munchkins. In reality, infant actress Baby Patsy May as she was known, was four years old at the time of Oz and was not a part of it at all; Eleanor Keaton (wife of Buster) was full grown and taller than Judy Garland in 1938 when Munchkinland was filmed. This is indicative, so I must admit, I find it difficult to trust their research. Oh, and on the topic...there is no data establishing that Toto appeared with the Three Stooges on film, as noted in their book. That is conjecture which the authors probably spotted on a web site and simply went with it as fact. More misinformation.
While the authors do include some rare costume test images of several little actors, disappointingly they ran them bite-size at best. All of the interesting detail in the photos is lost. One such shot of prominent Munchkin Billy Curtis, shows him standing, donning his costume for the photographer, but the binding splits him down the middle, from head to toe. That's a no-no in Design 101, and it occurs more than once in this book. Another such photograph rudely separates Judy Garland down the middle of her skull.
Strangely, I noticed the authors spent all of one paragraph describing what a few of the Munchkin actors did following Oz (specifying "related work" which signifies show biz.). How could they omit Jerry Maren and Billy Curtis, both of whom had prolific careers in the industry, in live performance, film, and television? Billy Curtis costarred with Clint Eastwood in "High Plains Drifter" and Jerry Maren costarred with The Marx Brothers in "At the Circus".
In the area of the Legacy chapter, the authors describe how the Oz main cast members reunited over the years and kept the film alive in their personal sphere. Again, it was strange to me when authors deliberately chose to ignore the past twenty-five years of Munchkin actors' reunions, tours, and personal appearances around the world. The Munchkin actors, the longest surviving cast members from Oz, received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but this newsworthy fact is nowhere to be found in an authorized 75th anniversary tribute. Talk about short end of the stick. "The Wizard of Oz", as a film and a viable studio property or brand, has had no better good-will ambassadors over the decades than these little actors. But in this book, they are sadly overlooked.
I applaud the unveiling of some genuinely rare images found within these pages. The color behind-the-scenes image of Garland taken during the Richard Thorpe era (early footage which was scrapped) is wondrous. To me, the most fascinating are the color out-take frames showing us how the Wizard's bulbous head was filmed against a black background for the Throne Room sequences. These should be amazing to see, but the photos are miniscule...and I do mean thumbnails. So, they're only slightly amazing. For the authors to finally reveal these gems in a basically un-viewable manner is maddening and mean-spirited. Also wasted potential.