L. Frank Baum (1856 - 1919) was an American writer and dramatist, who wrote on a part-time basis until he published 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz' at the age of 44, at which time he retired to write on a full-time basis. In all he wrote a further thirteen 'Oz' books, and these works have been hugely popular ever since.
Lyman Frank Baum was born on 15th May 1856 in Chittenango, New York. An American author, actor and independent filmmaker, Baum is best known as the creator of ‘The Wizard of Oz’. Named Lyman after his uncle, Baum preferred to be known as Frank, and published his books under this name (as well as many pseudonyms).
The seventh of nine children, Frank was from a wealthy family and was tutored at home with his siblings. He was a sickly child who was always daydreaming. Aged twelve, he was sent to Peekskill Military School but was allowed to return home after two years following an incident described by his son (Frank Joslyn Baum) as a heart attack.
He started writing at a young age and had an early fascination with printing. His father bought him a cheap printing press and by the age of seventeen Frank had established an amateur journal, and printed an eleven-page pamphlet titled ‘Baum’s Complete Stamp Dealer’s Dictionary’ and started a stamp dealership with his friends.
Baum had a lifelong infatuation with the theatre and in 1880, after unsuccessful attempts to secure lead roles, his father built him a theatre in Richburg, New York. He had modest success with ‘The Maid of Arran’, a melodrama which he wrote, composed songs for and played the lead role in. Whilst on tour, the theatre caught fire and the only known copies of Baum’s scripts were destroyed. Around this time he married Maud Gage, the daughter of a famous women’s suffrage activist, and the pair went on to have four sons.
After unsuccessful ventures, such as ‘Baum’s Bazaar’ – a store which went bankrupt due to his habit of giving out goods on credit – and a failed newspaper, Baum began to write children’s books with illustrators Maxfield Parrish and W.W. Denslow.
In 1900 Baum and Denslow published ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’, which was a huge success, remaining the best-selling children’s book for two years after its publication. Baum subsequently wrote thirteen sequels based on places and people from the original book (now published by Wordsworth as The Complete Stories of Oz).
A stage version of the book, renamed ‘The Wizard of Oz’, opened in Chicago in 1902 and ran throughout 1903 and 1904 on Broadway. The stage version was quite different to the original book as it was aimed at adults.
There have been a number of film adaptations of ‘The Wizard of Oz’, the most famous being the 1939 classic movie starring Judy Garland as Dorothy. Today, ‘Wicked’, a production providing a back-story to the two witches used in the film, is Broadway’s most successful show.
Baum died on the 6th May 1919. The final Oz book written by Baum, ‘Glinda of Oz’, was published a year after his death but the series was continued for a number of years by other authors, such as Ruth Plumly Thompson, who wrote an further nineteen Oz books.