Interview with Jay Scarfone & William Stillman, authors of the Oz 75th Anniversary Official Companion Book
Jay Scarfone & William Stillman are the co-authors of the recent, wonderful book “The Wizard of Oz – The Official 75th Anniversary Companion” – read my review here.
Thank you Jay and William for taking the time to answer these questions, and for giving us fans an insight into the creation of such a wonderful book.
Judy Garland News & Events:
You both co-wrote the 50th anniversary companion book that was released in 1989. In the last 25 years, what were some of the surprises or new revelations you discovered in the interim?
Jay & William:
The surprises were that so much new information and visual material were awaiting us to honor the 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz, and warrant yet another book that would supplement, revise and complement what had already been told. Just when we thought we had seen or read virtually all there was, something else would surface previously unknown to us. So while we’ve maintained our interest in Oz since 1989 (and well before), the process of accruing the “new revelations” came fast and furious, at times, just recently and to the benefit of this new project.
Specifically, this included tidbits like finally finding the rationale for why they made Judy a blond, because, like Snow White, Dorothy was a storybook princess (and a blond in the Oz books that followed The Wizard); they gave her heavy makeup to imitate the thick, flat tints of cartoon paint (in the first scene filmed, the Scarecrow’s scenic backdrop resembles the stylized look of Walt Disney’s Flowers and Trees cartoon short). Discovering that Charley “Uncle Henry” Grapewin performed in a roadshow version of the early Oz stage musical. Finding additional films in which Toto appeared, like Back from the Front with The Three Stooges. And that Mervyn LeRoy told reporters Ray Bolger was to be the Scarecrow during a two week period in early March 1938 when the entire production was very much in an embryonic state (Bolger was next cast as the Tin Man before becoming the Scarecrow for all time).
Your book “The Wizardry of Oz” is amazing, and a perfect companion book to this one. Was it tough to try and find new things to talk about in the new book that hadn’t been covered in that or the 50th anniversary book?
The Wizardry of Oz was intended to approach the making of Oz from the perspective of its unsung heroes—the men and women who worked behind the scenes but never received recognition on screen, as is protocol today. In doing so, it looked at the film from a very technical vantage point, presenting detailed insight to the creation of Oz’s make-ups, costumes, sets and special effects (thus the book’s subtitle, The Artistry and Magic of . . .). So the angle for Wizardry was very different from the 75th anniversary book, which was intended to provide a “celebratory” update and overview.
We expected there might be challenges in finding new things to present, but as it turned out this wasn’t the case; it all culminated very fortuitously for us in a manner that felt increasingly like a spontaneous predestiny at times. We’ve never had an experience quite like it! And we very much wanted to put Oz in proper perspective with its times because so much has been blown of out proportion or mythologized. Ultimately, however, we ended up with too much! The book’s manuscript, as we submitted it, was over twice as long and we had to cut hundreds of images due to page and space limitations. Much of the edited material would have focused on pre-M-G-M material, the original 1939 merchandise (we were prepared to do an entire visual catalog of everything known to us), the foreign release publicity, the television broadcasts and hosts, and the more contemporary legacy of the film during the last four decades. There were a number of 1938-39 images that were excluded, though.
How different is it now to writ a companion book as opposed to how it was then?
It is exceptionally more difficult—by far—to do a licensed companion book than it was 25 years ago, or even 15 or 10 years ago. The Wizardry of Oz was officially licensed in both its 1999 and 2004 incarnations, but Warner Bros. Consumer Products has since become very sophisticated and more stringent in protecting its corporate property in terms of what can be said and shown. The publishing industry has also changed dramatically over the years. The stakes are much higher, publishers are far more selective, and technology is rendering print media virtually extinct. We knew that this would probably be the last opportunity to do something in book form that would coincide with a landmark Wizard of Oz anniversary. The expectation from both Warner Bros. and HarperCollins was that this would not only be the official anniversary book, it would be a book in which the bar was raised in terms of imagery, content, presentation, and mass appeal (hence the inclusion of the “extras”).
What was the biggest pleasure you had in putting together this new book?
The biggest pleasure was turning up new information and imagery (when so many felt that the Oz wishing well had been tapped dry) and anticipating how the film’s fan base would react when having such treasures revealed to them.
There was also exhilaration in feeling that we were being protected and guided at every turn. For those who don’t know, the “Scott” of our dedication is Scott Schechter, a passionate Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli fan, researcher and historian. We didn’t know Scott well, but what we knew, we liked; he always seemed like one of the “good guys” who was underappreciated. He, in turn, was amused by our nonchalance when it came to post-Oz Judy Garland. We became friendly and he understood the hardships and challenges of taking on the kinds of research projects to which we aspired. As the new book was picking up unexpected momentum through a series of very synchronous events, we both—independent of one another—concluded that “Scott,” who passed away suddenly in May 2009, was the impetus. Drawing this conclusion was unusual in that we only met him twice (in addition to periodic phone chats) but that pervasive “presence” very much persisted throughout the entire project. It was pleasant and reassuring.
The graphics in the book are amazing and the printed extras are a real joy. How much input did you have in the process for both the look and the style of the book, and the printed extras?
In the wake of collaborating with a huge corporate licensor (Warner Bros.) and major book publisher (HarperCollins), we were relatively pleased with the amount of involvement we experienced. That is, while WB and HC had their own distinct (and oftentimes mandated) ideas for the book, we were at least given the opportunity to help shape those intentions at every turn to the best of our capabilities and integrity. When we turned in our manuscript and photo images last February, we expected to be able to sit back, at least temporarily, and let the editors and designers take over. As it turned out, we worked non-stop on nearly a daily basis in our collaboration with the book’s production team until it went to press in September!
This project was very much a book-by-committee in that at any given moment there were no less than a dozen individuals—including two different legal teams—who were constantly vetting and questioning accountability for every sentence and every image. A number of revisions to certain aspects of the text were necessary in order to satisfactorily comply with Warner Bros. approval. As part of the process of submitting material to HarperCollins, we were obligated to indicate where images should be placed in the text and how large they should be. But by the final layout, much of that was revised and, ultimately, what went where and at what size was largely the decision of others. We had some cursory input into the overall design in that we wished for it to project the art deco elegance befitting a 1930s-era film classic, and we think it succeeds on that level. It was also the desire of Warner Bros. to emphasize the first chapter by making the set illustrations large enough to give the reader the feeling of being “in” the movie. In fact, Warner Bros. had the final say on all aspects of the book and even gave the book its title.
The extras were a separate process altogether. Those needed to be determined early on in order to be printed and ready to insert into the book once it came off the press (the envelope containing them actually detaches from the book). Since the extras are technically “merchandise,” a different division of Warner Bros. had to approve them. This led to alterations in the original design of some items to exclude (for legal reasons unknown to us) the word “Technicolor” or the name “Charley Grapewin.” The lobby card booklet was to have shown samples from the 1949 rerelease set, but at the last moment those were vetoed because Judy’s dress and the Yellow Brick Road were inaccurately tinted red. These were quickly replaced with images of the 1939 lobby cards but a typo slipped through still identifying them as “rerelease” cards. (The good news is that the book went to a second printing a month before its official publication so we had a small window of opportunity to correct such minor gaffes.) There was a very keen interest by HarperCollins early on in reproducing the 1939 Oz paper character masks and valentines as extras but that would’ve entailed tracing the origins of the original artists and crediting their art for which, this many years later, no known records exist. As with the content of the book, the extras were intended to hold mass appeal so there are some vintage reproductions but also more “trendy” novelties such as the interchangeable picture frame, the Oz newspaper and the Wizard’s certificates.
Obviously projects like this don’t just happen in a few months or even one year. Can you describe to our readers the basic process of putting a book like this together, from beginning to end?
The project began in September 2009, at which time we set the intention to manifest a truly extraordinary book that would honor The Wizard of Oz for its 75th anniversary. Once we set the intention, we embarked upon a journey of discovery that consistently led us to uncover previously unknown facts and quotes of the 1938-40 era as well as visuals of which we could have only dreamed of securing prior to this time.
We were fortunate to be able to enlist the services of Grace Ressler, who served as our agent and advocate in getting the book idea (along with mock sample pages that we ourselves put together) in front of several publishers. Grace was not only invaluable as someone with connections in the publishing industry, but we first came to know her years ago when licensing our book The Wizardry of Oz—as she worked for WB licensing at the time! So she had that inside knowledge to bring as well. (Ironically, Grace lives/works on the West Coast, but she is originally from a city located just minutes from where we both live, and most of her family still resides there. Fate, once again?) Grace was able to garner interest from several publishers, all of whom said their interest was conditioned upon the fact that the book would be THE officially-licensed 75th Anniversary book. Enter Warner Bros., to whom each publisher had to present their pitch for the book, with the final selection being decided by WB. In the end, they selected HarperCollins, and we’re so glad that they did!
Prior to contracts being signed, our would-be editor and director of design made the pilgrimage from Manhattan to our home state of Pennsylvania in order to see the collection and discuss the book in depth. They were hoping to secure the talents of HeadCase Design (which they ultimately did) to give the book its overall look, design and layout, as HeadCase had beautifully done the book on Broadway’s Wicked. Two months before the book went to press, we also made a trip to HarperCollins to fine-tune the layout.
We were exhaustive in our research, and scoured everything we could get our hands on from the time period. We were well aware that M-G-M exaggerated its press materials, or that certain bits of information would be questioned. So for every “new” contention we make, that in some cases challenges prior documentation, we had no less than three different sources verifying the information, be it quotes from prior interviews, written documentation, memoirs, and so on. We ensured this not only for our own professional standards but also as a necessary requirement of our legal liability. As a result, our original bibliography ran over seventeen pages but our editor felt the space was better devoted to more Oz and we agreed (an entire signature, sixteen pages, was added from what was previously budgeted)! We also had a wealth of unused material from six years of research on The Wizardry of Oz including interviews with cast and crew who are all now deceased. But, as we indicated, much material was excised because it was taking on too “scholarly” a tone that would limit the book’s appeal. The previously unpublished stills and Technicolor test frames were acquired through nerve-racking negotiations with private individuals and at tremendous expense (our own out-of-pocket purchases)—specifically to “rescue” them, include in this book, and to share them with Oz and Garland fans of all ages. With rare exception, all images in the book are reproduced from first-generation originals for maximum clarity.
Writing and editing the book was a virtually non-stop process that required much juggling with our respective full-time work and travel schedules. Some individuals who only know us through our books may have assumed that we are full-time Oz book writers. But in reality, the books are “moonlighting” endeavors to our separate and distinct full-time professions. As it turned out, this particular book became a second (but welcomed) full-time job for us both.
What is your favorite scene in the film?
Jay always liked Dorothy’s first meetings with her three friends. This is particularly true of the Lion’s introductory scenes. Here you have Judy, Ray, Jack and Bert (and Toto, too) all together on the Yellow Brick Road—classic imagery from an iconic film. Watching those scenes during the single annual broadcast while growing up also meant that the movie still had a ways to go before it would be over for another whole year!
Bill is partial to the dramatic tension in the scene in which the evil Witch finally has poor little Judy Garland all alone and is bargaining Toto’s life in exchange for the Ruby Slippers. It resonates for him because of his lifelong work as an advocate for people with autism, who can be easily taken advantage of in the manner of the manipulative Witch. Dorothy’s youthful naïveté in asking if she can “still have my dog” after the shoes refuse to come off is a brilliant piece of scripting in that it’s exactly something a child would think to say. From his childhood, Bill recalls the Yellow Brick Road scene as most exciting.
What is it about “The Wizard of Oz” that makes you a fan?
Jay is not going to be any more sophisticated in his reason than it truly is. Basically, it’s always been a feast for the senses: the colors, the photography, the special effects, the music, the humor, the sentiment, etc. Growing up as a child (and even today) the film has had that intangible “something” that stirs special feelings like nothing else ever has.
Bill enjoys the history of the 1930s filmmaking era and appreciates the sheer fantasy of the movie: if it all happened to Dorothy, then it could conceivably happen to anyone of us at any given moment!
What first attracted you to Oz?
Jay doesn’t remember the first time he was introduced to the Wizard of Oz movie. It was definitely via the annual television broadcasts of the late 1960s, but it’s always been there for as long as he can remember. And it was always treated as a significant event each year, as much as Christmas and birthdays. Everyone—family, friends, classmates, teachers—would all be abuzz as each year’s annual telecast was announced, and it would be talked about for days afterwards.
Bill remembers The Wizard of Oz as a holiday event at Christmastime in the 1960s. Simultaneously, he was given the 1950 picture book edition of The Wizard of Oz with illustrations by Anton Loeb (who worked for animator Max Fleischer at one time). Loeb’s sketches were close enough to the movie portrayals such that there was no conflict for Bill, and he actually learned to read by recognizing words as his mother recited from the book at bedtime. It is a great joy to have three of the original illustrations from this book hanging in our office.
Occasionally, we come upon someone who, for whatever reason, never saw the film as a child. When they view it as an adult, it usually doesn’t have the same impact; it’s something that touches you as a child and tends to stay with you all your life—and that’s not a bad thing. Even though Judy Garland was arguably too old for the part, her sincerity carries the entire picture. She lives out experiences to which most children can relate: the panic of being separated from family unexpectedly, making new friends, being bullied, kinship with your first pet, and so on.
What do you think is the main reason for the enduring appeal of the film?
The enduring appeal of Oz lies in its tradition as a family event. Ask anyone who grew up anticipating the annual telecast, and you’ll hear tell of going over to grandma’s to watch it, or taking a bath early so you could stay up past bedtime in your pajamas, or mom making popcorn to eat while the family watched together. It was also a time when there wasn’t such a barrage of viewing options, so Oz was really special. We have to rely upon those who hold dear those fond and nostalgic memories to ensure the experience of “sharing” Oz gets passed along and does not become diluted amidst the present-day bombardment of pictures that are Hi-Def, 3-D, and full of gratuitous CGI effects.
Oz and Judy Garland fans can be quite picky and vocal. Did you feel any pressure or obligation when writing this book or your previous books?
One of the challenges of compiling a book like the 75th Anniversary Companion was discerning how to appeal to any number of factions and to anticipate what those groups would expect of us for the occasion. When assembling the book, we were conscious of desiring to appeal to Oz fans, Judy Garland fans, film buffs, and entertainment historians as well as the casual fan who wouldn’t want to be bogged down with too much minutiae. So it was very much a balancing act. But from the outset, as stated in the book’s introduction, we aspired to provide readers with something unique, something that wasn’t merely a repackaging of what had been done in prior works. Our own personal vision was to include only material that was previously unpublished or otherwise unfamiliar to the most die-hard of Oz fans. But the book’s licensor, publisher and designer all conveyed their desire to also include the “classic” images that the more casual fans would expect; and there was an expectation that art designated by Warner Bros. be used, such as on the dust jacket cover. Given this directive, we did our best to offer something to please nearly everyone when honoring the standards of excellence we set for ourselves. You can’t please everyone, but the more realistic goal is to maximize the number of folks who do like the work that you’ve done and can experience some personal enjoyment from what has been put forth. Likewise, no book is perfect. For example, in one instance, something that was obvious to us has proven confusing to others: one has to look carefully but in the upper left corner of the still of the rocks on page 110, one can make out Buddy Ebsen, Bert Lahr’s (blurred) face and the tip of Ray Bolger’s headdress where they are all dressed as Winkies. An M-G-M prop man’s face is clearly visible next to Bolger.
Likewise, what has your experience(s) been in dealing with the Garland/Oz fan “Communities”?
A definite “perk” in having written our Wizard of Oz books has been the opportunity to meet so many other Oz aficionados and Judy Garland fans. There’s definitely an eclectic fan base, but all are so very enthusiastic and devoted when it comes to Oz and/or Garland. We have made some lifelong friends and we have had some significant learning experiences along the way. We otherwise tend to live very private lives and are selective about new Oz-related projects and personal appearances to which we commit.
What are you thoughts on the new 3D version? Have you seen it?
As representatives of a Warner Bros. product, we were invited to attend the “re-premiere” of The Wizard of Oz at the newly christened TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, which was a treat. We were initially apprehensive but went in open-minded and were pleasantly surprised with the results. Rather than being an over-the-top attempt at 3-D gimmickry, it instead provided a more subtle effect that enhanced the depth of the film in a way that was more believable. There were many details we never noticed for seeing the film as enhanced as it was, such as Miss Gulch’s umbrella or the sound of birds’ singing during the Scarecrow scenes. And be it the Hi-Def or big-screen experience, the clarity was beautiful, right down to projecting the textures of the characters’ costumes. Nicely done.
For fun, how many times do you think you’ve seen “The Wizard of Oz”?
We’ve never actually tabulated it!
Do you have any plans for future Oz books, or other projects that you can discuss at this time?
Because so much information was excised from this project, we certainly cannot count out something else in the future! Suffice it to say that much, much more remains to be told. But much of that depends on the proper alignment of the stars and for the proper vehicle/opportunity being present at the right time. One thing that is definite, however: for the hardcore collector, the book is being issued in a different cover with a deluxe leather binding by Easton Press (www.eastonpress.com).
Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to our questions. Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to convey to our readers?
The 75th Anniversary Companion book was very much a labor of love that nonetheless required an abundant mixture of blood, sweat, and tears. Given our passion for the movie, however, we were happy to persevere. From the time we started on the journey for this book several years ago, there was truly never a time when we believed (or would accept) that it would not come to fruition for the sake of everyone who loves The Wizard of Oz—and that’s a lot of people! And we now have a new appreciation for how The Wizard of Oz film, itself, came together for all the sacrifices and compromises that were made on our own Oz project. We do hope that everyone will enjoy the book and will find it exciting and informative. That would be the greatest reward of all. Finally, we would be pleased to entertain any other questions your readers may have for us. Thank you so much for your interest in our work.
© 2013 Scott Brogan, The Judy Room & Judy Garland News & Events
Learn more about the making of The Wizard of Oz at The Judy Room’s Spotlight on The Wizard of Oz
Unless otherwise noted, all images on this page from the Scarfone/Stillman Collection – used with permission.
The Wizard of Oz: The Official 75th Anniversary Companion by William Stillman and Jay Scarfone. Published by Harper Design, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers;
© 2013 by Author.
Jay Scarfone and William Stillman are the authors of several books on the creation and legacy of the motion picture The Wizard of Oz. Historians and collectors since the 1970s, they have amassed one of the world’s largest and most comprehensive archives of memorabilia from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s (MGM) The Wizard of Oz, the holdings of which include rare photographic images and authentic costumes and props from the film’s production. Additionally, they have been contributors and advisors to countless other books, periodicals, and documentaries on Hollywood history, memorabilia, and collectibles. They have appraised rare The Wizard of Oz material for auction houses and have lectured audiences about the classic film through numerous venues. They live in Pennsylvania.
Copyright © 2013 Turner Entertainment Co.
THE WIZARD OF OZ and all related characters and elements are trademarks of and © Turner Entertainment Co.
“Judy Garland as Dorothy from THE WIZARD OF OZ”
WB SHIELD: ™ & © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
THE WIZARD OF OZ
The Official 75th Anniversary Companion
By Jay Scarfone and William Stillman
October 29, 2013/Harper Design, an imprint of HarperCollins
ISBN 9780062278012/$40.00/176 pages