A Thousand Steps

A Thousand Steps
A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker

Friday, October 1, 2021

FLASHBACK FRIDAY- Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts- Feature and Review


A richly imagined novel that tells the story behind The Wonderful Wizard of Oz , the book that inspired the iconic film, through the eyes of author L. Frank Baum's intrepid wife, Maud--from the family's hardscrabble days in South Dakota to the Hollywood film set where she first meets Judy Garland. 

Maud Gage Baum, widow of the author of the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, met Judy Garland, the young actress playing the role of Dorothy on the set of The Wizard of Oz in 1939. At the time, Maud was seventy-eight and Judy was sixteen. In spite of their age difference, Maud immediately connected to Judy--especially when Maud heard her sing "Over the Rainbow," a song whose yearning brought to mind the tough years in South Dakota when Maud and her husband struggled to make a living--until Frank Baum's book became a national sensation.

This wonderfully evocative two-stranded story recreates Maud's youth as the rebellious daughter of a leading suffragette, and the prairie years of Maud and Frank's early days when they lived among the people--especially young Dorothy--who would inspire Frank's masterpiece. Woven into this past story is one set in 1939, describing the high-pressured days on The Wizard of Oz film set where Judy is being badgered by the director, producer, and her ambitious stage mother to lose weight, bind her breasts, and laugh, cry, and act terrified on command. As Maud had promised to protect the original Dorothy back in Aberdeen, she now takes on the job of protecting young Judy.



Finding DorothyFinding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts is a 2019 Ballantine Books publication.

A different and captivating perspective on the magical,’ Wonderful Wizard of Oz’, L. Frank Baum, and his exceptional partner in life- the irrepressible Maud Baum!!

I had no idea what to expect when I began reading this book, but I must say it was surprising. For the most part this is a fictionalized account of Maud Baum’s life. However, the story alternates between Maud’s background and the Wizard of Oz movie set in 1939, where Maud has appointed herself the protector and overseer of Frank’s beloved characters. However, once ensconced in the studio, it is Judy Garland she feels the most protective of.

I often explain that when I start writing a book review, all I’m really doing is thinking out loud and rambling. This book had my mind wandering all over the place, so this review is bound to skip from one random thought to another.

Two things about the movie, and Judy Garland, were on my mind while reading this book. One was a fascinating article about a pair of stolen ruby slippers used in The Wizard of Oz film, which was featured in the Washington Post.


The other thing was that after seeing Rene Zellweger’s movie trailer, I was reminded of the tragic turn Judy’s life took in her later years. This weighed on my mind while I read portions of this book, describing the abuse Judy was subjected to during the filming of the movie. I’m looking forward to seeing Rene’s performance, though.

But as to my thoughts about this novel-

I found Maud’s character to be an interesting one. She is definitely her mother’s daughter in many ways. She absorbed more of her mother’s lessons than her sister did and practiced what she preached in an era of time when such behavior was unheard of. Yet, when it came to Frank… well, he wasn’t what her mother had in mind for Maud, but despite his obvious flaws, the two were a passionate couple, despite having opposite temperaments. While many misconstrue the meaning of ‘Happily Ever After’, this couple did, despite everything, enjoy a long- lasting love story.

( On the night of Frank's death on May 16, 1919, Maud imparted in a letter to her relatives, Helen Leslie and Leslie Gage: He told me many times I was the only one he had ever loved. He hated to die, did not want to leave me, said he was never happy without me, but it was better he should go first, if it had to be, for I doubt if he could have got along without me. It is all so sad, and I am so forlorn and alone. For nearly thirty-seven years we had been everything to each other, we were happy, and now I am alone, to face the world alone.)

Maud did not live a charmed life by any means, but I was fascinated by her life experiences and loved Lett’s version of events which gives the reader a few insights on where Frank found his inspiration for his book characters and stories.

The segments where Maud forces herself onto the Wizard of Oz studio set may seem a bit more dubious, but the author manages to juxtapose the magical quality of the picture with the darker realities of Judy Garland’s life as a young actress at the mercy of a monstrous stage mother, sexual harassment, and the pressure to stay thin and childlike.

The story is often very bleak, as good times, contentment, and joy are rare occurrences. There were times when I felt I needed a little break from reading this book, as a result. Not only was it a bit depressing, it was also slow moving at times, and I felt some segments could have been shortened. However, I am glad I stuck it out, as it did give me a lot to feel thankful for and an appreciation or the hardships many endured during this time period, especially women.

However, one thing the author manages to translate in the midst of all the hardships and trials, is that despite the constant difficulties in Maud’s life, and the sinister aspects of Hollywood, it is healthy, no matter what your age, to believe in a little magic sometimes. Indulging in a little make believe or fantasy can be cathartic. Frank’s stories were a gift and he intended them to bring joy and pleasure, which they did, for children and adults alike.

In an age where the bar is set high for authors to create books and write stories which are realistic, girding their creative license and stripping them of the right to simply make up a town, country, or even a name of a restaurant,or take liberties of any kind, insert the improbable or implausible for effect, this story slams home the danger of binding creativity and imagination or shaming those who like to indulge in fairytale romances, folklore, or fantasy of any kind. When did encouraging the freedom to dream or fantasize become a cardinal sin?

“Folklore, legends, myths and fairy tales have followed childhood through the ages, for every healthy youngster has a wholesome and instinctive love for stories fantastic, marvelous and manifestly unreal. The winged fairies of Grimm and Andersen have brought more happiness to childish hearts than all other human creations.

Yet the old time fairy tale, having served for generations, may now be classed as “historical” in the children’s library; for the time has come for a series of newer “wonder tales” in which the stereotyped genie, dwarf and fairy are eliminated, together with all the horrible and blood-curdling incidents devised by their authors to point a fearsome moral to each tale. Modern education includes morality; therefore the modern child seeks only entertainment in its wonder tales and gladly dispenses with all disagreeable incident.

Having this thought in mind, the story of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was written solely to please children of today. It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out.”

L. Frank Baum

Chicago, April, 1900.

Elizabeth Letts reminds us to simply allow ourselves to sit back and enjoy a good story, and let our imaginations roam freely, without feeling guilty for having indulged in something outside the realm of reality for just a little while. Sure, Maud may have lost faith a time or two, but she knew Frank’s stories were a gift - and that gift keeps on giving, even today.

So, go ahead- dream a little dream, believe in love, believe in magic, and dare to hope.

“Magic isn’t things materializing out of nowhere. Magic is when a lot of people all believe in the same thing at the same time, and somehow we all escape ourselves a little bit and we meet up somewhere, and just a moment, we taste the sublime.”






ELIZABETH LETTS is an award winning and bestselling author of both fiction and non-fiction. The Perfect Horse was the winner of the 2017 PEN USA Award for Research Non-fiction and a #1 Wall Street Journal bestseller. The Eighty-Dollar Champion was a #1 New York Times bestseller and winner of the 2012 Daniel P Lenehan Award for Media Excellence from the United States Equestrian Foundation. She is also the author of two novels, Quality of Care and Family Planning, and an award-winning children's book, The Butter Man. She lives in Southern California and Northern Michigan.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.