If you, like many people, know “The Wizard of Oz” only through the Judy Garland movie, you might not know that the book that birthed the “Oz” story incited Harry Potter-like fever in its day.
You’ve probably never seen the stable of other “Oz” characters beyond the Scarecrow, Tin Man and those nasty flying monkeys.
And did you know back in the disco days of the 1970s you could buy “Oz”-themed paper dolls and dress Dorothy in a leisure suit and the Tin Man in hip-hugger bell-bottoms?
The folks at Kansas City’s National Museum of Toys and Miniatures want you to ease on down the road to their renovated digs and get to know “Oz” in a new way.
“Wizard of Oz” collectors from around the country have donated costumes, replica ruby slippers, soaps, party masks, valentines, clothing hangers — an entire exhibit’s worth of eye candy for “Oz” fans.
And of course there are “Oz” dolls and hand puppets and play sets and other toys because — well, it’s a toy museum.
“Because our focus is on toys or miniatures, we decided that we wanted to look at the way that this novel influenced toy production,” said Laura Taylor, the museum’s curator of interpretation.
“And so, although not everything we have in the exhibit is toy-related, we wanted to include things that kind of fleshed it out and gave people a bigger story.”
“Over the Rainbow: Toys From the Land of Oz,” opening Saturday, is a kid-in-a-candy-store treat for fans of the “Oz” story in all its iterations. Halloween costumes based on “The Wiz,” for instance, were rare because of the red tape involved with anything having to do with Michael Jackson, who played the Scarecrow in the 1978 movie musical.
But one of those “Wiz” Halloween costumes has found its way here.
We hear that one museum staff member, a fan of the 1985 Disney fantasy-adventure “Return to Oz,” nearly fainted when the stunning Princess Mombi costume from the movie arrived.
Most of the items displayed belong to Kansas City’s own “Oz” superfan, Jane Albright, who asked about 20 fellow members of the International Oz Club to loan one-of-a-kind pieces from their private collections.
(By “superfan,” we mean a woman who moved into a bigger home two doors away so she could pull her overflow memorabilia out from closets and under beds and display everything properly — on the entire third floor.)
The exhibit spans the life of the “Oz” story, from the earliest books and toys through the decades of stage, radio, animated, Broadway, and big and small screen adaptations that followed, Albright said.
For Kansas City, “the exhibit’s a first because it’s not just one collector’s material,” said Albright, who has loaned pieces of her collection to other shows at Crown Center and the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas. “Together we’ve provided a unique look at ‘Oz’ through its playthings.”
“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” author L. Frank Baum would probably be beside himself to see what he started by writing what the Library of Congress calls “America’s greatest and best-loved homegrown fairytale.”
Baum’s book, published in 1900, was meant as a one-shot deal. One book. That’s it. But fans clamored for more, Taylor said. So he wrote 13 “Oz” sequels.
Taylor had not read the original until she started working on the exhibit. A first-edition copy of the book takes pole position there.
“It’s interesting to kind of separate what I thought from the book and what I thought from the movie,” she said. “I hope that curiosity makes visitors want to read the book.
“That’s what I really hope, because I think that there’s a lot to be said for that whole entire series being fleshed out in a person’s mind and not just stopping with the film.”
Toys and products related to the book were slow in coming compared to the flood the 1939 MGM movie unleashed.
“The Patchwork Girl of Oz,” the seventh book in the series, debuted in 1913. The exhibit includes a tiny wooden toy of the four-legged, cat-like Woozy from that book. It is a rare piece, one of only two known to exist, said Taylor.
When “Patchwork Girl” became a silent film produced by Baum’s short-lived Oz Film Manufacturing Co., the piece became the first known mass-produced toy used to promote a film.
“The thing about Baum that I think is really interesting, that I didn’t know until I started on this exhibit, he had been an actor and a playwright, so he immediately sees the performative qualities of this story,” Taylor said. “He writes a Broadway play for it, and he’s immediately trying to figure out how we can make this a performance.”
Near where the Woozy sits, an interactive display on the wall introduces visitors to other colorful characters from Baum’s “Oz” books. A metal fella named Tik-Tok — no relation to the Tin Man — was one of the first robots ever featured in literature.
“We’re so familiar with the movie, but many of the popular characters from the novel have sort of fallen by the wayside,” said Taylor.
But without question, the 1939 MGM movie starring Judy Garland as the girl from Kansas who takes a ride inside a tornado, roared like a lion when it comes to promotional memorabilia.
From the collectibles side, the exhibit includes two costumes from the movie: a jacket worn by a Munchkin and one worn by an Emerald City townsman. One belongs to 30-year-old Walter Krueger of suburban Chicago, a well-known “Oz” fanatic who owns enough memorabilia to fill his own museum, which he plans to open this year.
The wool jackets share exhibit space with several replica pairs of ruby slippers made by Randy Struthers, another uber fan known for his impeccable beaded reproductions of the famous film footwear.
One pair replicates the “Arabian test pair,” which appears only in test shots from the movie. Garland was said to prefer the elaborate, Arabian-themed shoes, with curled toes and heels, to the ones that ultimately became iconic. But the fancy slippers were ultimately deemed much too exotic for a farm girl from Kansas, said Taylor.
The museum curator is particularly charmed by a Dorothy doll created by the Ideal Novelty & Toy Co. It looks like Judy Garland from the movie.
“I think that’s one of the things that the movie did was unify everybody’s perception of what the ‘Wizard of Oz’ should be,” said Taylor.
“Before that, everybody had a different perception of Dorothy. In the book we have Dorothy who is a child. She’s wearing silver slippers, not ruby slippers.
“When we think about Dorothy (now) we think of a teenager with big brown eyes and ruby slippers. And I think it’s interesting that we all share that same vision, and that was from 1939 on.”
“Over the Rainbow: Toys From the Land of Oz” runs through Aug. 20 at the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, 5235 Oak St. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily (closed Tuesdays and on Martin Luther King Day). Admission is $5; free for ages 4 and younger. See toyandminiaturemuseum.org or call 816-235-8000.