Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts


Elizabeth Letts takes readers back to 1939 Hollywood, where the Wizard of Oz movie was being shot. Maud Gage Baum, wife of author Frank Baum and visiting Maud, visits the set where young Judy Garland will portray Dorothy.

Maud finds herself thinking back on an attempt at helping one of Frank’s characters – in this instance, Dorothy herself from Aberdeen – whom Maud cared for and tried to assist. So Maud pledges her protection as she had done back then.

Maud Gage Baum

Maud Gage Baum, wife of The Wizard of Oz author Frank Baum, played an instrumental role in supporting him, his estate, and his works. Born and raised in Fayetteville, New York, I briefly attended Cornell University as an undergraduate. Matilda Joslyn Gage was a prominent suffragist who played an influential role.

As soon as Maud learned of Hollywood’s plans to adapt her late husband’s book into a movie, she became determined to ensure its adaptation remained faithful to its spirit and original storyline. She tried hard to get on set to ensure producers remained true to its core themes; additionally, she took troubled young Judy Garland under her wing to protect her from both studio demands and her ambitious stage mother.

Finding Dorothy is a fascinating tale about love, loss, and perseverance written by Elizabeth Letts, author of two New York Times best-selling nonfiction books. Elizabeth Letts excels at uncovering rich historical narratives and turning them into compelling page-turners.

She recounts a period when women did not speak up for themselves and when culture and standards defined what a woman could achieve. Maud was an intelligent woman with strong opinions who did not hesitate to voice them even though women of her time were expected to keep quiet.

Maud’s life unfolds in Hollywood in 1938, as well as her experiences before this point, seamlessly. The vivid writing makes for an engaging read that speaks directly to issues plaguing women today.

Discovering Dorothy is a captivating read that captures the essence of its original book and movie adaptations. It tells a tale about women’s power in an era when their strength was not fully recognized and shows how one man managed to pen such strong female characters as Dorothy of Oz, Glinda, and even the Wicked Witch of the West despite being all male authors.

Matilda Joslyn Gage

Matilda Joslyn Gage (born March 24 in Cicero, New York – March 18, 1898 in Fayetteville, New York) was an American writer and activist best known for her advocacy of women’s suffrage but also for working on Native American rights, abolitionism, and freethought (the freedom for individuals to think whatever way they desire). Gage wrote numerous articles and pamphlets and co-authored volumes 1-3 of the History of Woman Suffrage series.

Gage was an iconoclastic radical during her time, taking on the conservatism of the women’s rights movement and organizing against it. She spoke at numerous national and state conferences and founding suffragist groups. Gage co-founded the National Woman Suffrage Association alongside Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony and edited their multivolume History of Woman Suffrage; additionally, she published several important books related to women’s rights, such as Woman as Inventor and Woman’s Rights Catechism.

Gage was an activist tirelessly working for all oppressed groups, and her ideas had lasting influence over reform movements even into the 20th century. Her legacy can still be found today, even though she may have never expected it. Seeing Dorothy shows this: her ideas on women’s power and matriarchy found expression through L. Frank Baum, who used Gage’s research in his Oz series and religion, echoed through The Principles of Freethought book, while witchcraft views were heavily influenced by Gage’s 1893 book Woman Church State State.

Gage’s work on the suffrage movement gained her much notoriety, yet much of her life was spent behind-the-scenes organizing conventions, editing suffragist newspapers, and collecting petitions for women’s right to vote. Gage was an integral part of this movement and played an instrumental role in developing its legal basis; she even sat beside Susan B. Anthony during her trial and advocated on her behalf after her conviction was handed down, finally creating the framework for civil disobedience campaigns which continue being employed today by suffragists.

L. Frank Baum

Lyman Frank Baum, author of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” was born May 15, 1856, in Chittenango, New York. Born into a family with German, English, and Scots-Irish roots, he was home-tutored until he started printing his newspaper with his brothers in their backyard. Following unsuccessful theatre and journalism attempts, he turned his talents to writing children’s stories, drawing inspiration from nursery rhymes shared with them at home.

Though Baum had always had an avid desire for writing, his success did not come until his 40s. In 1880, his father built him a theater in Richburg, New York, where Baum started writing plays with actors he recruited from local theater troupes to act out his productions of The Maid of Arran and Father Goose His Book, which proved modest successes but soon afterward collaborated with illustrator W.W. Denslow to publish Mother Goose in Prose and Father Goose His Book which quickly became classic children’s tales that gained prominence among readers everywhere.

After the success of Baum’s children’s books, he published more children’s literature under various pseudonyms and adult fiction and science fiction using Laura Bancroft, Floyd Akers, Schuyler Staunton, and Edith Van Dyne as pseudonyms. He also directed several movies, such as The Wizard of Oz.

Baum was well known for his literary works; however, he also pursued various other business endeavors in addition to this endeavor. These included owning newspapers and magazines in the Dakota Territory (now South Dakota), running poultry farms throughout rural Kansas during drought conditions, acting as a journalist at Democratic conventions nominating William Jennings Bryan for president, and owning poultry farms throughout Kansas and rural Missouri; working at drought-ravaged rural Kansas newsrooms as a journalist – one such event being his nomination of William Jennings Bryan for president nomination at this same convention in June 1888!

Due to his entrepreneurial and creative drive, Baum tried many jobs before finally writing children’s stories to outlet his childhood memories and fascination with the American West. Over his lifetime, he published over 40 books; some remain popular, while others have fallen out of favor. He even dabbled briefly in Hollywood, producing and directing movies based on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz!

Judy Garland

Though she became famous through The Wizard of Oz, Garland suffered deeply from childhood memories, drug use, and turbulent relationships. Still talented as both an actress and singer-actress, she appeared in over 35 movies, had her television show, and recorded albums plus performed concerts over 1,100 times – her rendition of “Over the Rainbow” remains one of the most well-known in history until her untimely death from an accidental barbiturate overdose at age 47 in 1969.

Garland suffered through an unstable and abusive childhood, yet her acting prowess quickly earned the attention of MGM studio executives. When she was young, she was given amphetamines to stay alert on set and diet pills to maintain camera slimness; both substances eventually led her down an addictive path, leading to dependence.

Garland shot to stardom with her breakthrough role as Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz (1939). This film became one of her signature roles and earned her an Academy Award (Juvenile Oscar). Alongside filmmaking, Garland also created musicals like Babes in Arms and The Harvey Girls that cemented her status as an icon.

By the late 1940s, Garland’s health had begun to deteriorate due to drug use and exhaustion from an exhausting shooting schedule that sometimes saw her work up to 18 hours per day, filming two or three movies at once and sleeping only three to four hours at night; she relied on stimulants like Ritalin and caffeine pills as stimulants to stay awake; her diet of drugs contributed significantly to her increasingly unpredictable behavior.

Garland attempted to reinvigorate her career in 1950 with the film Summer Stock and rejoined Fred Astaire again for Easter Parade, but by her last days, she was suffering from severe depression and had even attempted suicide; newsreels covered this incident as an apparent attempt.

Garland went through two more short marriages and several lovers during her lifetime, eventually being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. In her final years, she performed one-woman concerts – culminating with her 1961 recording of Judy at Carnegie Hall, which earned Album of the Year by Grammy voters and was on the charts for over 18 months – her performances being known for their unique sound and vibrant presence.