Friday, July 19, 2013

"You see, I am stuffed, so I have no brains at all."

"When I was a boy," L. Frank Baum told a newspaper in 1904, "I was tremendously interested in scarecrows. They always seemed to my childish imagination as just about to wave their arms, straighten up and stalk across the field on their long legs. I lived on a farm, you know.  It was natural then, that my first character in this animated life series was the Scarecrow..." (Michael Patrick Hearn, The Annotated Wizard of Oz)  
Baum introduces his first Oz character with these words: 
"There was a great cornfield beyond the fence, and not far away she saw a Scarecrow, placed high on a pole to keep the birds from the ripe corn ... Its head was a small sack stuffed with straw, with eyes, nose and mouth painted on it to represent a face. An old, pointed blue hat, that had belonged to some Munchkin, was perched on this head, and the rest of the figure was a blue suit of clothes, worn and faded, which had also been stuffed with straw. On the feet were some old boots with blue tops, such as every man wore in this country, and the figure was raised above the stalks of corn by means of the pole stuck up its back."
Fifteen years after the first book, the Scarecrow become the title character in Baum's The Scarecrow of Oz . The Scarecrow "type" seems to go through minor variations in the early years.
It's hard to imagine any other actor playing the part of the Scarecrow other than Ray Bolger. However, he was originally cast as the Tin Man. As fate would have it, the roles were switched prior to the production. Personally, I always felt a little bad for the Tin Man and Lion when Dorothy confesses to the scarecrpw, "I think I'll miss you most of all," before climbing into the balloon. Later I learned that MGM had a love interest plot between Dorothy and Hunk, the farmhand who became the scarecrow in Dorothy's dream, linking the two. Thank goodness someone had the brains to not go there.
Dorothy: Now which way do we go?
Scarecrow: Pardon me, this way is a very nice way.
Dorothy: Who said that?
[Toto barks at scarecrow]
Dorothy: Don't be silly, Toto. Scarecrows don't talk.
Scarecrow: [points other way] It's pleasant down that way, too.
Dorothy: That's funny. Wasn't he pointing the other way?
Scarecrow: [points both ways] Of course, some people do go both ways.

A more recent image (2008) of the Scarecrow for Marvel Comics by the creative team of Skottie Young and Eric Shanower.
For the Museum's Wee Faerie Village in the Land of Oz faerie Scarecrow, the illustrator took a walk on the wild side, literally. According to Miller, the scarecrow faerie "had the potential to go in so many different directions. But I knew he would be made out of garden detritus. I spent the most time wandering through the neighbor's garden thinking about this character. I brought a lot of stuff into the studio from the garden. Which helped on the rest of the character concepts too."
The final design paid homage to some of the earlier faerie illustrations using maple seedling for wings.

David D.J. Rau
Director of Education and Outreach

David D.J. Rau coordinates as well as participates in the Museum’s October creative endeavors. You can contact him at

Friday, July 05, 2013

"If I Were King of the Forest!"

The Cowardly Lion's song in the 1939 MGM film says it all: "Yeah, it's sad, believe me Missy / When you're born to be a sissy / Without the vim and verve ... I'm afraid there's no denyin' / I'm just a dandylion / A fate I don't deserve." Nevertheless, the character of the Cowardly Lion was placed on the cover of the original 1900 edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. On the cover the Lion is shown wearing the green spectacles required of all visitors who enter the dazzlingly brilliant Emerald City.
L. Frank Baum gives the Lion a dramatic entrance: "Just as he spoke there came from the forest a terrible roar, and the next moment a great Lion bounded into the road. With one blow of his paw he sent the Scarecrow spinning over and over to the edge of the road, and then he struck at the Tin Woodman with his sharp claws. But, to the Lion's surprise, he could make no impression on the tin, although the Woodman fell over in the road and lay still. Little Toto, now that he had an enemy to face, ran barking toward the Lion, and the great beast had opened his mouth to bite the dog, when Dorothy, fearing Toto would be killed, and heedless of danger, rushed forward and slapped the Lion upon his nose as hard as she could, while she cried out:
    "Don't you dare to bite Toto! You ought to be ashamed of yourself, a big beast like you, to bite a poor little dog!"
    "I didn't bite him," said the Lion, as he rubbed his nose with his paw where Dorothy had hit it.
    "No, but you tried to," she retorted. "You are nothing but a big coward."
    "I know it," said the Lion, hanging his head in shame. "I've always known it. But how can I help it?"
One of W. W. Denslow's images of the Lion seems to capture the exhausted creature's comments in the MGM movie when he explains to his new friends that he cannot fall asleep:
Cowardly Lion: Look at the circles under my eyes. I haven't slept in weeks!
Tin Woodsman: Why don't you try counting sheep?
Cowardly Lion: That doesn't do any good, I'm afraid of 'em.
Here's a few Lion images of the early Wizard of Oz stage productions. 
Enter Bert Lahr, an actual Leo being born on August 13, 1895. Fresh from a theatrical career in burlesque and vaudeville, Lahr's vibrant portrayal of the Lion was a hit. His two singing solos in the movie might just balance his having to endure the heat the hot studio lights while wearing a heavy costume fashioned with real lion fur. Now, that's hot.
The image of the Cowardly Lion goes through myriad of manifestations in later books including his most recent homage as Brrr in Wicked author Gregory Maquire's A Lion Among Men.
For illustrator Aaron Miller, the task was to put faerie-esque wings onto the large furry Cowardly Lion. His solution was to imagine a fuzzy moth with wings detailed with lion paw markings. According to the illustrator regarding the Lion: "This was one of my favorites. I mixed the lion with a moth. Moths just have that fuzziness that was perfect for the lion character."
The first rendition was a tad scary until Aaron was able to provide the Cowardly Lion with some endearing eyes.
David D.J. Rau
Director of Education and Outreach

David D.J. Rau coordinates as well as participates in the Museum’s October creative endeavors. You can contact him at