| Pay attention to the man behind
He's president of the International Wizard of Oz Club
By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs
So his colleagues often chuckle with surprise when he divulges his side-job: president of the International Wizard of Oz Club.
While the 2,000-member club, founded in 1957, has its lighter side - such as dispelling rumors about drunken munchkins on the set of the famous 1939 MGM movie or answering inquiries from folks looking for Oz-themed party supplies - it also deals with issues of a more serious nature.
"One of the hot topics for discussion among members is what material is considered official Oz canon," Hanff said. "Some consider the original 14 books written by L. Frank Baum as the only authentic text, while others include the subsequent 26 books written by six other authors."
While the club takes no official stand on these issues, it happily provides a forum for vigorous discourse on the topic.
But while the scholars debate literary legitimacy, the rest of the world continues its Kansas-sized love affair with all things Oz. "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" book, celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, has had a profound influence on American culture. Most know the story through the movie starring Judy Garland and her ruby slippers (in the book, the shoes are silver, but the color was switched in the film to take advantage of the new Technicolor process).
But the fairy tale reached earlier audiences through a hugely successful 1903 Broadway play and several silent movies, many produced by Baum's own Oz Film Manufacturing Co.
"Its an archetypal quest story," said Hanff of the story's continuing appeal. "Each character - Dorothy, the scarecrow, the tin man and the lion - has the ability to accomplish something. But they don't recognize their own talents. Once they connect with these abilities, great things happen. That innocence and optimism is something all of us can relate to."
Hanff joined the club in 1961, the result of writing an honors thesis on Baum in high school. To assist with his research, the school librarian suggested Hanff contact the head of special collections at Columbia University, who in turn put Hanff in touch with the International Wizard of Oz Club. "I corresponded with the club's founder through a series of very formal letters that always started with 'Dear Mr. Schiller.'" Hanff recalled. "After several exchanges, Schiller wrote back explaining he was only 16 years old himself, so such formality was unnecessary."
Over the years, and many miles of yellow-brick road, Hanff rose through the club's ranks to become president. Next year, he begins an unprecedented sixth term.
Forty-three years after its founding, the club, now an endowed, non-profit corporation, is considered one of the world's definitive sources of Oz-related material.
At its annual conventions, club members and Oz experts share information, present research papers, display artifacts (such as rare books, illustrations and posters), participate in panel discussion and join costume parties dressed as Winkies (characters from the book) and other Oz characters.
At this year's special century celebration in Indiana, participants could choose from a "Meet a Munchkin" panel (where lollipop kid Jerry Maren, 80, revealed that he and the other "little people" in the movie earned half of what Toto did) a session on gay men's unique attraction to Oz, or a collectors' show-and-tell event, where one presenter proudly brandished a photocopy of Margaret Hamilton's (the movie's wicked witch) birth certificate.
Much to Hanff's pleasure, the fascination with the land of lions and tigers and bears continues with each new generation, ensuring a base of fans for the next century to come.
And somewhere over
the rainbow, L. Frank Baum is smiling. And Toto too? And Toto too.
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