Sunday, January 18, 2009

Salute to '39: Introduction

By the time the Wizard of Oz was released in August of 1939, the beloved characters from the Land of Oz had been travelling the yellow brick road for almost 40 years. With that in mind, and the astronomical sum put into promotion, one would think MGM's parent company Loew's would have considered merchandising much sooner. A royalty department was created especially to handle licensing accounts for MGM's 3 million dollar technicolor spectacle, but contracts weren't finalized until late spring. The fact this was a fledgling venture may have hindered negotiations between L. Frank Baum's widow and prospective licensees.

Despite their inexperience, Loew's was hoping to enjoy the same merchandising success of Disney's animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. However, many companies had misgivings about a live production when cartoons were already proven. As a result, very few licensees brought Oz merchandise to fruition. Stock needed to be on shelves quickly for the limited run of the movie and the upcoming holiday season. Oz tie-ins were cheap with short production runs and suffered a minimal shelf life.

The little product that did end up in the hands of consumers was certainly not meant to be collectible. Posters and lobby cards were hung to advertise short film engagements and promptly discarded. Dolls and toys were temporary diversions and oftentimes abandoned as children grew out of playthings. Over time, things wore out, broke, or were simply disposed of due to lack of interest.

Luckily for us, some individuals had the foresight to preserve Oz memorabilia for posterity and despite it's uncertain beginnings as a marketable property, the Wizard of Oz has persevered and become one of the most collectible films of all time parallelled only by the other phenom of 1939, Gone With the Wind.

Shown below is a St. Louis Department Store Window with Oz characters furnished by W.L. Stensgaard and Associates, Inc. The Oz displays were made up of a variety of figures and exclusive to one department store per city. W.L. Stensgaard's character concepts would show up on assorted collectibles as well.

Please keep checking back for other curiozities from 1939.

Sources :
The Oz Scrapbook - David L. Greene & Dick Martin
100 Years of Oz: A Century of Classic Images from the Wizard of Oz Collection of Willard Carroll - John Fricke
The Wizard of Oz Collector's Treasury - William Stillman & Jay Scarfone
The Baum Bugle Autumn 1989 "The Merchandising of MGM's Oz: The 1939 Licensees and their Products" - William Stillman
The Baum Bugle Autumn 1997 "Oz Oddity"