Topeka The 70th anniversary of the release of the MGM musical “The Wizard of Oz” won’t pass unnoticed in the home state of its central character, the feisty Kansas farm girl Dorothy Gale.
The capstone of Kansas celebrations of the August 1939 release of the iconic film will be Oct. 3-4 at a special edition of the annual OZtoberFEST in Wamego, the northeast Kansas town that has embraced all things Oz more so than any other in the state in which L. Frank Baum set the books that inspired the movie.
However, commemoration of “The Wizard of Oz” at 70 already has commenced in Topeka, the capital city whose capitol dome is the color of the Emerald City.
The Great Overland Station, the railroading museum, is showing through October “All Aboard the Oz Express,” which contains just a fraction of the Oz memorabilia collected by Jane Albright since she was a girl growing up in Topeka’s Potwin neighborhood.
‘A very real place’
“I grew up reading Oz books,” the former Jane McNeive said recently at the display in the station’s Fink Exhibit Gallery. The books, she said, “present Oz as a very real place,” and one with which the young girl was fascinated.
“I remember when I was little, my parents were planning a trip to Utah, and I was just really cross that they weren’t taking us to Oz,” she said. “It seemed possible because when you read these books, Dorothy keeps getting there.”
By the time Albright was a student at Hayden High School and later Kansas University, she was collecting more than just Oz books. After friends gave her some Oz collectibles, Albright began acquiring more, particularly vintage games and toys.
Albright found items that date back to around 1900 when Baum published the first Oz book. There are Valentine’s Day cards, jars of Oz peanut butter, even an Oz snowboard. She has posters of the original movie and its many international editions. There are Oz books from around the world, especially Russia, where Oz sequels have become so popular some think it originated in that country.
One section is devoted to holiday ornaments, nutcrackers and other seasonal Oz items, with a nod to the fact that Baum wrote non-Oz books, too, including “The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus.”
Albright’s material also includes acknowledgement of the spin-offs of Oz, including the Broadway musical “Wicked” and other film adaptations of the Baum story or movies and television programs that reference Oz or use it as a jumping-off point.
With the walls covered, display cases jammed and exhibit areas crammed with Oz memorabilia, Albright said visitors to her home wouldn’t think anything was missing from her collection there because it is so extensive. She also is putting together an exhibit of Oz dolls for the United Federation of Doll Clubs Museum in Kansas City, Mo.
As an active member of the International Wizard of Oz Club, Albright also is organizing its annual convention, which will be Oct. 2-4 in Manhattan and Wamego. In Manhattan, the English Department at Kansas State University will conduct a symposium, “Recreating Oz,” in conjunction with the convention, which also is timed to coincide with Wamego’s OZtoberFEST.
All four of the still-living actors who portrayed Munchkins in “The Wizard of Oz” who still make public appearances will attend OZtoberFEST for autograph sessions and cameo appearances in the Columbian Theatre’s annual production of the stage musical version of “The Wizard of Oz.” There also will be hot-air balloon rides, presentations, a display of gowns worn by Judy Garland and other activities.
Albright said she intentionally made the “All Aboard the Oz Express” exhibit at the Great Overland Station one that people coming to the International Wizard of Oz Club convention or OZtoberFESt would want to stop and see as it isn’t duplicative of what is on display at the Oz Museum in Wamego.
Another much-anticipated lead-up to OZtoberFEST will be the release next month of a 70th anniversary edition of “The Wizard of Oz.”
Each of the 1939 film’s original Technicolor camera negatives was scanned and reassembled in a new digital master with twice the resolution seen in the master for the film’s previous DVD releases. People can see the result in movie theaters Sept. 23 at a special one-night screening.
The one in Topeka will be at 7 p.m. Sept. 23 at the Hollywood 14, where the tickets already are on sale.
Then on Sept. 29, “The Wizard of Oz 70th Anniversary Edition” will go on sale, including a commemorative set with nearly four of all-new and never-before-available bonus features housed in numbered collectible packaging. It will sell for a limited time only for $69.92 for DVD and $84.99 for Blu-ray Hi-Def. There also will be a two-disc special edition DVD set for $24.98.