Finding Dorothy

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 15 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

You couldn't make this stuff up. Author Elizabeth Letts  say a photo of Judy Garland on the set of "The Wizard of Oz" with Maud Baum, the widow of Oz author L. Frank Baum. What was that about? she must have wondered, and the result is a fascinating novel that readers will love.

Maud Gage was born during the Civil War and raised by her progressive family to value education for women and be headstrong. Her parents--her mother was the suffragist Matilda Joslyn Gage--sent her to a boy's school and then to Cornell, one of the first women to attend. but Maude left college before graduating when she met Frank Baum, who had his own theater company and traveled the country. Frank was not a terribly practical man, but he had a kindness and whimsy that won everyone over. 

Having heeded her mother and making sure she had her own money, widowed Maud is living in Hollywood when she hears that Frank's first Oz book is being made into a movie. The Oz stories were hugely popular and she feels an obligation to make sure the story is true to Frank's vision, especially the character of Dorothy. Maud may be elderly but she has lost none of her determination to see things done right. She befriends Judy Garland--who she feels is much to old to play Dorothy, who's about six in the books--but for whom she feels a great affinity. Was Maud's influence felt in the final version? And who was the inspiration for Dorothy?

Although the Hollywood scenes are wonderful and filled with  peaks into a movie nearly everyone knows and loves, the scenes of the Baum's life in a Dakota boom town are some of the best in the book. Her characterization of Frank Baum captures his joyful humor and work ethic. How wonderful that he was able to strike the happy mean where he could express his delight in the world and support his large family.

Letts' first two books were non-fiction and with "Finding Dorothy" she proves herself to be as equally skilled in weaving stories around people as she was around horses. This book is a treat. ENjoy!
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This books is one of those books that reminds you of the joy of imagination and childhood desires. It's a book about discovery. We see Maud have to discover her own path despite her overly ambitious mother. We see Frank discover his true passions. We witness the evolution of Dorothy and all that she represents on both a personal and public level. Letts wove the dual timelines together seamlessly. I had no knowledge of the lives of either the Baum or Gage family. Letts paints such a vivid picture of life in upstate NY, the Dakotas, Chicago and eventually Hollywood. It was such a wonderful read!
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ith all that's going on in the world, I have picked up and put down more books than I can count.  This one was the exception, I caught from page one. Of course, the fact that the Land of OZ is a special interest of mine has a lot to do with it, but I would recommend this book even if I had never heard of Wonderland.  

If this has not been purchased as a movie property, someone is missing the boat.  I think I want Dianne Wiest as Maud Baum, the wife of the writer of OZ, L. Frank Baum.  I'm not sure about Garland.  I do hope they go for someone short, though.  I'm tired of tall people playing the 4'11' star.

But to the book: this is the slightly Ozified (for Wicked fans) telling of the true story of the lives of L.Frank Baum and his Suffragist female relatives, especially his devoted and long-suffering wife, Maud. Maud was the daughter of Matilda Baum, a compatriot of Susan B. Anthony who worked and wrote actively for women's rights ad the right to vote in the late 19th century. Her daughter, Maud, was raised to assume the mantel but chose, instead, to run off with a dreamer, a theatre man, and a futurist, the least steady combination that she could chose.


It is widely documented that Baum was a failure in business, crashing one start up after another and grudgingly working as a salesman while Maud struggled to make ends meet while raising their four boys. However, despite this disappointing life, thee two had a devoted marriage and Frank, unable to give up his dreams and fancies, wrote the first original American fairy tale for American children in the Oz books.


The book picks up when Maud, now keeper of the Oz legacy following her husband's death, takes on the "lions" of MGM who are altering the much loved story for the screen, abusing Judy Garland in the worst possible ways, and -- horror or horrors -- trying to cut Somewhere Over the Rainbow which preview audiences thought too long and too serious.


Maud, against her own nature, becomes an avenging angel for the story, the song, and the young vulnerable star. There is much in the story that is similar to the movie, "Saving Mr Banks", the story of the making of Mary Poppins against the wishes of PL Travers.  But this book is kinder to the principle characters and the back stories of the Baum family's hard times, is a testimony to America's pioneers who opened the unforgiving Dakota territory taking with it the sanity and fortunes of many pioneers.


If I would dispute anything in the book, it is the treatment of Lahr and Haley, in particular, toward Judy Garland.  Other accounts say that the two ego-driven actors were unkind and unhappy with the young girl stealing the show.  Unfortunately, her sexual abuse and drug abuse at the hands of her mother and the studio are too well documented to be denied.


But there is humor in this book and there is pathos and, above all, there are two wonderful stories intertwined into one wonderful book.  If you are an Oz fan, this is a must read.  If you are a movie fan, you should not miss it.  If you are simply looking for a good book to distract you from the issues of the day, buy the book.  It's worthy of Wonderland.
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The Wizard of Oz is such a classic movie that anyone who has seen the original version starring Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale has always wondered what it was like behind the scenes filming such an iconic film.  Finding Dorothy focuses on Letts's findings of Maud Baum the widow of L. Frank Baum the author of the book and the original story. Having read books inspired by movies such as P.L. Travers' Mary Poppins and seeing movies like Saving Mr. Banks and how she was so passionate about Mary Poppins and why she had to be there with Walt Disney while filming the movie to make sure her character was portrayed correctly.  Maud's passion for Dorothy reminded me of that but it was also more because she developed such a bond with Judy Garland, that she became protective of Judy as well as Dorothy while filming and that just brought tears to my eyes wanting to witness this amazing friendship while filming one of the most iconic movies ever. Such a heartwarming story that is sure to leave you breathless and bring tears to your eyes. 

Thank you NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. Our community is sure to love this book and we can't wait to add it to the library collection. That is why we are honored to give this book 5 stars!
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I loved this book. A peek into the lives of those that brought us the story of oz. I enjoyed the blend of historical fiction with true story of author and family. This will be recommended to all my Oz fans
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