Finding Dorothy

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 15 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

I still remember the first time I saw The Wonderful Wizard of Oz on TV...many, many years ago.  I've watched it many times since and it never fails to entertain.  Lions and tigers and bears. Oh, my, can still start a conversation on what you loved most about the movie.  Elizabeth Letts builds on those memories and feelings by giving us the story behind the curtain. 
The author of OZ never saw the movie.  His wife is the steward of his books insuring the story comes alive as he saw it.  This book is so good I'm not sure how to describe how Ms Letts brings the reader into the story and shows them the "movie" of Baum's life and how she remembers the journey to Oz.  It's a wonderfully researched and written, bringing the characters front and center while the readers readily feel as if they are in the story along side.  I'm so glad I read this book.  I've recommended it to everyone in my reading family.
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I have always loved The Wizard of Oz movie and couldn’t wait to read Finding Dorothy! Elizabeth Letts tells the story of a young Maud Gage Baum and her life with L. Frank Baum along with the making of the movie version of Baum’s famous book. I loved reading how Baum’s real life was woven into his book. This is a must read glimpse behind the scenes of one of our most cherished books and movie adaptation.
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Finding Dorothy caught my eye after seeing it on several Instagram accounts.  A book that tells the story behind The Wizard of Oz while incorporating the making of the movie - well definitely count me in.  Thank you Netgalley and Ballantine books for a free review copy in exchange for a honest review.

While I started out reading this book, I ended up buying the audiobook.  I have found that, at times, audiobooks engage me more with the story more the reading of it. In any case I was enchanted by this book.  I hadn’t realized that the bulk of the story would be told through Maud - Frank L Baum’s wife and initially wasn’t sure if we were  going to be a fit.  However, once I understood how the story would flow I became wrapped up in first Maud and then Maud and Frank’s life.  The descriptions of their travels, the places they lived and the experiences they had were vividly written and I could easily picture them in my mind.  

The true heart of the book, for me, where the characters.  Maud, fiercely independent but utterly devoted to Frank and their family. Frank , a creative genius, who loves his family and wants to provide for them while also maintaining his creative spirit. Julia, stoic and determined but who struggles with the way her life turned out. I could go on as there are many more including Maud’s mother, a leading woman in the suffragette cause, and Judy Garland.  It is suffice to say the author did an outstanding job bringing these historical characters to life.

If you enjoy stories based on historical figures or even enjoy ones based on fascinating characters who are richly developed then highly recommend you pick up this gem up!
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I enjoyed the time I spent with Elizabeth Lett’s Finding Dorothy, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I have mixed feelings about the book. 

On one hand, I think those who love the books and/or the movie will love the nostalgia of this volume. Told as a dual narrative, the book chronicles the Baum marriage and the development of the books as well as Mrs. Baum’s effort to ensure the spirit of the novels was retained in the beloved MGM adaptation.
On the other, I feel those who are less attached to either will be challenged by the tone of the narration. The story is a slow and sympathetic and while its themes are interesting, I felt the presentation less than seamless. For the sake of example, I felt he suffragette movement as seen in the 1800s storyline brilliant, but I didn’t feel the fight for the vote flowed naturally into the sexual abuses of Hollywood’s shamelessly misogynistic leadership in the 1930s. 

To put it simply, Finding Dorothy tries to be both Finding Neverland and Saving Mr. Banks but doesn’t quite capture the magic of either. It’s a sweet and big-hearted story that stands as an ode to both Baum’s imagination and Victor Fleming’s vision, but I’d be hesitant to recommend it to those who are only casually interested in the land of Oz.
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From Goodreads: Thanks to the digital review copy, I finished reading just ahead of its release in early February. This is an interesting take on a familiar subject: The Wizard of Oz movie. This time we meet L. Frank Baum's widow, Maud, who is alive and attempting to make Hollywood stick to the book while making the film. I loved Maud and her tenacity. Great book. I didn't want to put it down. 

I'm pleased to have another historical fiction featuring the life of a woman 'behind the man,' similar to "Loving Frank" and "Under the Wide and Starry Sky." My guess is that this will be a favorite for bookclubs because you can do so much with it including a re-read of The Wizard of Oz, re-watching the film and possibly reading about the life of Judy Garland.
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I'm sorry to say that I didn't even manage to finish this book. I found the story to be very dry and neither storylines (the 1880s and Hollywood) worked for me. I found myself totally uninterested in Maud's upbringing and marriage. Although I found Maud's mother, Matilda, to be pretty awesome. I wouldn't mind reading a book about her story instead. 

If the book had focused solely on the Hollywood story would I perhaps have managed to finish the book. The backside of Hollywood is always interesting to read about. Alas, I'm not even sure about that because I found Maud meddling on the set just annoying. I've never read the books and the movie is not a favorite of mine, so perhaps it's not that odd that I didn't find the story that engrossing.
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Finding Dorothy is a  unique and entertaining book.  The tale is of Maud Baum, the wife of famous author L. Frank Baum who penned the Oz books.  Maud is concerned about keeping her promise to her late husband .  She promised to do everything she could to ensure that the MGM film of the Wizard of Oz stayed true to his creation.  Maud struggles to get the studio to take her seriously - the 1930's were not a time when women had much of a voice.  She meets young Judy Garland and takes it upon herself to watch out for Dorothy/Judy.  This is harder then it seems - the young, gifted artist is taken advantage at every turn.  They didn't count on Maud's perseverance and dedication.As Maud is waiting for meetings, or watching filming, she flashes back to the journey that got her there,  beginning with attending Cornell University and meeting her future husband.  Maud's mother, Matilda Gage, was a confirmed suffragette who traveled about lecturing with  Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  Matilda worked hard to get Maud into the first female class admitted to the prestigious Cornell University.  Maud was excited, but not happy.  She met Frank Baum over school break at her room mate's party.  The instant attraction was squashed by Matilda who did not raise her daughter to marry a theater man, but love won out and Maud joined Frank and the company.  Frank found more stable work as Maud became pregnant with their first child.  The couple over came many obstacles and Maud stood staunchly by Frank as fate led them from the Dakota wilderness to Chicago and Frank's creation of Oz.

Elizabeth produced a well researched, well written book detailing the Baum family's struggles and Frank's journey to produce one of the best loved books in the world.  Maud's loyalty to her husband is amazing as her persistence results in a movie that her husband would have loved, and a more confident and nurtured Judy Garland as her rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" becomes a beloved hit.  While this is a book of fiction, its obviously based on facts and was a fascinating read.  This book is suitable for young adults but I think people of all ages, especially fans of Frank Baum, will love it!
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I really enjoyed this book and had to keep reminding myself that it's historical fiction and not all necessarily totally  true.  That's how realistic the writing was to me.  The author does a very good job of describing the characters and imagining the interactions between them.  I loved Maude though I wonder if she was really as progressive as she appears in this book.  Many books of historical fiction sort of 'rewrite history' with the feelings of today.  Whether that is the case here or not doesn't really matter because the well-paced story stands on its own.
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This is a wonderful historical novel.  The main character is Maud Baum wife of L. Frank Baum the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  The story moves back and forward in time from the early days of Maud and Frank's courtship and married life to Maud's mission to make sure that the Hollywood movie remains true to her deceased husbands story.  Maud's mission to make sure the movie is done correctly begins to encompass her concern for the young girl portraying Dorothy in the movie.  The reader also learns that Maud's mother was a suffragette who raised her daughter to be a strong independent thinker.
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Having read and loved all of the Oz books as a child, it was shocking to realize I knew almost nothing about the life of the author, L Frank Baum.  This work of historical fiction does a wonderful job of telling the story of his life, but more importantly the strength of the woman who shared that life with him.
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Who doesn't love the The Wonderful Wizard of OZ!  This book provides an other look at this icon of a story.  Maud  was married to the author of the book and when she finds out the story is being made into a movie, she is determined to guard the secrets of the story.  She arrives on set and sees Judy Garland bring the story to life and Maud feels that she must protect both the actress and the real Dorothy.
This book  tells of love, loss and inspiration just as the original The Wonderful Wizard of Oz treated us to those emotions.
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FINDING DOROTHY by Elizabeth Letts is a LibraryReads choice for February 2019 which will definitely appeal to readers of historical fiction and of works by authors like Lisa Wingate, Paula McClain, and Melanie Benjamin. In Letts' novel, Maud Gage Baum, the widow of L. Frank Baum, is in Hollywood during the 1938-39 filming of The Wizard of Oz, but the story also moves back and forth in time to recount her childhood and married years. It is a fictionalized account filled with real people and events like Maud's early life near Syracuse, her stint as an undergrad at Cornell and times with her husband in South Dakota and Chicago. As such, the text also offers an informative look at turn of the century America and a more rural time.  In addition, there is a theme of women's rights – due to connections to Maud's mother who was a fairly famous suffragette, to dangers of pregnancy, and to later treatment of Hollywood actresses like the young Judy Garland.   

Booklist called Maud "a fascinating character" and I totally concur; I especially enjoyed seeing how elements of her life story may have found their way into Baum's books. Publishers Weekly gave FINDING DOROTHY a starred review. There are many surprises and much for fans of the movie to enjoy here. 

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Published at the turn of the century in 1900, L. Frank Baum’s THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ seems like a book that has always existed, separate from an author or publishing process and connected only to its readers. When the iconic movie adaptation released in 1939, it too remained a classic, and many viewers fell in love with Dorothy, Toto and the yellow brick road without ever realizing that the story was born in the pages of a book. In her engrossing and illuminating novel, FINDING DOROTHY, author Elizabeth Letts turns the table to focus not only on the man behind Oz, but also on the woman behind him and her role in bringing Dorothy to life on the big screen.

When we meet Maud Baum, she is in her 70s and long widowed by her husband, Frank. She recently has learned that the film rights to his most popular work, THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, have been purchased by MGM Studios. When she finds out that MGM has cast Judy Garland as Dorothy, she is reminded of a promise she made to her late husband to always take care of Dorothy, and vows to find a way onto the set to make sure that his vision is brought to life. She does just that, giving her a chance to hear the first version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” see the actors cast as the Munchkins, and watch with great concern as Judy is stifled, oppressed and abused by the men around her. From then on, she knows it is not only her job to protect her husband’s work, but also to watch over the young actress.

Told in alternating timelines, FINDING DOROTHY details both the love story between Maud Gage and L. Frank Baum and how Judy Garland made her dazzling portrayal of Dorothy come to life. In a parallel narrative to the Hollywood storyline, we meet a young Maud, daughter to Matilda, an ardent suffragette with pointed views and a no-nonsense demeanor (for reference, Matilda was a contemporary and dear friend of Susan B. Anthony). Although Maud is a bit of a tomboy, she still suffers under the weight of her mother’s expectations and refusal to fly under the radar. This baggage is truly highlighted when Maud joins the coed class at Cornell, where she is one of 20 or so women who learn, eat and socialize amongst college boys --- all while bearing their rude remarks, fragile egos and drunken fraternizing. Maud feels as though she may never find the freedom she desires until she meets Frank, her roommate’s cousin, a bright and captivating young man who acts in, writes and directs theater productions.

As an elderly Maud reflects and reminisces on her life with Frank, Letts draws numerous parallels to her life as a rebellious young woman and the various indiscretions she observes on the set. Knowing the actress’s fate, readers will feel 16-year-old Judy’s pain as she is forced into a strict diet, flirted with by older men and generally ignored as a real person. Letts brings the set to life; Maud’s interactions with costume designers, directors and actors remind us all that The Wizard of Oz was truly cutting-edge for its time, and the amount of work that went into it was staggering. Fun fact: Dorothy’s famous shoes were originally meant to be silver, but the producers worried that silver would not look good on film. Now it is hard to imagine an Oz without ruby slippers.

Tales of old Hollywood are always dazzlingly captivating, and there is something scandalous about reading about young Judy before the drug addictions and tabloid rumors, but for me the true star of FINDING DOROTHY was Maud. Letts writes such a complex and dedicated portrait of this forgotten woman, and her struggle between wanting to learn and be independent and her desire to break away from her mother’s notoriety positively leaps off the page. Later, when she and Frank are married and struggling to get by, they find themselves in South Dakota, and I loved learning about Frank’s life before his writing took off. Even more fun was seeing which tiny, seemingly unimportant elements of Maud and Frank’s life later found their way into his Oz books. In one scene, for example, Frank delights some children by telling a story about a woodcutter who is so clumsy that he has to keep getting body parts made of tin. His point in relating this story is the usefulness of his family’s oil company, but it is easy to see the gears turning for the character of the Tin Man.

It is worth noting that FINDING DOROTHY is definitely a work of fiction. Maud did meet Judy, but it is unlikely that she had such a strong role in the girl’s life. And while an early scene has her saving the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from being cut, that seems implausible. What is true, though, is Frank’s dedication to women’s rights, something that will likely please modern readers. In fact, upon reflection, I can now see that Dorothy herself was a much more strong-willed, feminist character than I ever realized when watching the movie or reading the books as a child. Though his views were no doubt bolstered by his wife and her suffragette mother, Letts also shows us the ways that Frank himself championed women’s rights and how his work informed his writing.

A delightful look behind the scenes, FINDING DOROTHY is a book full of magic, and a wonderful tribute to the beloved books and movie that we now consider American classics. Maud’s storyline is every bit as compelling as its Hollywood counterpart, and Letts does a brilliant job of bringing her characters to life, connecting the dots between fact and fiction, and illuminating the power of women to protect and celebrate one another.
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I wasn't sure I'd like this one, but I love Wizard of Oz stuff, so I wanted to try. I was pleasantly surprised at the storytelling and the character of Maud. It was easy to read and get involved in. I liked how it switched between her younger days and when the movie was being made. A very interesting take on the story.
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I absolutely loved reading about Maud and Frank Baum and their life together and how it shaped one of my all time favorite books The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The alternating chapters of their life together and the making of the movie evoked some very heartfelt memories for me and I enjoyed every minute. I recommend this well researched book to any fan of historical fiction and for fans of Oz.
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Fascinating story about how the author of The Wizard of Oz went about Finding Dorothy interspersed with the making of the movie in 1938-39.

Maud Baum is the unifying character in the two strands of her life described in the book. It begins with a 77-year-old Maud attempting to get on the MGM lot to ensure that her long-dead husband’s book would be faithful carried to the silver screen. While the bright colors of Technicolor including the bright green of Oz were unfamiliar, Maud sees a vulnerability and talent in Judy Garland when she hears her singing “Over the Rainbow”. After proving her worth to the MGM honchos, Maud covertly takes Judy under her wing with the help of the studio head’s secretary.

In a parallel story, Maud at nineteen is one of the first woman at Cornell. Her mother, a famous suffragette, insists that she become an attorney. However, Maud only has eyes for handsome actor and small theater producer, Frank Baum. Once married, the couple are deeply in love but have ongoing financial problems. When Frank is convinced to publish the book he spends travel time on the train writing, the Wizard of Oz thrusts them both into the spotlight.

I enjoyed both parts of Maud’s story but perhaps the movie one slightly more. Finding Dorothy is an excellent look behind the scenes at the cost of both movie and literary stardom. 4 stars!

Thanks to Random House and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Fans of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz will enjoy this dramatization of the life of Maude Baum (Gage), Frank's wife and advocate.
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I am a huge fan of The Wizard of Oz and in 2009 I read The Real Wizard of Oz by Rebecca  Loncraine, one of the books Letts used in her research so I was excited to read this historical fiction take on the creation of Oz. Overall, the story is interesting, but seems to lack emotion. There just wasn’t enough of a connection between Maud’s emotional connection to the Oz stories and her assumed passion to making sure the movie honored the book. As an avid reader and movie geek, I understand that need for an adaptation to be “just right,”, but it just didn’t show upon the page until too late.
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Such an original and interesting story, it will hook you from the first scene to the last.   Absolutely charming, the outlook on The Wizard of Oz you never knew you needed, but won't be able to put down once you start.
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Finding Dorothy is the story behind one of the most beloved books (and movies) of all time, The Wizard of Oz. The story is told through the voice of L. Frank Baum’s wife, Maud. 

Finding Dorothy covers the time that Maud and Frank live in South Dakota, barely making ends meet. It was during this time that the couple meets a real life Dorothy who inspired Frank to write the novel. The book also covers Maud’s early years as the daughter of a suffragette. 

When Maud later is introduced to Judy Garland, who would play the beloved Dorothy character in the movie, she describes how Garland’s rendition of “Over the Rainbow” takes her back to those tough days before the book’s big boom. 

Maud and Judy Garland connect despite their over sixty year age difference. Maud is a widow at the time of the making of the movie. 

Alternating between the past storyline of Maud’s life and Maud and Frank’s marriage, there is also the storyline in 1939 on the active film set of the movie. During these days, Judy is mistreated by those making the movie, as well as by her “stage” mother, and Maud does her best to protect her. 

Finding Dorothy feels well-researched and authentic. Fans of the book or movie will gobble this one up. The author is as passionate about the story as many of us are, and it shines through in her writing, especially in the afterword. If you are a Wizard of Oz fan, I think this one should definitely be on your TBR! 

I received a complimentary copy. All opinions are my own.
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