L. Frank Baum Biography

L. Frank Baum was a poultry breeder before he wrote his wildly popular The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. He even published a monthly trade journal called The Poultry Record and a book about Hamburg chickens, but Baum’s first real success as a writer came with his book Mother Goose in Prose. In 1900, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published and became an overnight hit. In fact, it remained the best-selling children’s book for two years after that, and because of popular demand, Baum ended up writing thirteen more Oz books. Baum also penned many other stories, poems, and scripts, but none of them could live up to the success or critical acclaim of his Oz series.

Facts and Trivia

  • Baum was obsessed with the theater. His father actually built him one in 1880, but it burned down—ironically enough during a production of Baum’s play Matches.
  • The popular book and subsequent Broadway musical Wicked are based on Baum’s Oz stories. The main character’s name, Elphaba, is based on Baum’s initials.
  • Baum once wrote an article praising Sitting Bull, but later in the article he urged the annihilation of all remaining Native Americans.
  • Baum once owned a store, Baum’s Bazaar, but he gave so much merchandise out on credit that the store went bankrupt.
  • Baum worked with illustrator John R. Neill until Neill published The Oz Toy Book without permission.

Biography

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Article abstract: Baum is best known for creating the marvelous land of Oz, a utopian fantasy world chronicled in a series of children’s books beginning with the publication of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900. Through his Oz series, Baum created a unique American version of the standard fairy tale.

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Early Life

Lyman Frank Baum was the seventh of nine children born to German immigrants Cynthia and Benjamin Baum. The Baum family immigrated to the United States seeking religious freedom. Frank’s grandfather was a Methodist circuit rider. His father was a cooper who later became wealthy in the oil skimming business. Born with a weak heart, Frank is said to have suffered from bouts of angina throughout his entire life and was tutored at home until age twelve, when his parents decided he was healthy enough to attend the prestigious Peerskill Academy, a military boarding school in Peerskill, New York. Baum left Peerskill after two years and finished his education at home.

Baum’s writing career began when his father bought him a small, foot-powered printing press for his fourteenth birthday. Within a year, in May of 1871, Frank and his younger brother Harry were publishing The Rose Lawn Home Journal, a neighborhood newspaper. In 1872 Baum began publishing The Stamp Collector, a monthly magazine for philatelists. In 1873, Baum purchased a new press and, along with Thomas G. Alford, founded The Empire.

When Baum turned nineteen, he put his writing and publishing career on hold to become an actor and a breeder of Hamburg chickens. After winning awards from several poultry associations, Baum started a new magazine, The Poultry Record. Poultry was to remain one of Baum’s preoccupations. In 1886 he wrote his first book, The Book of the Hamburgs, a complete guide to Hamburg husbandry.

Through his late teens, Baum wandered through numerous jobs ranging from salesman to oil worker. Born with good looks, a strong stage presence, and a strong baritone voice, Baum seemed to be a natural for the stage. He attempted to fulfill his desire to act by joining up with traveling theater troupes. After being fleeced by a number of troupes, he turned to theater management when his father purchased a small chain of opera houses in New York and Pennsylvania. In 1881 Baum published the successful musical melodrama The Maid of Arran, which was based on the Scottish novel A Princess of Thule by William Black. One year later, Baum married Maude Gage, daughter of Matilda Joslyn Gage, a prominent figure in the women’s suffrage...

(The entire section contains 3665 words.)

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