Born in New York in 1856, Frank Baum had his first best-selling children’s book with 1899’s Father Goose, His Book. The following year, Baum scored an even bigger hit with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and went on to write 13 more Oz books before his death in 1919. His stories have formed the basis for such popular films as The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Oz the Great and Powerful (2013).
After stints as a newspaper journalist and businessman, Baum started writing for children in his forties. He had discovered his talent for storytelling from the nursery rhymes and tales he told his four sons from his marriage to Maud Gage. The pair had wed in 1882, and Gage was the daughter of famed suffragist Matilda Joslyn Gage. In 1897, Baum published his first collection for young readers Mother Goose in Prose, which was illustrated by Maxfield Parish. He soon followed up this work with the hugely popular Father Goose, His Book. This book became the top-selling children’s title of 1899 and featured illustrations by W. W. Denslow.
In 1900, Baum introduced readers to a fantastical land filled with witches, munchkins and a girl named Dorothy from Kansas in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The story of Dorothy’s quest to find her way home, accompanied by a tin woodsman, a scarecrow and cowardly lion, proved to be quite popular. Baum wrote about his intentions in the book’s introduction: “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was written solely to pleasure children today. It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heart-aches and nightmares are left out.”
Two years later, Baum transformed his fairy tale into a successful Broadway musical. He re-imagined a popular culture figure around this time with The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1902). In 1904, Baum returned to Oz with the first sequel to his beloved work, The Wonderful Land of Oz.
In addition to his Oz books, Baum wrote more children’s titles under an array of pseudonyms. He wrote the Aunt Jane’s Nieces series as Edith Van Dyne among other projects. In 1910, Baum moved his family to Hollywood, California, where he worked to bring his stories to the big screen. The first movie versions of his Oz tales were made as short films.
In declining health, Baum underwent gall bladder surgery in 1918. He spent the last year of his life confined in bed, never fully recovering from the operation. Just days before his birthday, Frank Baum died on May 6, 1919, at his home in Hollywood, California. Glinda of Oz was the last title he wrote for the Oz series.
While the nation mourned this great storyteller, Baum’s characters lived on. Several other authors, including Ruth Plumly Thompson, were hired to continue to create new Oz adventures. Twenty years after his death, a new film version of his classic tale appeared on the big screen. The Wizard of Oz, starring Judy Garland, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Ray Bolger and Frank Morgan, debuted in 1939. The Wizard of Oz went on to become one of the most watched movies in cinematic history.
Baum’s stories continue to fascinate and enchant to this day. Writer Gregory Maguire has written several books exploring the lives of some of Baum’s most famous characters. His 1995 book, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, was used as the basis for the popular Broadway musical Wicked. On the big screen, James Franco played the magician who ends up as the Wizard of Oz in 2013’s Oz the Great and Powerful. His character must tangle with forces of good and evil, which are manifested in the film by Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz.
- May, 15, 1856
- Chittenango, New York
- May, 06, 1919
- Los Angeles, California
Cause of Death
- suffered a stroke
- Forest Lawn Memorial Park
- Glendale, California