In 1910, the year that Selig’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was released, L. Frank Baum and his family moved to California, settling in Hollywood, where he built a house called Ozcot. He established himself quickly in the social scene and became a member of The Upilifters. The group, composed of businessmen, theatrical types, and others, had been formed the previous year by Harry Marston Haldeman, a businessman who had moved to Los Angeles from Chicago.
Their meeting place was the Los Angeles Athletic Club, and their aim was to “uplift art” and “promote good fellowship” among themselves and their community. Among the Uplifters’ activities, including luncheons and dinners, were theatrical productions to which the theater people donated their time and resources; needless to say, Baum was right in there with them! During this time, Baum met one Louis Ferdinand Gottschalk, the great-nephew and namesake of a composer and bandleader named Louis Moreau Gottschalk. Having chosen his great-uncle’s path in life, Gottschalk proved to be no mean composer himself, and among his work for The Uplifters were scores for three of the club’s stage shows, each of which had been written by Baum.
This led to a friendship and continued collaboration between the two men, beginning with a very ambitious project: The Oz Film Manufacturing Company. With Baum as president, Gottschalk as vice president, and Haldeman as secretary, the company set out to produce family-friendly entertainment, as even in those early days of film, concerns were raised as to what children ought to watch. Baum worried about the amount of violence children were exposed to, especially in shoot-’em-up Westerns and sought to provide something equally action-packed but lacking in “horrible and blood-curdling incidents,” as he had expressed in the introduction to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
(Actually, as with that book, he did end up creating some rather nightmarish imagery in his films, such as the Tin Woodman decapitating the Wicked Witch of the West, who then has to find her head, but more on that later.)
With the hearty approval of, and hearty contributions from, his fellow Uplifters, Baum got his project underway in 1914. The Oz Film Manufacturing Company set up shop in a studio on Santa Monica Boulevard. Besides being president, Baum was also exclusive screenwriter while Gottschalk was company composer. The studio’s films were all directed by J. Farrell MacDonald, who had, and was to enjoy, much success as an actor, director, and eventually teacher. James A. Crosby and Will H. White handled cinematography and technical direction respectively.
All this makes it sound as if Baum took it easy, delegating the responsibility to his colleagues and concerning himself simply with writing the stories (which, in a sense, he already had, but more on that later). But as a reporter who once visited the set discovered, Baum in fact threw himself enthusiastically into every aspect of production, not trying to run everything, but doing what he could to make it all as good as it could be.