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updated: 7/21/2014 7:02 PM

Arlington Heights author digs up 'Wizard of Oz' history

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  • Arlington Heights author David J. Hogan wrote "The Wizard of Oz FAQ" to mark the beloved film's 75th anniversary this year.

       Arlington Heights author David J. Hogan wrote "The Wizard of Oz FAQ" to mark the beloved film's 75th anniversary this year.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • The Wicked Witch (Margaret Hamilton) makes plans to deal with Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz."

      The Wicked Witch (Margaret Hamilton) makes plans to deal with Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz."

  • In 2007, Munchkins from "The Wizard of Oz" celebrate receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at Grauman's Chinese Theatre, site of the film's 1939 premiere. The film is the subject of a new book by Arlington Heights writer David J. Hogan.

      In 2007, Munchkins from "The Wizard of Oz" celebrate receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at Grauman's Chinese Theatre, site of the film's 1939 premiere. The film is the subject of a new book by Arlington Heights writer David J. Hogan.
    Associated Press

  • The ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in the 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz" were size 4½, according to "The Wizard of Oz FAQ" by Arlington Heights author David J. Hogan.

      The ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in the 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz" were size 4½, according to "The Wizard of Oz FAQ" by Arlington Heights author David J. Hogan.

  • For the 75th anniversary of the classic 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz," Arlington Heights author David J. Hogan has written the definitive "The Wizard of Oz FAQ."

      For the 75th anniversary of the classic 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz," Arlington Heights author David J. Hogan has written the definitive "The Wizard of Oz FAQ."

  • For the 75th anniversary of "The Wizard of Oz," Arlington Heights author David J. Hogan has written the definitive "The Wizard of Oz FAQ."

      For the 75th anniversary of "The Wizard of Oz," Arlington Heights author David J. Hogan has written the definitive "The Wizard of Oz FAQ."

  • Arlington Heights writer David J. Hogan, author of "The Wizard of Oz FAQ," says Judy Garland was the greatest performer of the 20th century.

      Arlington Heights writer David J. Hogan, author of "The Wizard of Oz FAQ," says Judy Garland was the greatest performer of the 20th century.

  • Arlington Heights author David J. Hogan wrote "The Wizard of Oz FAQ" to mark the beloved film's 75th anniversary this year.

       Arlington Heights author David J. Hogan wrote "The Wizard of Oz FAQ" to mark the beloved film's 75th anniversary this year.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Video: The 'Hanging Munchin' Oz scene

 

If ever, oh ever, a classic there was, "The Wizard of Oz" is one because ...

Because, because, because, because, because ...

Because of the wonderful thing it was.

By all rights, though, the 1939 MGM musical could have been a disaster.

"It had half a dozen directors, at least 20 contributors to the screenplay. Yet, it all came together in this wonderful seamless whole."

That's the assessment of longtime Arlington Heights resident David J. Hogan, author of "The Wizard of Oz FAQ," a highly detailed and exhaustively researched look at the classic movie that has spawned inferior movie sequels and prequels, a Broadway musical ("Wicked"), zillions of "Oz" conventions and a watershed industry of memorabilia.

Amazon began shipping Hogan's work, published by Applause Theatre & Cinema books, over the weekend in celebration of the movie's 75th anniversary.

"There is a reason why, 75 years later, people still respond to it," Hogan said. "Its popularity isn't only about the characters or the story. It's as much about its incredible craftsmanship."

Hogan worked out of his Arlington Heights home for 13 months on the book, including nine months writing every day, Monday through Friday and sometimes Saturday.

"I'm pretty disciplined," he said flatly. "I like to research and, unlike many writers, I love the process. I get a kick out of it. I've never had writer's block. It was 13 months of fun. Really."

But aren't there enough "Oz" books on the market already?

"Yes," Hogan agreed, "books that are studio-authorized. They're very beautiful. But they're kind of superficial when it comes to the meaning of the film and about its place in the world during 1939.

"I wanted to do something -- I don't want to say analytical -- that's such a stuffy word. I think the book is a lively one. But something more thoughtful. As a film historian, I'm a kind of cultural archaeologist. I love to put film in the context of the day."

Hogan said he was impressed with the central character of Dorothy Gale, played by Judy Garland, and how in the film -- unlike in L. Frank Baum's 1900 novel -- everything that unfolds in Oz is part of Dorothy's dream.

"Every moment, the danger, comedy, ingenuity, thoughtfulness and cleverness, all of that comes from Dorothy! That's absolutely brilliant," he said. "It's Dorothy's dream! So when the Scarecrow guides the ax to cut the rope holding the chandelier in the witch's castle, she thought of that. Dorothy's brilliant!

"She's smart and courageous. It's really her story, and from that regard, it's a really modern film."

Hogan has lived with his wife, Kim, in Arlington Heights for 30 years. He was born and raised in Cleveland.

With an English degree, Hogan moved to Los Angeles in 1981 to staff the West Coast bureau of Cinefantastique magazine, published out of Oak Park. He learned the business quickly by reporting from film locations and covering the studios.

In 1984, after the birth of his first child, Hogan moved his family to Chicago's suburbs where he's been churning out books on music, movies, sports, civil rights and special interests.

For "Wizard of Oz FAQ," Hogan dug for details and untold stories, including bios on members of the Lullaby League and the Lollipop Guild, and reports about the elusive ruby slippers (size 4.5, found wrapped in a towel after production).

Hogan also debunks the many "Oz" rumors that have been circulated in recent years, such as the infamous one suggesting viewers can see a depressed Munchkin hang himself in the background of a scene.

"People get a big kick out of imagining that something sinister happened on the MGM soundstage," he said.

So what really happened?

"A sarus crane was rented from the L.A. Zoo," Hogan said. "It was late in the Depression and the zoo needed the cash. In the blurry background of a scene, it spread its wings.

"With the growth of the Internet, a notion like that (the onstage suicide) spreads and spreads," he said. "Then there was a YouTube video in which the images were slightly manipulated, so that the figure looks more human." (Check the controversial scene yourself at bit.ly/1oRrD7N.)

As for the ending of the movie in which Dorothy proclaims, "There's no place like home," Hogan said most critics don't understand what an empowering moment that is.

"The people who wrote this screenplay were smart and sophisticated people. Home is a physical place with brick and wood. But it's also about memory, aspirations, longing and fondness. For Dorothy, home could be Kansas, the farm or wherever she feels comfortable.

"Home isn't a fence. It's a gateway. Whatever Dorothy Gale wants to do in life, she will do. She's such a splendid thinker and a wonderful, brave person. She will not be spending her life on a grim farm in Kansas."

-- Dann Gire

• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are looking for Northwest suburbanites working in show biz. If you know someone with an interesting story, contact them at dgire@dailyherald.com and jsotonoff@dailyherald.com

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