Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts
Publishing Date: 4th April 2019
Source: Received from the publisher, thank you!
Number of pages: 368
Genre: Historical Fiction, General Fiction (Adult)
A richly imagined novel that tells the story behind The Wonderful Wizard of Oz , the book that inspired the iconic film, through the eyes of author L. Frank Baum’s intrepid wife, Maud–from the family’s hardscrabble days in South Dakota to the Hollywood film set where she first meets Judy Garland.
Maud Gage Baum, widow of the author of the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, met Judy Garland, the young actress playing the role of Dorothy on the set of The Wizard of Oz in 1939. At the time, Maud was seventy-eight and Judy was sixteen. In spite of their age difference, Maud immediately connected to Judy–especially when Maud heard her sing “Over the Rainbow,” a song whose yearning brought to mind the tough years in South Dakota when Maud and her husband struggled to make a living–until Frank Baum’s book became a national sensation.
This wonderfully evocative two-stranded story recreates Maud’s youth as the rebellious daughter of a leading suffragette, and the prairie years of Maud and Frank’s early days when they lived among the people–especially young Dorothy–who would inspire Frank’s masterpiece. Woven into this past story is one set in 1939, describing the high-pressured days on The Wizard of Oz film set where Judy is being badgered by the director, producer, and her ambitious stage mother to lose weight, bind her breasts, and laugh, cry, and act terrified on command. As Maud had promised to protect the original Dorothy back in Aberdeen, she now takes on the job of protecting young Judy.
“Finding Dorothy” is written from Maud Gage Baum’s point of view – she was Frank L. Baum’s, the author of “The Wizard of Oz”, wife. It tells the story in two different time frames and subplots – the first one starting in the 1870’s and telling about Maud’s private life and the second in the 1939 Hollywood, where filming of “The Wizard of Oz” starring Judy Garland took place.
I haven’t seen the film, so there, I’ve just said that. But if I’m to see it anytime then I’ll know that the slippers weren’t ruby and that Oz isn’t emerald green – as the book has just confirmed this.
It was a beautiful, nostalgic story that I thoroughly enjoyed, though I think I’d love to hear about Maud’s childhood much more, she was such a tomboy, just a girl after my own heart. Nevertheless, her story was absolutely captivating, colourful and one of a kind. We cover the years from 1871 to Hollywood in 1939, following a dual time line in Maud’s life.
The story of Maud being a daughter of a leading voice for women’s rights Matilda Gage was already hooking, but it was even better and more interesting to learn Maud getting to know Frank and what has happened after that. Of them, young and poor, and raising a family of four boys. Of Matilda being so upset with her young, independent and well educated daughter to marry so quickly and a “theatre man” that she stopped talking to her daughter after the marriage. I don’t want to recount more – the story is rich in detailed, brilliantly researched information and facts and it’s so hooking that just go and read it for yourself and fell in love with it, just like I did. Maud proves to be her own woman, strong, optimistic and determined.
The second subplot is the making of the movie and Maud tries to keep it true to her husband’s original storyline and where she befriends Judy Garland, and it was fascinating to read those parts. I admired Maud so much, her strength and determination and how unselfish she was, trying to help Judy during filming. She was not afraid to speak her mind when fighting for her husband’s vision, when she’s noticed that something was not right – clearly, the fact of being a daughter of a famous suffragette paid off.
I loved Maud’s passion and determination to ensure that the movie really reflected her late husband’s vision, especially after so many refusals and people and life throwing challenges at her. I adored being able to have a look at the behind the scenes of the movie parts of the story. However, it was also shocking, especially the way the author described how the then 15 years old Judy Garland was treated. I’m guessing that what she’s written has really happened – pills for everything, cigarettes, slap in the face, many “uncles” surrounding her – this manipulation and yes, abuse, was on a daily basis.
It was a very well researched story, with some acts and events of course distorting the truth but still realistic and sounding real. It was an original, captivating, colourful read, full of hidden treasures, behind the scenes facts and things that never saw the light of day. Be aware that the books starts a little slowly and is rather long, as the author goes on to describe the lives of Maud and Frank in a very detailed way, introducing us to all the places where they used to live and all the jobs Frank took up, but when it picks up on pace there was nothing that could me drag away from it. It’s a book with a heart, poignant and touching, a tribute to Frank L. Baum, Maud Baum and “The Wizard of Oz”. It’s about never giving up, about having dreams and letting them come true. The author in a great way blends facts and fiction, so well in fact that you won’t be able to tell which is which. It felt authentic and passionate, engaging and is very well written. Highly recommended!
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