Lyman Frank Baum (May 15, 1856 - May 6, 1919) was an American author and the creator of one of the most beloved classics of children's literature, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Baum's Childhood and early life
Frank was born in Chittenango, New York, the seventh of nine children born to Cynthia Stanton and Benjamin Ward Baum, only five of whom survived into adulthood. He was named "Lyman" after his father's brother, but always disliked this name, and preferred to go by "Frank". Benjamin Baum was a wealthy businessman, who had made his fortune in the oil fields of Pennsylvania. Frank grew up on his parent's expansive estate, Rose Lawn, which he always remembered fondly as a sort of paradise. As a young child Frank was tutored at home with his siblings, but at the age of 12 he was sent to study at Peekskill Military Academy. Frank was a sickly child given to daydreaming, and his parent may have thought he needed toughening up. But after two utterly miserable years at the Military Academy, following an incident described as a heart attack, he was allowed to return home.
Frank started writing at an early age, perhaps due to an early fascination with printing. His father bought him a cheap printing press, and together with his younger brother, Harry Clay Baum (who had always been close to Frank), produced The Rose Lawn Home Journal. The brothers published several issues of the journal, and were even able to sell ads in the paper. By the time he was 17 Baum had established a second amateur journal, The Stamp Collector, printed an 11 page pamphlet Baum's Complete Stamp Dealers' Directory, and started a stamp dealership with his friends.
At about the same time Frank entered his lifetime infatuation with theater and the performing arts, a devotion which would time after time lead him to failure and near-bankruptcy. His first such failure occurred at age 18, when a local theatrical company duped him into replenishing their stock of costumes, with the promise of leading roles that never came his way. Disillusioned, Baum left the theatre - temporarily - and went to work as a clerk in his brother-in-law's dry goods company in Syracuse.
At the age of 20, Baum took on a new vocation: the breeding of fancy poultry, which was a national craze at the time. He specialized in raising a particular breed of poultry, the Hamburg chicken. In 1880 he established a monthly trade journal, The Poultry Record, and in 1886, when Baum was 30 years old, his first book was published: The Book of the Hamburgs, A Brief Treatise upon the Mating, Rearing, and Management of the Different Varieties of Hamburgs.
Baum could never stay away from the stage long. He continued to take roles in plays, under the stage name of Louis F. Baum. In 1880 his father made him manager of a string of theaters that he owned, and Baum set about writing plays and gathering a company to act in them. The Maid of Arran, a melodrama based on a popular novel, proved a great success. Baum not only wrote the play but composed songs for it, and acted in the leading role.
He married Maud Gage, daughter of Matilda Joslyn Gage, the famous women's suffrage activist.
The South Dakota years
Frank and Maud later moved to Aberdeen, South Dakota, where he opened a store, "Baum's Bazaar". His habit of giving out wares on credit led to the eventual bankrupting of the store, so Baum turned to editing a local newspaper, The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, where he wrote a famous column, "Our Landlady". Baum's description of Kansas in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is based on his experiences in drought-ridden South Dakota.
Baum becomes an author
Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and thirteen other novels based on the places and people of the Land of Oz. Several times during the development of the series, he declared that he had written his last Oz book and devoted himself to other works of fantasy fiction based in other magical lands, including The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, The Adventures of Father Goose and Queen Zixi of Ix. However, persuaded by popular demand, letters from children, and the failure of his new books, he returned to the series each time. All of his novels have fallen into public domain in most jurisdictions, and many are available through Project Gutenberg. His final book was published after his death in 1919 but the Oz series was continued long after his death by other authors, notably Ruth Plumly Thompson who wrote an additional nineteen Oz books. Baum was buried in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, in Glendale, California.
Baum was highly prolific, and wrote under several pseudonyms, including: Floyd Akers (The Boy Fortune Hunters Series), Laura Bancroft, John Estes Cooke, Capt. Hugh Fitzgerald, Suzanne Metcalf, Schuyler Saunton and Edith Van Dyne (Aunt Jane's Nieces series).
According to one urban legend about Baum, when the wardrobe department of MGM began to buy costumes for the movie version of The Wizard of Oz (1939 movie), they purchased second hand clothes from rummage sales around Hollywood. Actor Frank Morgan who played the Wizard, was given one such second-hand overcoat to wear, and he happened to notice that the lining of the coat had a label saying, "Property of L. Frank Baum". In early publicity for the movie, MGM emphasized that this was a true story.
A common misconception is that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was written as a parable on populism. Nothing in Baum's biography or style supports this notion, though there are some cute parallels between the book and certain historic figures.