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Biography of L. Frank Baum (1856-1919)

L. Frank Baum L. Frank Baum

Lyman Frank Baum, beloved author of the iconic American children's book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was born in Chittenango, New York on May 15th, 1856. His father was an oilman in Pennsylvania and the family was devoutly Methodist. Baum was a quiet and shy child who read copiously; he particularly liked fairy tales but adapted them so they were less frightening. When he was 12, he enrolled in military school but was removed after two years due to his lack of physical activity and discipline.

In 1869 his father gifted a printing press to Baum and his brother Henry. Baum created his own newspaper entitled Rose Lawn Home Journal, named after the family estate. Baum wrote all of the content. At 20, he began breeding poultry and eventually wrote a journal and book on the subject.

After studying theater in New York City, he ran an opera house in Richburg, NY from 1881-1883. During this time, he wrote and acted in his first play, The Maid of Arran (1882). While living in New York he married Maud Gage, dabbled in theosophy, and tried to go into private business. When the business failed he moved his family to Aberdeen, South Dakota.

In his new Midwestern home he opened a department store, which failed, and edited a newspaper, Saturday Pioneer, which also failed. He expressed the lamentable - but at the time widespread - view that the Native Americans who scarcely populated the West should be exterminated; an editorial on the subject was published nine days before the Wounded Knee Massacre of December 1890. He was also moderately active in the suffrage and Populist movements that were popular during the last years of the 19th century.

Baum then moved his family to Chicago, where, prompted by his mother-in-law, he wrote down the nursery rhymes he composed in his youth. This effort was later published as Mother Goose in Prose, illustrated by painter Maxfield Parrish (1897). For the next volume, Father Goose: His Book (1899), Baum worked with W.W. Denslow, who would later go on to illustrate the Oz books. Both were incredibly successful.

In 1900 Baum published his most famous book – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It was also very successful and was turned into a Broadway musical in 1902. Positive reviews and acclaim encouraged Baum to write numerous sequels to his first Oz book. Although he wrote other books for children, his Oz series were by far the most popular and cherished.

In 1910 Baum moved his family to Hollywood, but he did not enjoy financial success there either and had to declare bankruptcy. This unfortunate turn of events necessitated the annual publication of a new Oz book. Living in the movie town led Baum to start the Oz Film Manufacturing Company, in which he worked on film effects and scripts.

Baum suffered ill health for nearly three years and died of a stroke on May 6th, 1919 at the age of 63. He is buried in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. His final Oz book, Glinda of Oz (1920), was published posthumously.

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