To Oz!

Lessons from Oz, the IPPY Award-winning book written and self-published by Julienne La Fleur, translates the magic of Oz into 35 life lessons that adults sometimes forget – when was the last time you skipped down the sidewalk?!? "I needed a book written by someone like me – someone who adores the movie, can do a mean munchkin imitation, and knows where and why the film touches your heart," says La Fleur. Here's an excerpt from the book's preface: "Lessons on how to live life come from many different places. Some people use the stories in the Bible. Some people learn what they need to know from their parents. Lately, I’ve been using the story about a wizard and a girl from Kansas." "I’ve always loved The Wizard of Oz. I have an Auntie Em. (Really, I do.) Ever since I was little I’ve identified with Dorothy. She was my idol. She had a dog, and she got to go over the rainbow. A good witch watched out for her, and she met all kinds of nice friends. She skipped and danced and sang—and she had the coolest shoes ever. (Who didn’t want a pair of those shoes?)" "When I watch The Wizard of Oz, I’m still filled with a sense of wonder. It’s not just a nice story; it speaks to my spirit. It inspires, it warms, it touches my heart and makes me want to go skipping." "Dorothy’s journey through Oz is an allegory that directly parallels our lives. In each scene, from the beginning of the movie to the end, a lesson can be found in Dorothy’s experiences." "These lessons are good reminders of things we already know but sometimes forget — ways to be and live that make us feel great about ourselves and our lives. If we learn from these lessons, we will begin to see that our actions and positive attitudes influence the world around us, making it a better place." "Dorothy’s lessons can be our lessons."


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Dorothy, a Munchkin & Me...Oh, My
I watched The Wizard of Oz again last week.

Not exactly a newsflash, since I’ve seen it more than a hundred times.

That’s the power of a timeless story.

The first, and most famous, in L. Frank Baum’s series of Oz books was published in 1900. Stage shows and film versions followed, and in 1939, the classic, and best, film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz was released.

Happy 70th Anniversary!

During the past year, the world has taken note of this milestone, though the 50th Anniversary, back in 1989, was understandably a much bigger multi-media deal, pardon the pun, with commemorative books that range form the original story, the coffee table book-sized script with songs and photos from the movie, and the glossy pictorial history of the book and movie to the remastered video and a documentary.

Oh, and did I mention the beach towel?

Yes, I have them all…and then some.

When I was in Washington, D.C. back in ’87 to interview Larry King, before I got to my grown-up, professional responsibilities, I spent the afternoon at The Smithsonian, where, of course, I stood in awe in front of Dorothy’s famous ruby slippers.

I am a fan. A huge fan.

The Wizard of Oz was the first MGM movie ever sold to network television, and CBS first aired it in 1956, the year I was born.

When Walter Cronkite died a few months ago, and I wrote a tribute column, I joked that I’d been raised by the great newsman. Well, he had some help. Cronkite and The Wizard of Oz raised me together.

I’m not alone. I have millions of “sisters” and “brothers” the world over who feel the same way.

Whatever obstacles came her way, Dorothy overcame them – she was a lot like Shirley Temple in that way, whose characters always beat the odds and had more courage and common sense then the adults in their orbit – and she both led and had help from her three best friends: a bunch of guys.

That probably helps explain all the platonic male buddies I’ve gathered over the years.

Julienne La Fleur won a 2009 IPPY Award for her 2008 self-help book, Lessons from Oz, whose publication was timed to take advantage of the 70th Anniversary of the film. I wasn’t a judge in her category, so my Oz devotion had nothing to do with her win. I didn’t see the book until I met Julienne at the IPPY Awards in New York this past June, and when I did see it I knew why it took home an award: it’s well-written, insightful, and gorgeously designed.

My first thought was, “It’s about time someone wrote a book like this.”

My second thought was, “Why didn’t I think of doing this?”

Those of us who agree with Julienne all wish we’d written her book.

I did, however, get to interview a munchkin.

On September 27, 2002, I spoke on the phone with Meinhardt Raabe, who, at 23, played The Coroner munchkin, who, in his royal blue robe sings his official proclamation that The Wicked Witch of the East (the one Dorothy’s house landed on ) is “not only merely dead, she’s really, most sincerely dead.”

Of course, I couldn’t resist, and I sang the entire song to him on the phone. And then had him sing it to me. He was very gracious and didn’t mind a bit. I was honored.

Raabe, who not long after published his memoir, Memories of a Munchkin: An Illustrated Walk Down the Yellow Brick Road (Back Stage Books 2005), was born on September 1, 1915, and was 87 when we spoke. Now, at 94, and living at the Penney Farms retirement community in north Florida, he’s not in the best of health but still makes it to Oz events, schools, libraries, festivals, and special appearances around the country once in a while.

When we spoke back in ’02, he told me why he still enjoys those appearances.

“I still participate in get togethers,” he said, because it “touches the hearts of people of all ages,” and the film is “so far above what’s being produced now.”

A well-educated man with a degree in accounting and a love of horticulture, Raabe said he never gets tired of The Wizard of Oz.

“It’s played such a big part in my life.”

Yup. I know what you mean.

* * * * *

Nina L. Diamond is a journalist, essayist, and the author of Voices of Truth: Conversations with Scientists, Thinkers & Healers. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Omni, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, and The Miami Herald.

Ms. Diamond was a writer and performer on Pandemonium, the National Public Radio (NPR) satirical humor program, for its entire run in Miami and select markets nationwide from 1984-1998. As an editor, she works frequently with other authors and journalists on both fiction and non-fiction.