Finding Dorothy

“Finding Dorothy” by Elizabeth Letts is a historical novel primarily about the life of Maude Gauge Baum, the wife of L. Frank Baum who wrote the original Wizard of Oz books. The book bounces back and forth between her early life and the 1939 making of “The Wizard of Oz” movie in Hollywood where she met and befriended Judy Garland, who played Dorothy in the movie. Maude, then in her seventies and with Frank dead, was adamant that the movie producers keep the script true to the book and this along with her relationship with Judy is the focus of the 1939 events covered in the book.

Based on the true story, the book focused more on Maude Baum’s life and gave surprisingly few new details about Judy Garland. It gives some details on how the now immortal “Over the Rainbow” song was almost cut from the movie but this fact is well known. It gives some insights into Judy’s struggles with diet and sleeping pills that the studio forced her to take and her relationship with her abusive stage Mother, but nothing really new. In fact, some of the Hollywood events seem implausible although supposedly based on truth. The book has Maude developing a relationship with Judy, trying to protect and nurture her and being the primary person to talk L. B. Mayer into keeping the Rainbow song it the film.

Maude’s life and especially her years with Frank Baum were actually the more interesting part of the book. Some insights are presented on possible inspirations for some of the Wizard of Oz characters through this period of their lives. Frank was a moderately successful salesman and then a failure at running a retail store and a newspaper and the book focuses on his relationship with Maude and their financial and family struggles. Frank comes off as a good man who loved children, although a dreamer and a little irresponsible at times. Through it all Frank and Maude maintained a strong devotion to each other and Maude became very protective of the book.

I was attracted to this book looking for a biography of Frank Baum and perhaps some interesting insights on Judy Garland through her relationship with Maude Baum. I found the book well-written, and Maude had a moderately interesting life but Frank Baum’s life is not thoroughly covered, as that is not the purpose of the book. Someone looking for a biography of Frank Baum should look elsewhere. This fact along with the lack of focus on Judy and the time spent on insignificant imagined dialog, the bane of most novels for me, would have made my reading time better spent elsewhere. Further, it is hard to know which parts of the book are based on true facts and which are surmised. Still, for someone that enjoys a well-written novel or loves “The Wizard of Oz” it could be worth your time.

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