by René Rondeau
(This article first appeared in the March, 1998 issue of 'IN THE GROOVE,' the magazine of the Michigan Antique Phonograph Society.)
Most everyone knows the Wizard of Oz, thanks primarily to the famed 1939 movie starring Judy Garland. But most people, it seems, are unaware that there is an entire series of Oz books -- 14 in all -- of which The Wizard of Oz was only the first. Written by L. Frank Baum between the 1900 and 1919, the series of Oz fantasies still make delightful reading today. (For those parents who enjoy reading to their children, I strongly recommend these wonderful books!)
Baum's seventh book in the series, The Patchwork Girl of Oz, published in 1913, shows that while he loved children and was a masterful storyteller, he had little respect for the phonograph of his day. His chapter "The Troublesome Phonograph" has a satirical edge that is entirely lacking in his other works. For whatever reason, L. Frank Baum harbored a great deal of hostility toward talking machines.
In an early chapter a vial of "the powder of life" is accidentally spilled on a Magician's phonograph, which was screwed fast to a table in the corner. "The phonograph was very much alive, and began dancing a jig with the legs of the table to which it was attached. ... ‘You were bad enough before, said the Magician, resentfully; ‘but a live phonograph is enough to drive every sane person in the Land of Oz stark crazy,'" Baum writes. This is only the first hint of his antagonism.
"The Troublesome Phonograph" chapter comes soon after, when the now living phonograph comes running to join the motley trio of adventurers heading to the Emerald City. The phonograph explains that he ran away after a quarrel with the Magician, because he refused to keep quiet. "A talking machine is supposed to talk and make a noise -- and sometimes music" he says.
The adventuresome trio, normally so kind and polite to everyone they meet,
are overtly rude to the poor phonograph -- very out of character for an Oz book!
"Ojo was greatly annoyed by this unwelcome addition to their party ... a little
thought decided him not to make friends." The phonograph responds by saying
"Everyone seems to hate me, and yet I was intended to amuse people." A
cat replies "It isn't you we hate, especially, it's your dreadful music. When
I lived in the same room with you I was much annoyed by your squeaky horn. It growls
and grumbles and clicks and scratches so it spoils the music, and your machinery
rumbles so that the racket drowns every tune you attempt." That one sentence
seems to summarize Baum's hostility, but he goes on to make his hatred even clearer
by lashing out at all types of phonographs.
The third character of the trio, Scraps, is polite enough to ask "what is your name, my poor abused phonograph?" "Victor Columbia Edison," it answered. Scraps says "I shall call you ‘Vic' for short" and asks it to play something. The machine plays a classical recording, but in a few moments everyone has had enough: "Cut it out, Vic!" Vic is surprised and hurt, but is told "Your music makes my cotton shrink."
Vic suggests that they turn over his record -- "There's a rag-time tune on the other side," he says. "What's rag-time?," they ask. "The opposite of classical." So they flip the record and give him another chance. "The phonograph now began to play a jerky jumble of sounds which proved so bewildering that after a moment Scraps stuffed her patchwork apron into the gold horn and cried ‘Stop-- Stop! That's the other extreme. It's extremely bad!' Muffled as it was, the phonograph played on. ‘If you don't shut off that music I'll smash your record,' threatened Ojo." The phonograph asks "What's the matter, is it possible you can't appreciate rag-time?" The cat replies "it makes my whiskers curl," while Ojo shudders "It is indeed dreadful!" Scraps sums up Baum's feelings with "It's enough to drive a crazy lady mad. ... Tell you what Vic... You're not a concert, you're a nuisance."
They send off the poor phonograph with the final zinger: "Run along, Vic, and bother someone else. ... Find someone who is real wicked, and stay with him till he repents. In that way you can do some good in the world."
And Rodney Dangerfield thought he got no respect!
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