The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

I have been a huge fan of “The Wizard of Oz” all my life.
As a tail end member of the Baby Boomers, I was lucky enough to have experienced seeing the movie when it was on TV only once a year as a very special event. My memory of hearing the announcer say, “The following program is in living color, the first portion is in black and white…” still gives me goosebumps.

Those deliriously anticipated annual telecasts in the 1960’s led me to discovering the Oz books by L. Frank Baum at my local Library. The illustrations of W.W. Denslow inspired me to become an illustrator myself.

For me, this is the one that started it all. My first grade teacher had this on the bookshelf library behind her desk. We were allowed to check books out and I checked this one out every week until she said I couldn’t check it out anymore. What made it special to me was that it had photographs from the movie on the end pages inside the front and back covers. I spent a long time searching for this after I got older (notice I didn’t say “grew up”) and finally I found it at an antique store in Minaqua, Wisconsin. Extremely underpriced, I held it together as I purchased it, not wanting the shop keeper to suspect it was worth more. What made it even more valuable was that it had the dust jacket.

So back to first grade…
After experiencing this book and the W.W. Denslow illustrations that inspired me so much, I discovered the other Oz books at the West Dundee library on Main Street. The library had been someones home but now it housed the thousands of books. With its rickety stairs and squeaky floorboards and the wonderful SMELL of books, its sense memory is with me forever.
I began to check these out one at a time.
Such happy memories.

The Oz books that library had were the ones below. I remember being at someones house, a friend of the family and up in one of the kids bedrooms on the dresser was this complete series. Why I didn’t ask for these for Christmas I don’t know. I wish I had though. Through the years, I was gifted a couple of these editions and then I bought paperback versions.


Drawing Oz

Visit my Illustration Page to see Oz drawings and others in my portfolio.


Autographs and Signatures

When I was in High School, I wrote letters to Margaret Hamilton, Ray Bolger and Jack Haley. I included a photo I wanted them to sign, a self addressed stamped envelope, and a fan letter. I put all this into a big manila envelope that I illustrated with images of them in their characters, hoping to give my letter an edge in getting their attention.  It worked! Ms. Hamilton surprised me with extra photos “in case you didn’t have these.” What a great thing to do and how delighted I was, just thrilled when I got it in the mail.

For Ray Bolger, I not only drew on the envelope, but I included a full color portrait of him as the Scarecrow inside. I also included, a photo to sign and fan letter. Mr. Bolger replied and included an extra photo too! In his letter to me, he told me that he loved the portrait and that he was going to have it framed and put in his office. Incredible.

Jack Haley… sadly, shortly after I sent the letter, he died.
HOWEVER, just today, August 14, 2017 my friend Christopher White sent me a signed check of Jack Haley’s. I couldn’t believe it! He had an extra one in his collection and knowing I collected Oz, he sent it to me!!!

Judy Garlands autograph

Here is Judy’s authentic autograph on a piece of sheet music. I asked him how much he paid for it and he said that it wasn’t that much. Click the image to see it up close.



Liz Callaway

I surprised my friend Mary Beth Samuelson with tickets to go see Liz Callaway in concert. Liz herself had sent me a Facebook note when the tickets went on sale and I got front row center tickets.

It was so good and Liz was in pristine voice as she always is. She sang every single song we hoped she’d sing. During one of the songs, Petula Clarks, “Downtown,” she came down into the audience holding the mic in front of people to sing the backup chorus response, “Downtown…” The ten year old in me (who pretty much is always with me, hoped she’d come over to me and sure enough, there she was, Liz Callaway holding a mic to my face and I belted out the word, “Downtown” with all my might and she actually squealed and jumped up and down and I pretty much wet my gay little pants. 🙂

Between the three of us, we have a lot of friends in common. Mary Beth even babysat Liz’s kid when she lived in New York in the 80’s. Oh, and to top things off, when we came out of the auditorium, Liz was sitting at a table ready to sign CD’s and everyone was singing “Happy Birthday” to her. So MB and I just belted it out. “Happy Birthday LIZ CALLAWAY, Happy Birthday to yoooouuuu…”

It was so much fun and I would say one of the best concerts I have been to. When the artist is smack in front of you and singing all her greatest hits, well, it just doesn’t get much better than that.


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Big Head

When I was in Fifth Grade, I was coming out of the bathroom one day and a fourth grader, Todd McWilliams, looked up at me and said…

“Hey Big Head!”
Big Head? I have a big head? Like physically? Or, a big head because I’m overconfident?
I never told anyone what happened because why would I do that?

“Do I have a big head?”
“No. Well… Maybe… Kind of…”

My heads too big.
My head is so big that it has a gravitational pull.
Tiny little clowns follow me with ropes attached to my head as I walk down the street.

I actually had a conversation with someone that went like this:
“I have to tell you Rob, I think you are going to be famous.”
“What? Really? Why?”
“I can just tell. I have always been able to tell. You have something in common with a lot of celebrities.”
What is that?
“You have a very expansive face. Lots of famous people have big heads.”

This didn’t happen exactly but it could have:
“Ok, lets get a group shot. Everyone gather around. Ok. Wait. Rob? Could stand in the back so that your head will balance out with the others? No in the back. Further back.”

I once started working with one of the best voice teachers in Chicago. By this time, I had worked through my “big head” anxieties or what I call, “BHA.” I was in charge now, there was a confident and not over confident person inside this… head.

“Wow Rob, that was great. You just hit those high notes so easily. As a voice teacher, I have worked with a lot of singers and you… you have such great attributes that contribute to your singing. I mean, first of all, you have an enormous head cavity.”


My Oz Books

I have been collecting Oz books for most of my life. I remember going to the wonderful old library in my home town when I was a kid. It had once been one of those grand “Meet Me in St Louis” type houses (except in Dundee, Illinois where I grew up) and it was placed mid-way up a steepish hill that led down to the main area of town.
I remember the librarian was this older woman with a bee-hive hair style and cat glasses. She rarely if ever smiled. The floors creaked as  you went up to the second floor where I discovered the Oz books. I knew of the movie of course and I knew of a version of the book that my First Grade teacher had.  I fell in love with and was greatly inspired by the drawings of W.W. Denslow. I checked the book out from the classroom library each and every week until Mrs. Weaver told me that the other kids wanted to read it too. They didn’t.

My Grandma gave me one of my first of the “white cover” collection. It was “The Wizard of Oz” and it led me down the (yellow brick) road to discover the Land of Oz and all the magic that lie in it.

The above photo shows several of the books I have. The second one from the left is one of my favorites. This is the version my teacher had. It was the edition released along with the movie.

So, Mrs. Weaver, wherever you are, I don’t have to check it out from you. It’s mine… MINE!!!!!