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Finding Dorothy
Cover of Finding Dorothy
Finding Dorothy
A Novel
Borrow
This richly imagined novel tells the story behind The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the book that inspired the iconic film, through the eyes of author L. Frank Baum's intrepid wife, Maud.
"A breathtaking read that will transport you over the rainbow and into the heart of one of America's most enduring fairy tales."—Lisa Wingate, author of Before We Were Yours
Hollywood, 1938: As soon as she learns that M-G-M is adapting her late husband's masterpiece for the screen, seventy-seven-year-old Maud Gage Baum sets about trying to finagle her way onto the set. Nineteen years after Frank's passing, Maud is the only person who can help the producers stay true to the spirit of the book—because she's the only one left who knows its secrets.
But the moment she hears Judy Garland rehearsing the first notes of "Over the Rainbow," Maud recognizes the yearning that defined her own life story, from her youth as a suffragette's daughter to her coming of age as one of the first women in the Ivy League, from her blossoming romance with Frank to the hardscrabble prairie years that inspired The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Judy reminds Maud of a young girl she cared for and tried to help in South Dakota, a dreamer who never got her happy ending. Now, with the young actress under pressure from the studio as well as her ambitious stage mother, Maud resolves to protect her—the way she tried so hard to protect the real Dorothy.
The author of two New York Times bestselling nonfiction books, The Eighty-Dollar Champion and The Perfect Horse, Elizabeth Letts is a master at discovering and researching a rich historical story and transforming it into a page-turner. Finding Dorothy is the result of Letts's journey into the amazing lives of Frank and Maud Baum. Written as fiction but based closely on the truth, Elizabeth Letts's new book tells a story of love, loss, inspiration, and perseverance, set in America's heartland.
Advance praise for Finding Dorothy
"In some ways reminiscent of Jerry Stahl's excellent I, Fatty, Letts' Finding Dorothy combines exhaustive research with expansive imagination, blending history and speculation into a seamless tapestry. . . . It's a testament to Letts' skill that she can capture on the page, without benefit of audio, that same emotion we have all felt sometime over the last 80 years while listening to 'Over the Rainbow.'"BookPage (starred review)
This richly imagined novel tells the story behind The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the book that inspired the iconic film, through the eyes of author L. Frank Baum's intrepid wife, Maud.
"A breathtaking read that will transport you over the rainbow and into the heart of one of America's most enduring fairy tales."—Lisa Wingate, author of Before We Were Yours
Hollywood, 1938: As soon as she learns that M-G-M is adapting her late husband's masterpiece for the screen, seventy-seven-year-old Maud Gage Baum sets about trying to finagle her way onto the set. Nineteen years after Frank's passing, Maud is the only person who can help the producers stay true to the spirit of the book—because she's the only one left who knows its secrets.
But the moment she hears Judy Garland rehearsing the first notes of "Over the Rainbow," Maud recognizes the yearning that defined her own life story, from her youth as a suffragette's daughter to her coming of age as one of the first women in the Ivy League, from her blossoming romance with Frank to the hardscrabble prairie years that inspired The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Judy reminds Maud of a young girl she cared for and tried to help in South Dakota, a dreamer who never got her happy ending. Now, with the young actress under pressure from the studio as well as her ambitious stage mother, Maud resolves to protect her—the way she tried so hard to protect the real Dorothy.
The author of two New York Times bestselling nonfiction books, The Eighty-Dollar Champion and The Perfect Horse, Elizabeth Letts is a master at discovering and researching a rich historical story and transforming it into a page-turner. Finding Dorothy is the result of Letts's journey into the amazing lives of Frank and Maud Baum. Written as fiction but based closely on the truth, Elizabeth Letts's new book tells a story of love, loss, inspiration, and perseverance, set in America's heartland.
Advance praise for Finding Dorothy
"In some ways reminiscent of Jerry Stahl's excellent I, Fatty, Letts' Finding Dorothy combines exhaustive research with expansive imagination, blending history and speculation into a seamless tapestry. . . . It's a testament to Letts' skill that she can capture on the page, without benefit of audio, that same emotion we have all felt sometime over the last 80 years while listening to 'Over the Rainbow.'"BookPage (starred review)
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  • From the book Chapter 1

    Hollywood

    October 1938

    It was a city within a city, a textile mill to weave the gossamer of fantasy on looping looms of celluloid. From the flashing needles of the tailors in the costume shop to the zoo where the animals were trained, from the matzo ball soup in the commissary to the blinding-­white offices in the brand-­new Thalberg executive building, an army of people—­composers and musicians, technicians and tinsmiths, directors and actors—­spun thread into gold. Once upon a time, dreams were made by hand, but now they were mass-­produced. These forty-­four acres were their assembly line.

    Outside its walls, the brown hills, tidy neighborhoods, and rusting oil derricks of Culver City gave no hint of magic; but within the gates of M-­G-­M—­Metro, as it was known—­you stepped inside an enchanted kingdom. A private trolley line that cut through the center of the studio's back lots could whisk you across the world, or back in time—­from old New York's Brownstone Row to the Wild West's Billy the Kid Street to Renaissance Italy's Verona Square—­with no stops in the outside world. In 1938, more than three thousand people labored inside these walls. Just as the Emerald City was the center of the Land of Oz, so the M-­G-­M Studios were the beating heart of that mythic place called Hollywood.



    Maud Baum had been waiting on foot outside the massive front gates of Metro-­Goldwyn-­Mayer for almost an hour, just another face among the throngs of visitors hoping for a chance to get inside. Every now and again, a gleaming automobile pulled up to the gate. Each time, the studio's guard snapped to attention and offered a crisp salute. Whenever this happened, the fans waiting around the entrance, hoping to catch a peek of the stars, would leap forward, thrusting bits of papers through the car's windows. As Maud observed this spectacle, she couldn't help but feel a pang for Frank: his doomed Oz Manufacturing Film Company, a single giant barnlike structure, had been just a short distance away from the current location of this thriving metropolis of Metro. In 1914, when Frank had opened his company, Hollywood had been a sleepy backwater of orange trees and bungalows, and filmmaking a crazy venture seen as a passing fad. If only he could have lived to see what a movie studio would become over the course of the next two decades: another White City, a giant theater stage. This fantastical place was the concrete manifestation of what Frank had been able to imagine long before it had come to pass.

    At last it was Maud's turn. As the guard scribbled her a pass, her stomach fluttered. Inside her purse, she had the small cutout torn from Variety. She didn't need to look at it; she had long since memorized its few words: "oz" sold to louis b. mayer at m-­g-­m. As the last living link to the inspiration behind the story, she was determined to offer her services as a consultant. But getting access to the studio had not been easy. For months, they had rebuffed her calls, only reluctantly setting up a meeting with the studio head, Louis B. Mayer, because the receptionist was no doubt fed up with answering her daily queries. Today she would make her case.

    If Maud's suffragist mother, Matilda, had taught her anything, it was that if you wanted something, you needed to ask for it—­or demand it, if necessary. True, Maud would far rather be reading a book at Ozcot, her Hollywood home, but she had made a promise to her late husband that she aimed to keep.

    The guard pushed her day pass through the glass-­fronted window and...
About the Author-
  • Elizabeth Letts is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Eighty-Dollar Champion and The Perfect Horse, which won the 2017 PEN Center USA Literary Award for research nonfiction, as well as two previous novels, Quality of Care and Family Planning. A former certified nurse-midwife, she also served in the Peace Corps in Morocco. She lives in Southern California and Northern Michigan.
Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    September 15, 2018

    Maud Gage Baum, widow of the man who wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, intervenes to protect Judy Garland during the high-pressure shooting of the film while also recalling the hand-to-mouth life she and her husband led in South Dakota before Oz swept the nation like a tornado. Letts is a No. 1 New York Times best-selling author of nonfiction (The Eighty-Dollar Champion) and has written fiction as well.

    Copyright 2018 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    December 1, 2018
    The story behind the story that became the legendary movie The Wizard of Oz.Letts (The Perfect Horse, 2016, etc.) builds her historical novel around Maud Gage Baum, the high-spirited wife of L. Frank Baum, who wrote the original Wizard of Oz books. In one of two intercut narratives, the 77-year-old Maud, who'd exerted a strong influence on her late husband, appears on the set of the movie in 1938; there, she encounters 16-year-old Judy Garland--cast as Dorothy--among others. The second narrative opens in Fayetteville, New York, in 1871 and traces Maud's life from age 10: her girlhood as the daughter of an ardent suffragette; her brief time at Cornell University--she was one of the first women admitted there; her early marriage to Baum, an actor at the time; and the births of their four sons. Frank, a dreamer, was not so talented at making money, and the family endured a hardscrabble, peripatetic life until he scored as a writer. This part of the story is dramatic and sometimes-poignant, though it goes on a bit. (Read carefully, and you can spot some elements that made their ways into the books and movie.) The Hollywood part is more entertaining even if some of it feels implausible. Maud did meet Judy Garland and attend the premiere of the film in real life. But in the book she tries to protect and nurture Garland, who was at the mercy of her abusive stage mother and the filmmakers and was apparently fed amphetamines to keep her weight down. And while it's true the movie's best-loved song, "Somewhere over the Rainbow," was almost cut at the last minute, the book has Maud persuading studio chief L.B. Mayer to keep it in.Much is made in these pages about the power of make-believe, and while the book falls short of magical, it's still an absorbing read.

    COPYRIGHT(2018) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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Elizabeth Letts
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