Wednesday, May 9

What's a Park Without a Theme?


Photo credit - USC.edu

By Art Cashin

On this day (-1) in....er....no.....the year might give it away. Let's start again....somewhere between the "Rest of the Story" and maybe O'Henry on heavy prescription drugs.

Once upon a time there was this man who was so marvelous at presenting marvelous tales to children (some marvelous, some not) that the world scrambled to buy his work. The characters he invented were so popular people began calling them modern classics. Folks thought they might live forever.

So far it looks like they were right - the characters are as popular today as ever.  Every new generation of kids love the stories and clamor to buy the character dolls.  The movie versions are shown again and again. So this very ingenious man decided to kick it up a notch.

How about a theme park, built around the stories and characters.  He solicited friends and associates to invest in the plan.  It was a natural.  But where to build?  How about near Hollywood?  Good weather and all those movie tourists.  He bought up lots of land near Los Angeles and began working one more wonder.

The result of course was a fantastic success.....at least it was when Walt Disney did it several years later.  But this wasn't Disneyland and it was surely no success. This financially failed fiasco was the creation of an earlier genius - L. Frank Baum who created the Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  The failure of the theme park broke Baum and on this day (-1) in 1919 he died - perhaps of a broken heart.

The financial fiasco may have indirectly led to one of the great odd coincidences in movie making.  When the filming of the Wizard began in the late 1930's the costume people couldn't find just the right design for the shabby great coat worn by Professor Marvel when he and his horse, Sylvester, are visited by Dorothy.

Then one of the costume crew noticed "just the right coat" in a secondhand clothing store in L.A.  He bought it and brought it to the set.  Everyone thought it was perfect, and with minor alterations it fit Frank Morgan who played the Professor.  One day, as Morgan was examining the coat he noticed a label on the inner pocket.  It said - Baum.  Could it be?

Yes Dorothy, all you have to do is believe!  By checking old tailor markings they discovered that the ratty old coat accidentally bought in the secondhand store belonged to the late L. Frank Baum.  The Wizard would have liked that.


Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.

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