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Great-grandson continues the Oz series

Friday, January 28, 2011 | 1:14 p.m. CST

SPRINGFIELD — Like many children, Roger Baum would sidle up to his parents on the couch as they read him "The Wizard of Oz."

But unlike many children, little Roger Baum was listening to the words of his great-grandfather Frank Baum, author of the famous story.

Roger Baum, who lives in Springfield now, has penned 14 books himself and continues to write the Oz series. His first book, "Dorothy of Oz," is being made into an animated film, set to release in 2012. Some high-profile actors will lend their voice to the animation: Kelsey Grammer is the Tin Man; "Glee" star Lea Michele is Dorothy; Dan Aykroyd voices the Scarecrow; Martin Short is The Jester; and Patrick Stewart voices Tugg.

The film is being produced by Summertime Entertainment.

Seated in his kitchen, Roger Baum shares tidbits about his famous great-granddad, a man he never met, but whose legacy is carried on in the family.

Before television, storytelling was a popular pastime and Frank Baum was a master storyteller.

Children in the Chicago neighborhood where he lived would gather for hours to listen to him weave an adventure out of his imagination.

As Frank Baum crafted his tale — a land that would later make him famous — one of the children in his audience asked what was the name of his magical place.

Frank Baum looked up and saw the filing cabinet labeled O-Z, so he came up with "Oz."

"A lot of that has innocent beginnings," Baum said.

The inspiration for the Tin Man was born years before Frank Baum was an author. At that time, he was a salesman and his boss asked him to dress up the store window to attract customers.

Frank Baum fastened a metal man with a funnel head, which would later be the inspiration for the Tin Man.

The robot in Oz, Tik-Tok, was so named because Baum's grandson (Roger's dad) would sit on his lap and listen to his pocket watch and say "tick-tock, tick-tock."

Roger Baum and his wife, Charlene, named their dog Tik-Tok in his honor and they own a cairn terrier, the same breed as Toto.

Frank Baum authored 62 books in his career, under various pen names, before his death in 1919.

Despite what some scholars have theorized, Baum said there is nothing political about the Wizard of Oz.

It's purely a story "for the young at heart. Some professors have wonderful imaginations. He was strictly a storyteller. ... Love, wisdom and courage is what Oz is all about."

Roger Baum did not start off following in his great-grandfather's footsteps. He's had a slew of jobs from salesman to emergency medical technician to stockbroker.

He had dabbled in writing when one night in 1987, a friend challenged him to write an Oz book and said he would illustrate it.

"And I thought, it's a little presumptuous," he says.

Continuing the legacy of his great-grandfather is a huge responsibility and one he doesn't take lightly.

Roger Baum has tried to stay true to Frank Baum's vision, says his wife, Charlene Baum.

For example, in the movie version of the story, Dorothy wears ruby slippers, but in the books, Dorothy wears silver slippers.

The reason for the difference is ruby slippers look better on film, but Roger kept her silver slippers in his books.

"He stays true to the books," she says.

Not only did that first book launch his career as a writer, but it's the book that's being turned into an animation.

"The producers felt that Roger's particular books and characters made for a great entry point for the Oz franchise into animation," says Charley Waters, head of CT3PR, who is in charge of the film's marketing campaign. "They also loved the idea of keeping the project 'in the family' with the Baums' creative support."

The film has been in the works for years.

"Animated films can take up to three to four years to produce from concept to final, sometimes even more. This film is on track to follow that model," says Waters.

While it does not have a release date yet, the target is spring 2012.

This is the second time one of Roger Baum's books has been turned into a film. His book, "Lion of Oz," was already turned into an animation with voices by Tim Curry and Dom DeLuise.

The 72-year-old continues to write, working on his second Oz Odyssey.

Chad Thomas, an artist who lives in Ozark, has illustrated one of Roger Baum's books and is working on the Odyssey.

"He actually contacted me and asked for something and I sent him samples and he decided he liked mine the best so it went that way," says Thomas. "I didn't even know who he was (at first). He's been great."

Roger and Charlene Baum moved to Springfield in 2006 after spending three years in the Branson area.

They came to Branson after a 6-year book signing contract with MGM Grand in Las Vegas ended.

Roger Baum says he and his great-grandfather have a similar vision: to leave a footprint on the world through stories and subtle lessons.

"All the characters (in Wizard of Oz) had the attributes they were searching for all the time within themselves. All of us have that. We don't think we have it in us and we do," says Roger Baum.


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