Watch the Three Original Wizard of Oz Feature Films, Produced by L. Frank Baum Himself

As a film, The Wiz­ard of Oz of 1939 is so icon­ic, so well known, that any sequel has been treat­ed as an affront to Amer­i­can cul­ture. Just see for exam­ple, the reviled Return to Oz and the mediocre response to Oz the Great and Pow­er­ful. How­ev­er, spin-offs and recon­tex­tu­al­ized works, like The Wiz (the musi­cal) and Wicked (the oth­er musi­cal, based on a nov­el), do real­ly well as long as they remain tied to Vic­tor Fleming’s film.

Even before the days of Judy Gar­land, the Oz sto­ries made for pop­u­lar cin­e­ma. We already told you about the 1910 silent short film ver­sion of The Wiz­ard of Oz, which con­fus­ing­ly packs much of the orig­i­nal children’s book and the stage play adap­ta­tion (from 1902) into 13 crazed min­utes, redo­lent of Georges Méliès’ sci-fi films and filled with beau­ties on parade and a very active mule char­ac­ter called Hank.

Mean­while, the pro­lif­ic author of the Oz series, L. Frank Baum, reel­ing from tak­ing a loss on the stage play ver­sion of his sto­ry, decid­ed to make some mon­ey in cin­e­ma. In 1914, he and some friends from the Los Ange­les Ath­let­ic Club (who called them­selves the Uplifters) start­ed their own pro­duc­tion house, Oz Film Man­u­fac­tur­ing Com­pa­ny, based in Los Ange­les. Baum thought he had plen­ty of mate­r­i­al to work with, mak­ing good-natured chil­dren’s films to com­pete with the more pop­u­lar west­erns.

All three of Baum’s fea­tures are now avail­able on YouTube, with Baum’s first film, The Patch­work Girl of Oz, from 1914, at the top of this page. Adapt­ing his 1913 book, Baum changed plot devices, adding in vaude­ville rou­tines and stop-motion ani­ma­tion. A French acro­bat called Pierre Coud­erc played the Patch­work Girl in the stunt sequences, and the film is also notice­able for an ear­ly appear­ance by Hal Roach and Harold Lloyd, who became such fast friends on the pro­duc­tion that they went on to make their own films.

After that His Majesty, the Scare­crow of Oz, was released in 1914, and retells the Wiz­ard of Oz sto­ry in its own way, but gives the Scare­crow a new ori­gin sto­ry. Hank the Mule returns, as do some more pan­tomime ani­mals. This time, the movie was made as pro­mo­tion for the upcom­ing book of a sim­i­lar name, but did not help sales in the end.

The final film pro­duced was The Mag­ic Cloak of Oz, based on a non-Oz Baum book called Queen Zixi of Ix, but Baum knew that any­thing with Oz in the title could sell. Para­mount didn’t how­ev­er, and delayed release for two years. This sur­viv­ing ver­sion is miss­ing a reel, and British dis­trib­u­tors divid­ed it up into two sep­a­rate films.

Shot all at the same time, Baum was hop­ing to quick­ly make his investors’ mon­ey back, but this didn’t hap­pen and the Oz Film Man­u­fac­tur­ing Com­pa­ny shut­tered soon after, with Baum dying in 1919 at age 62, with no idea how influ­en­tial his one book would become.

These orig­i­nal Oz films will be added to our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Com­plete Wiz­ard of Oz Series, Avail­able as Free eBooks and Free Audio Books

Dark Side of the Rain­bow: Pink Floyd Meets The Wiz­ard of Oz in One of the Ear­li­est Mash-Ups

Heart­less: The Sto­ry of the Tin Man

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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