BookPage starred review, February 2019
It’s shocking to imagine that, while remarkably successful in its time, The Wizard of Oz now ranks more than 2,000 slots below Garfield: The Movie in terms of domestic gross revenue. And while MGM co-founder Louis B. Mayer insisted that he was in the business of making money rather than magic, bestselling author Elizabeth Letts’ latest novel, Finding Dorothy, uncovers both in abundance on the set of the 1939 film.
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 true that Oz author L. Frank Baum’s widow spent time with Judy Garland on set. And it’s from this point of departure—California, not Kansas—that Letts leads us down a parallel pair of yellow brick roads. One traverses the courtship, marriage and adult life of Maud Gage Baum, suffragette’s daughter and modern woman. She became the wife of a dreamer, a man not always financially successful but deeply committed to providing for his family and madly in love with his wife. The second road takes us into the golden age of Hollywood, where fate and opportunity conspire to make Judy Garland a superstar. Maud arrives on set to try to ensure that her husband’s vision is preserved, but she realizes that the more immediate task at hand is to take Dorothy/Judy—their identities in many ways inseparable at this point—under her wing.
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”: “Maud knew, right then, that Judy had done it. She had captured the magic that Frank had put into his story, sucked it from the air and breathed it back out through her vocal cords. Maud felt in her heart that Frank must have been listening.”
Let’s see some smug, wisecracking Hollywood cat do that.