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Around Town: There was a wizard among us

Most nights, I drive my car up and down Foothill Boulevard in La Cañada Flintridge, sucked into a dilemma. I am not alone. Miss Audrey Hepburn, our rescue dog, relaxes in the passenger seat.

Sprouts or Trader Joe's? Trader Joe's or Sprouts?

Ever since the newest Sprouts grocery opened in La Cañada, I can never decide where to buy cheese.

Most nights, Foothill Boulevard is empty.

“Most likely, everyone is at the movie theater watching ‘The Hunger Games,'” I say to Miss Hepburn. She does not reply.

Long before “The Hunger Games,” another popular fantasy series caught the American imagination. The books about the Land of Oz were written by L. Frank Baum.

Here at the Valley Sun we have uncovered a La Cañada connection to Baum's “Oz” books, published between 1900 and 1920. The books were more popular than “The Hunger Games.” More popular than Harry Potter.

L. Frank Baum, his wife and his mother-in-law were political activists, abolitionists and suffragists. Heroines like Dorothy, Trot and Betsy Bobbin reflected those values. The Oz books resonated with generations of girls.

There were at least 70 sequels written by other authors, including Baum's youngest son, who lived right here in La Cañada. His name was Kenneth Gage Baum.

In 1914, Kenneth Baum was an advertising executive with the Los Angeles Times. Kenneth, along with Harrison Gray Otis and Harry Chandler, was a founding member of the Los Angeles Times Automobile Club, “the first automobile club comprised entirely of newspaper men.” (See “Newspaper Club Formed,” L.A. Times, Nov. 21, 1915).

All of which explains Kenneth Baum's secrecy.

As a newspaper man, a La Cañadan and the son of a celebrity, Kenneth Baum knew the value of lying low. While his other relatives traded on their Oz connections, there was little coverage of Kenneth Baum. Like the wizard behind the curtain, Kenneth Baum stayed out of the news.

By the 1930s, Kenneth started his own advertising business. He moved his family to Balboa Island, but by the 1950s, he was living here, in our town. In March of that year, his mother died at her home in Hollywood. (“Widow of 'Oz' Book Author Passes at 91,” L.A. Times, March 7, 1953). Less than a month later, Kenneth Baum died. He is buried near his parents at Forest Lawn Glendale.

He left behind an unpublished manuscript, titled “The Dinamonster of Oz.”

Kenneth Baum had written the story in 1941. Fifty years later, his own daughter, Ozma Baum, had it published. There are a few copies for sale on Amazon.

According to the Oz Wiki (www.oz.wikia.com), “the Dinamonster is a giant robot, with cranes for arms and a three-story office building for its head. It was created by the Nome King as his vehicle for one more attempt at the conquest of Oz. The Dinamonster steals the Metachron — a clock powered by captured lightning — from atop the royal palace in the Emerald City. Since the Metachron governs time in Oz, Dorothy Gale, the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion set out to retrieve it.”

“Obviously,” I say to Miss Hepburn, “the Dinamonster is a metaphor for Foothill Boulevard, and the Metachron was a portent to the Trader Joe's versus Sprouts conundrum.”

Miss Hepburn agrees.

The Wizard of Oz. Right here in La Cañada Flintridge.

ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. Email her at anitasusan.brenner@yahoo.com and follow her on Twitter @anitabrenner.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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