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  • Gary DeMuth

‘Oz’-some birthday

(This article originally appeared in the Salina Journal on September 9th, 2017.)

Salinan to celebrate with lavish 'Wizard of Oz' party

By Gary Demuth

For his 36th birthday, J. Basil Dannebohm is bringing Oz to Kansas, and he doesn’t even need a tornado.

The Salina resident and former member of the Kansas Legislature will be hosting a “Wizard of Oz” themed birthday reception today at his east Salina home, where he has invited a variety of people to celebrate what he called the diversity and humanity championed by the book and movie.

“I take pride that all kinds of guests are welcome at this and at every other reception I host,” he said. “Rich, poor, gay, straight, black, white, Republican, Democrat — at these gatherings, our differences are set aside and our humanity is celebrated.”

As a child, Dannebohm was enraptured by the adventures of Dorothy, Toto, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion, both in the 1939 movie musical and in the many books set in the magical land of Oz by author L. Frank Baum.

Now Dannebohm sees “The Wizard of Oz” not only as a timeless fantasy adventure for children, but a timely story for adults — one that embraces inclusiveness, tolerance and compassion, attributes sorely lacking in today’s polarized social and political climate.

“If Baum taught us anything from this work, it’s that separately brains, a heart and courage are powerful tools,” he said.

“However, when used for the good of others on life’s journey, they become phenomenal building blocks of friendship and solidarity.”

At his invitation-only reception, Dannebohm has invited several special guests, including Chief Justice of the Kansas Supreme Court Lawton Nuss, who will provide a birthday toast; Jane Albright, the president of the International “Wizard of Oz” club; and members of the Kansas Legislature.

Special guests for the evening will be “Oz” artist Vincent Myrand and author Christianna Rickard, the niece of the movie’s Scarecrow, Ray Bolger.

Bonded over Oz

A self-taught artist from Maine, Myrand works primarily with oil paints to create original pieces depicting scenes from the movie version of “The Wizard of Oz,” Baum’s books and other Oz-inspired works. When Dannebohm discovered Myrand’s “Oz” paintings online, he commissioned the artist to create two original oil paintings: a 16- by 20-inch piece entitled “If Ever, Oh Ever a Wiz There Was: The Imagination of L. Frank Baum,” which depicts the author sitting in contemplation while “Oz” scenes swirl around him, and “Optimistic Voices,” a 48- by 60-inch rendition of the famous movie shot of the Emerald City at the far end of the yellow brick road.

Myrand also will be exhibiting nine original “Oz” oil paintings during the reception under the title “Kansas, She Said, is the Name of the Star.” He was introduced to “The Wizard of Oz” movie at a young age by his mother. Together, they watched it on a black-and-white TV set while his mother described all the color scenes in great detail.

“The movie was our conversation piece, the way we could relate,” he said. “It was our way of bonding.”

Myrand said he probably wouldn’t be a successful artist today if it hadn’t been for the “Oz” books.

“It’s opened so many pathways for me,” he said. “I’m so happy to be here in Kansas, Oz’s spiritual center.”

Watched together

Rickard, who grew up in Los Angeles and now lives in San Angelo, Texas, said this is her first visit to Kansas.

I'm excited, because Kansas is still this mythological place to me,” she said.

Rickard, 64, is the author of the memoir “Remembering Oz: My Journey with the Scarecrow,” soon to be re-released under a new title, “A Legend in Straw: The Amazing Dance of My Uncle, Ray Bolger.” In the book, Rickard shares memories of her late uncle, as well as insights from “The Wizard of Oz” to help readers survive the storms and challenges of life.

Rickard said she has fond memories her “Uncle Ray,” whom she said was a talented, creative, incredibly intelligent man.

“He was huge on attention,” she said. “Tour buses would come by his house, and he’d get up from the lunch table, go out and do a kick for them or a dance on the front lawn. He was also a great family man. We’d watch ‘Oz’ together every year.”

Dannebohm said he doesn’t want the “Oz” reception to focus on his birthday. Instead, his goal is to bring people together “to foster a renewed sense of communication and understanding.”

“Nowhere will you find a better example of strangers casting aside their differences and helping one another on a journey than in L. Frank Baum’s literary masterpiece,” he said.

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