ROCKLAND — Like most baby boomers, Willard Carroll grew up watching “The Wizard of Oz” on television once a year.
He cowered at the Wicked Witch, recoiled at her evil flying monkeys and delighted when Dorothy woke up from her nightmare safely surrounded by her adoring family.
For as long as he can remember, Carroll has been fascinated with the MGM movie and the novel by L. Frank Baum that inspired the movie. As a youngster in Maryland, he began collecting memorabilia related to the movie. A major soap manufacturer included hand puppets with its products. Jars of peanuts came adorned with Oz images.
Carroll collected everything – and continued collecting when he moved to Los Angeles and made a career as an Emmy Award-winning Hollywood producer.
Today, he and his partner, Tom Wilhite, live in Camden, and have amassed a collection of Oz-related items that numbers 100,000 pieces. This week, the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland fills its Crossman Gallery will a sampling of that material.
“The Wonderful World of Oz – Selections from the Willard Carroll/Tom Wilhite Collection” opens Saturday and will remain on view through March 30, 2014. The timing is not coincidental; 2014 marks the 75th anniversary of the Judy Garland movie.
The collection, Carroll said, “is a pretty encompassing history of the pop culture and historical aspect of ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ The book was published in 1900, and it has crossed over almost every aspect of pop culture. The first stage production was in 1903. There have been silent movies, the MGM movie in 1939, and Broadway productions. We had ‘The Wiz’ in the ’70s and more recently ‘Wicked.’ It’s been over 100 years, and this story has continued to have an impact.”
Through this collection, visitors will see more than 100 items related to the pop-culture phenomenon of Oz, from the Baum book and its multi-language spin-offs, to movie posters, photographs, board games, puzzles, dolls, toys and a sampling of other merchandise and collectibles that were produced to take advantage of the immense worldwide popularity of the movie.
People will see a test dress that Garland wore on the movie set, as well as the best and most-complete surviving munchkin costume, worn by the green Lollipop Guild Munchkin. It includes stockings, shoes and underwear, though the underwear will not be displayed.
Farnsworth curator Michael Komanecky characterized it as “a remarkable collection” with enormous pop-culture overtones. “We had many reasons we wanted to do this show, and one of the most important is that ‘The Wizard of Oz’, both the original book by Frank Baum and the 1939 movie, constitute an icon of American culture, which coincidentally had an impact throughout the world. Both the book and movie have reached far beyond their audience.”
The story remains timely, as the success of “Wicked” demonstrates. As much as the movie delighted and scared Carroll growing up, it still holds the imagination of kids coming of age today, though kids today can watch it at their leisure on DVD. Back in the day, Carroll, who was born in 1955, remembers the anticipation of the movie’s once-a-year-airing on TV.
“As soon as I saw anything related to the movie, I would buy it, By the time the movie came out on TV, the book was in the public domain. Anybody could do any ‘Wizard of Oz’ merchandising. Proctor and Gamble used to make hand puppets attached to their soap products. My mother would buy me all these soap products, which she probably didn’t need,” he said.
Carroll has curtailed his collecting. Now, he’s interested only in adding what he calls “substantial pieces. But there aren’t many things out there. If there is new stuff that I find interesting, I buy it. But I used to buy everything.”
Carroll and Wilhite moved to Camden four years ago and brought with them their Oz collection. Their property includes a 5,000-square foot workshop that they intend to convert into a museum to house their collection. The museum project is a few years away. Carroll said he hopes to open it in 2016.
Carroll has written three Oz-related books, including one published in September called “I, Toto: The Autobiography of Terry the Dog Who Was Toto.” It tells the history of the movie through the perspective of Dorothy’s dog, who had quite a movie career. The pooch appeared in more than a dozen films.
Accompanying the exhibition is a new book by Down East Books, “The Wonderful World of Oz: An Illustrated History of the American Classic.” It includes images from the Carroll/Wilhite collection.
Komanecky noted at least one other Maine connection to the Oz phenomenon. Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West in the movie, moved to Maine in her later years, and lived on an island off Southport.
He thinks this exhibition will be enormously popular.
“‘The Wizard of Oz’ is known by almost everyone, mostly through the 1939 movie. Generations of Americans have grown up with the story by seeing the movie on TV and, like Willard, many of us have been scared to death by the Wicked Witch. What started out as a children’s story has reached out to touch people far beyond those for whom it was made.”
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: