by Holly Goldberg Sloan
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Julia is very short for her age, but by the end of the summer run of The Wizard of Oz, she'll realize how big she is inside, where it counts. She hasn't ever thought of herself as a performer, but when the wonderful director of Oz casts her as a Munchkin, she begins to see herself in a new way. As Julia becomes friendly with the poised and wise Olive - one of the adults with dwarfism who've joined the production's motley crew of Munchkins - and with her deeply artistic neighbor, Mrs. Chang, Julia's own sense of self as an artist grows. Soon, she doesn't want to fade into the background and it's a good thing, because her director has more big plans for Julia!
The Wizard of Oz was the first movie I remember watching as a child. I got into my pajamas and positioned myself with my whole family in front of the TV set. In my mind there were bowls of ice cream with chocolate sauce and I had the spot on the wall-to-wall green carpet closest to the screen.
The viewing was deemed a ‘major mistake’ by my parents when I ran from the room shouting, “Get me out of here”. I was headed straight for the front door before I was stopped. The Wicked Witch of the West was looking into her crystal ball and I felt certain she was right there in Oregon. When I took off for parts unknown, my little brother went with me. We were a pair that way. I led. He followed. I’m not sure he was howling as much, but he had my back.
Our older brother remained watching that night. I would hear about his bravery for years.
My second viewing of the movie was more successful. I knew that Dorothy made it home to Kansas and Auntie Em, but the Wicked Witch staring into that crystal ball still made my heart race.
I love the movie so much.
I love Judy Garland singing about a place somewhere over the rainbow. I love the world turning from black and white into color in the Land of Oz. I love all of the music and the costumes, but most of all, I love the characters.
A girl on a farm in Kansas gets lost with her dog when she’s sucked into another world. She happens upon a tin man, a scarecrow and a lion. Talk about squad goals! A man of metal. A decoy. And an apex predator.
Together, in a way, they make up the ideal man.
Today, so many years later, if I’m flipping through the channels and the movie is on, I have to stop and watch. I know all the songs and pretty much most of the dialogue. And yet it’s still fresh and surprising.
Am I attached to the material because I was cast in a play version of the story just a few years after my first television viewing?
Did I write a book about that experience many years later titled SHORT because I just can’t get enough?
I only know this much: Unexpected things happen when you are young and that changes you. Or maybe a better way to say this is unexpected things happen when you are young that shape you.
I was a young girl with a big imagination. And I wasn’t tall. I was short. I couldn’t sing and I couldn’t dance, but somehow I got a part in a University musical production of my favorite story.
I’ve written a fictional version of that experience. My novel publishes on January 31st of this New Year. I wanted to be a writer and I wished upon a star and the clouds are far behind me.
–Holly Goldberg Sloan