On this day 122 years ago, a new musical extravaganza opened at the Chicago Grand Opera House:The Wizard of Oz. The musical toured the Midwest for several months before opening on Broadway the following January, 1903. There was no talk of making a film version, of course, since the first true public movie theater wouldn’t open in the U.S. for another two years, and the average film was only about ten minutes long.Newspaper clipping advertising the 1902 Wizard of Oz musical

Many of us who grew up with the 1939 Technicolor MGM version of the story rather than the Oz books by L. Frank Baum would not recognize the original stage version. But it was arguably as influential with the public as the modern Oz musical—Wicked—turned about to be more than 100 years later. In fact, the success of the 1902 stage version is what prompted Baum to write 13 sequels to his original story. The Wizard of Oz has been described by the Library of Congress as “America’s greatest and best-loved homegrown fairytale.”

But like the 1939 movie, the 1902 stage musical took a few liberties with the characters and storyline. At least one of the changes is particularly objectionable, in our (not-very) humble opinion.

Toto is Replaced by a Cow

Just like in the movie and the book, the story opens with Dorothy on a Kansas farm and she is blown to the Land of Oz by a tornado where she lands on a Wicked Witch. But instead of being accompanied by her beloved dog, Toto (who we know to be the true star of the story,) in the play, Dorothy travels with a pet calf named Imogene.

Apparently, the original script included Toto, but Dorothy’s canine companion was replaced by a cow during a rewrite of the script designed to increase the spectacle for the stage.

The Plot Centers on the Politics of Oz

Although Dorothy starts out with the same motivation we know and love—because there’s no place like home—the plot twists that keep her from achieving her goal have nothing to do with the Wicked Witch of the West seeking revenge for the death of her sister. In fact, the green-faced witch who terrorized me as a child and made millions retelling her story in Wicked was left out of the 1902 stage version of the story. Instead it turns out that the tornado blew two other people to Oz, one of whom is the former king who was pushed out of power by the Wizard.Both the Wicked Witch and Toto were left out of the 1902 musical and they were not pleased (book by KD Hays and Meg Weidman)

When the group reaches the Emerald City, the Wizard gives brains to the Scarecrow and a heart to the Tin Woodsman, but instead of helping Dorothy get back to Kansas, the Wizard gets arrested  and Dorothy is declared an enemy of the state and sentenced to execution.

The Music Was… Different

The songs used in the play changed over the years as the show toured with different companies. There were love songs, because there were several love stories intertwined in the plot. A new character added for the stage, Sir Dashemoff Daily, the Poet Laureate of Oz, falls in love with Dorothy. Another new character, a “Lady Lunatic” added because political correctness was not a thing in 1902, is looking for her lost love, Nick Chopper, who she later discovers was turned into a tin woodsman. The former king of Oz (who was a streetcar conductor in Kansas) is in the midst of a troubled relationship with a waitress but they break up in the second act.

The Cowardly Lion does not get to sing in any of the versions because his character is reduced to minor comic relief with no lines.

While originally, the songs furthered the storyline, as they do in operettas, as the show evolved the songs became more like vaudeville numbers thrown in for laughs and entertainment and not having much bearing on the plot. One of the most popular songs in the show was a tune in which the King of Oz’s ex-girlfriend raves about one of her former boyfriends.

None of these songs was used in the 1939 film.

Just the Beginning for Dorothy

Even while tours of the musical continued to fill play houses, L. Frank Baum was working on a combined live-action film version known as The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays. The 1908 production cost more to show than it could bring in even with a packed house, so it only lasted two months and led Baum to declare bankruptcy. The film portions are now lost although the script for Baum’s narration survives.

The 1902 stage musical was adapted for film just two years later without any involvement from Baum. In this whirlwind 15 minute story, Dorothy and her pet cow are chased by a mule and swept into Oz in a haystack with the scarecrow. The Good Witch turns the cow into a human, they meet up with the Cowardly Lion and Rusty Woodman and Eureka the Cat. The evil Witch Momba kidnaps them but Dorothy kills her with water and everyone enjoys a dance party at the Emerald City.

Numerous sequels and other film versions followed until the classic telling in 1939 set a standard that has been impossible to top. Mostly because of Toto.

The Real Star is Not a Cow

If producers of the 1902 musical had based their script on the true story as related in Toto’s Tale, the show might still be running on Broadway. But short-sighted rewriting and poor casting led them to replace the world’s most heroic canine with a guy in a cow suit (and they weren’t even selling chicken sandwiches at intermission.) Now there are generations of people believing Oz was always Somewhere Over the Rainbow and cheering for the green-faced witch believing she’s not all that Wicked. Meanwhile, the original musical is just a Wikipedia entry created by diehard Oz fans for people who are only vaguely aware that the Land of Oz existed before Technicolor was invented.

While we might find it entertaining to see that musical now from a historical perspective, it’s not likely we’d want to watch it over and over. Without Toto, we all know Dorothy never would have made it home.