Excerpt from Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Finding Dorothy

by Elizabeth Letts

Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts X
Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2019, 368 pages

    Dec 2019, 384 pages


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Jordan Lynch
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Chapter 1
October 1938

It was a city within a city, a textile mill to weave the gossamer of fantasy on looping looms of celluloid. From the flashing needles of the tailors in the costume shop to the zoo where the animals were trained, from the matzo ball soup in the commissary to the blinding-­white offices in the brand-­new Thalberg executive building, an army of people—­composers and musicians, technicians and tinsmiths, directors and actors—­spun thread into gold. Once upon a time, dreams were made by hand, but now they were mass-­produced. These forty-­four acres were their assembly line.

Outside its walls, the brown hills, tidy neighborhoods, and rusting oil derricks of Culver City gave no hint of magic; but within the gates of M-­G-­M—­Metro, as it was known—­you stepped inside an enchanted kingdom. A private trolley line that cut through the center of the studio's back lots could whisk you across the world, or back in time—­from old New York's Brownstone Row to the Wild West's Billy the Kid Street to Renaissance Italy's Verona Square—­with no stops in the outside world. In 1938, more than three thousand people labored inside these walls. Just as the Emerald City was the center of the Land of Oz, so the M-­G-­M Studios were the beating heart of that mythic place called Hollywood.

Maud Baum had been waiting on foot outside the massive front gates of Metro-­Goldwyn-­Mayer for almost an hour, just another face among the throngs of visitors hoping for a chance to get inside. Every now and again, a gleaming automobile pulled up to the gate. Each time, the studio's guard snapped to attention and offered a crisp salute. Whenever this happened, the fans waiting around the entrance, hoping to catch a peek of the stars, would leap forward, thrusting bits of papers through the car's windows. As Maud observed this spectacle, she couldn't help but feel a pang for Frank: his doomed Oz Manufacturing Film Company, a single giant barnlike structure, had been just a short distance away from the current location of this thriving metropolis of Metro. In 1914, when Frank had opened his company, Hollywood had been a sleepy backwater of orange trees and bungalows, and filmmaking a crazy venture seen as a passing fad. If only he could have lived to see what a movie studio would become over the course of the next two decades: another White City, a giant theater stage. This fantastical place was the concrete manifestation of what Frank had been able to imagine long before it had come to pass.

At last it was Maud's turn. As the guard scribbled her a pass, her stomach fluttered. Inside her purse, she had the small cutout torn from Variety. She didn't need to look at it; she had long since memorized its few words: "oz" sold to louis b. mayer at m-­g-­m. As the last living link to the inspiration behind the story, she was determined to offer her services as a consultant. But getting access to the studio had not been easy. For months, they had rebuffed her calls, only reluctantly setting up a meeting with the studio head, Louis B. Mayer, because the receptionist was no doubt fed up with answering her daily queries. Today she would make her case.

If Maud's suffragist mother, Matilda, had taught her anything, it was that if you wanted something, you needed to ask for it—­or demand it, if necessary. True, Maud would far rather be reading a book at Ozcot, her Hollywood home, but she had made a promise to her late husband that she aimed to keep.

The guard pushed her day pass through the glass-­fronted window and gave her a nod.

"Where is the Thalberg Building?" she asked.

He jerked his head to the left—­a gesture that could have pointed anywhere. "White Lung? Just head that way. You can't miss it."

Excerpted from Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts. Copyright © 2019 by Elizabeth Letts. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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