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Compiled by Eric Weld   Date: 8/13/09 Bookmark and Share

What Can We Learn from The Wizard of Oz?

Q & A with Julienne La Fleur ’90

The Wizard of Oz is so near and dear to Julienne La Fleur's heart, she wrote her first book, Lessons from Oz, about the timeless jewels of wisdom imparted in the movie. La Fleur published the book this month, on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the classic movie's release in 1939. A founder of the whimsically titled Smith Improv Komedy Organization of Smith (SIKOS), La Fleur has always believed in comedy, music and cheerful dance as essential pastimes to accompany our journeys along life's yellow brick road. She recently answered questions for the Gate about her book, the tale on which it's based, and her memories of Smith.

The Gate: What from your perspective is the significance of the anniversary of The Wizard of Oz premiere?

Julienne La Fleur: The premiere is a subtle reminder that great story telling can stand the test of time. L. Frank Baum’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz came over a hundred years ago, in 1900. Both the story and the movie are true classics.

Also, this is a chance for a new generation to see the movie on the big screen. Warner Bros is planning to screen the movie in high def across the country for one night, on September 23. If you have a chance, see it on the big screen. The TV doesn’t do it justice—the sets and characters are meant to be seen bigger than life. You’ll see why I consider it a great comedy!

Gate: What, in a sentence, can we learn from the classic story?

JLF: I wrote a whole book! But if I had to distill it into one sentence: Along the yellow brick road of your life, if you remember to travel with love, wisdom, and courage, you have the power within you to make your dreams come true.

Gate: How would you recommend your fellow Smithies celebrate the upcoming anniversary?

JLF: 3 suggestions: 1) If you can, see the movie on the big screen. It’s spectacular! 2) Dorothy is asked by Glinda at the end of the movie what she learned. Dorothy say, “…If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard.” To honor the story, it would be great to take a minute to reflect and be grateful for all that we have that we take for granted. 3) Laugh the day away! When the group arrives in Muchkinland they sing that silly tune, “Ha-ha-ha, ho-ho-ho, and a couple of tra-la-las/ That’s how we laugh the day away In the Merry old land of Oz.” I really think we could and should laugh as much as we can. Too often, as grown-ups we are taking things far too seriously.

Gate: What are some of the most powerful images that come to mind for you from The Wizard of Oz?

Lessons from Oz by Julienne La Fleur. (Click on image for more information.)

JLF: 1) When Dorothy opens the door and everything goes from black and white to Technicolor, it’s a complete surprise on your eyes. 2) The vista where they see Emerald City from afar. 3) The sets and special effects are so amazing! Even today they look great--that was special effects history in the making.

The music is what really gets my toes tapping. The songs are so catchy and uplifting. Little known Oz fact: At the first sneak preview to test audiences they removed “Over the Rainbow” from the movie. Thank goodness they had the sense to put it back in, Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg won an Oscar for it.

You didn’t ask, but the least powerful image for me is the flying monkeys! Everyone always asks me about them, and tells me how they were totally afraid of them and had nightmares. Could someone please tell me why they were so scary?

Gate: What are your standout memories from life at Smith?

JLF: Too many to count (and some will go with me to my grave). But: 1) Mountain day (and the anticipation of) was always so exciting. When oh when will it be? Then the ding-dong of the bells through the Quad, and still half awake, stumbling into the hall and everyone was a-twitter! 2) Maya Angelou came to do a reading at John M. Greene Hall. She was dressed in sequins from head to toe in the most glamorous gown, and then she spoke and took my breath away with her words. 3) Entire weekends spent in PJ’s, sitting in the hallway playing hand after hand of card games.

Mostly, I remember the little things vividly: A first big snowscape from my window-seat view; sitting on the stone bench, overlooking Paradise Pond and writing; campus in the fall; the ambience of dinner by candlelight; the silence of the dining room at 3 a.m. trying to finish a paper; laughing until it hurt (at least once a week) with the very best friends you’ll ever have.

Gate: What inspired you to start SIKOS?

JLF: As a theater major and young lady who dreamed of being on Saturday Night Live someday, I wished there was a group that performed around campus like the singing groups. So my pals and I started it our senior year, and it was a blast!

After leaving Smith, I had no idea that the younger members kept SIKOS going. About five years ago, while nostalgically perusing the Smith Web site, my jaw dropped to see that our little group was still going. It was so incredible to think I started something that keeps people laughing, and young women creating their own comedy.

Gate: How did you embark on the writing life?

JLF: Writing chose me. Unwittingly, I might add. For who would choose the blank page, the solitude, the angst of rewriting ad nauseam and hoping and praying that when you read it a week later you won’t have to scrap it and start all over?

I spent my junior year at The University of Michigan. The only class left that would apply to my major was playwriting. To get in the class I had to submit writing samples (of which I had none) and interview with the professor. After scribbling a bunch of stuff on the fly and faking my way through the interview, I had one class assignment and was hooked on writing.

Gate: : What role did writing play in your life as a Smith student?

JLF: Even before the playwriting, I was always writing in a journal, poems, etc.  I don’t think I ever thought I’d write a book. But the ideas choose you, and if you have the gumption to see them through, that is the whim of the creative process. We writers just have to follow creative orders from the universe. That nagging inner voice that says this is a really great idea, get that notebook out!


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