When it comes to collecting The Wizard of Oz there’s no other Royal Historian of Oz collectibles than Walter Krueger. Toy-Lines recently interviewed the Royal Historian on his “Ozsession” as he calls it, his collection & how he’d like to one day turn it into a museum.
Toy-Lines – Walter, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. You’re collection is extremely impressive. Do you remember the first time you saw The Wizard of Oz?
Walter Krueger – The first time I saw the movie I was around three years old and it was at the height of the 1989 50th anniversary! It was a great time to be alive Toys & dolls galore!! I remember my local toy store having an isle full of toys devoted to the 50th anniversary.
TL- How did you get started collecting? Do you remember your first collectible & if so what was it?
WK – My very first Wizard of Oz item was actually a coloring book based after the original text from the original book. My grandmother gave it to me while she was at a doctor’s appointment so I sat in the waiting room and became a lifelong Oz collector and fan at that very moment in time.
TL – How many pieces do you have in your collection?
WK- My Collection is nearing somewhere between 8500 pieces to 9000 pieces I’ve lost count along the way!
TL – How many times have you see The Wizard of Oz?
WK- That’s another thing I’ve lost count on! Let’s say so many times I can recite every line and I know every inflection and movement of every character.
TL – Have you read all the Baum books as well as the other Royal Historians? How many times? Any favorites?
WK- When I was a child my grandmother used to read the Oz series to me; they were among her favorite books to read. Personally my favorite was “Ozma of Oz”, we get to meet the rightful ruler of Oz in this book. And I also enjoyed “The Patchwork Girl of Oz”, The Patchwork girl also known as Scraps is a very funny character and cleverly created! Also with her pet Woozy!
TL – Who is your favorite Wizard of Oz movie character?
WK- I don’t have just one, Dorothy and the wicked witch. I love the dynamic between the two of them! We have two characters completely opposite of each other put it against each other seemingly by mistake.. It is the ultimate good versus evil within children’s story books.
TL – Who is your favorite book character?
WK- Never can have just one! I love Scraps aka The Patchwork Girl & The Woozy! I also LOVE Princess Ozma.
TL – Do you collect just items based off the original movie? Or do you collect anything & everything Oz?
WK-I collect everything that is Wizard of Oz, L Frank Baum ephemera, anything and everything in the Oz universe! Especially the very Old & Vintage!
TL – Is there anything Oz you wouldn’t collect?
WK- No, never have met a wizard or little dog I didn’t like 😉
TL – What item is the most important to you?
WK- The most important item in my collection is a chalk ware lamp my mother bought me and painted for me when I was a child I got it as a Christmas gift when I was six!
TL – Do you have a “Holy Grail” of Oz collectibles?
WK- My holy grail is a hard item to pick, I’d say it’s between an exact pair of Ruby Slipper replicas made on a actual pair of Innes Shoes (the same style the studio used as base shoes) with all vintage components. Or my original woozy that Mr. Baum himself gave to his former neighbors children back in the 1900’s while living at “Ozcot” his Californian home.
TL – Do you have any original props from any of the Oz related movies?
WK-I have a few pieces including Winkie guard uniform pieces & spear from the witches castle! And Emerald City Guards coat & pants set, directly from the MGM 1970 auction!
TL- with Oz being in the public domain there’ve been many comic books based on it. Do you collect these?
WK- I actually do! I have tons!! All the various takes and interpretations, I also am good friends with Eric Shanower! He is a well known comic artist and lifelong Oz fan as well so he was a person I met on my yellow brick road of collecting and instantly took to his adaption’s he produced.
TL – Have you ever gone on any “Oz” road trips, perhaps to Syracuse where Baum was born or out West to California to see where his house “Osco” once stood or to the Land of Oz former theme park in North Carolina?
WK- I actually work for the Land of Oz theme park in North Carolina. They do two events a year, and I help set up the park and help the coordinators with any Ozian task that is needed in order to ensure a magical experience for each guest in the park! I also help run the Land of Oz museum during these events, giving people a chance to meet me and get their Oz treasures appraised!
TL – How often do you collect? Is this every day?
WK- Collecting Oz for me is an everyday adventure! With such sites as eBay, Amazon, and even overseas international auction site my job and collecting Oz is never done! I often am notified as well by fellow collectors of rare items when they come up to for sale, as I also run the largest collector-based group on social media for Wizard of Oz the group is called Wizard of Oz Collectors United! With 7000+ members I am constantly finding new items to add to the collection.
TL – One would think since you collect Oz you’d be easy enough to shop for, but with such an extensive collection does your family & friends find it difficult & you get doubles?
WK- I devised a way to make it easy for friends and family early on, it’s simple! I just never buy any of the new stuff that is commonly found in the stores such as hallmark items, making shopping easy for me and that way they know what they can find in the store I don’t have. I myself just concentrate on finding the very rare and unusual and vintage Oz items.
TL – Do you run into this problem yourself?
WK- Sometimes, I do buy doubles by mistake! It happens to the best of us!! Lol
TL – How do you keep track of your collection?
WL- I have an index like a grande inventory that I have kept over the years and added to for insurance purposes as well.
TL- Do you prefer vintage collectibles to modern?
WK- I love vintage!!! That is always top on my list!!! and I also love international things that were not available in the United States of America especially Italian and Japanese released items.
TL- You’ve said you’d like to turn your collection into a museum. How has that been going? What’s involved with it?
WK- Currently I am working with people that are interested in somehow forming a big business connected to it they are people who are helping me realize my dream, it’s just all in good time my pretties… all in good time.
TL – What do your friends & family think of your collection?
WK- They think it’s extremely unique and it is what defines me from a lot of people. Through my collection I’ve also tried to inspire people in following their dreams, what I do is not extremely ordinary so I figure if I can do this anyone can do what their heart desires, if they just put their mind to it!
TL – What do people think of your collection when you first show them?
WK- People are taking back with a flood of memories from childhood. There’s not a single person that can look at any of this and not remember some sort of memory connected to the story. The Wizard of Oz is touched so many people and so many generations it’s very easily relatable and understandable why I love it so much. Mainly people are also very intrigued and surprised to know how much has been made over the years!
TL – Being a Royal Historian of Oz, how often are you asked the question about the rumored munchkin who hung himself on the Tin Man set which is supposedly in the movie & do they believe you when you tell them the truth about this?
WK- I have been asked that question more times than you can imagine it is the macabre and lore of a good scary tale, an urban legend. Everyone loves a good scary story even myself but this one this one about the munchkin isn’t true, actually it was a giant bird ( a crane) to be exact, that they released on set to create the illusion that the indoor sets were actually outdoor and more believable, I often say to people that ask this question do you believe a timid sixteen year old girl of the 1930s such as Judy Garland would have continued on filming that scene with that in the line of her vision?!? Seriously folks. Never happened.
TL – Have you ever thought of writing your own Oz books?
WK- I’ve often thought about writing a story that would cover the return of the wicked witch of the west set during a Halloween tone. Or penning the back story of the ruby slippers and where they came from and how the witch of the east had them before Dorothy.
TL – Have you ever thought of writing a book on Oz collectibles?
WK- That is something that I am going to pursue in the future actually! So fingers crossed you will see that soon in some form!
TL – Do you have any foreign Oz collectibles?
WK- Tons! I’ve collected many items that come from overseas via international eBay auctions and other international auction sites! My favorite among those items are the ones from Italy and Japan the fandom and artwork are astounding!
TL – When you first started collecting, where did you go to find things?
WK- I would go to doll shows, county swap meets, garage sales and antique stores! My grandmother and mother both were antique doll dealers! Specializing in dolls from the 1900s all the way to present day, both had extremely large collections and doll rooms in their homes! So when I was growing up I learned all the tricks of the trade from the pros including where to go prior to our now Internet advanced days that we have
TL – With Ebay & the internet how has this changed collecting for you?
WK- With the Internet and auction sites it has made collecting easier, it has also unearthed Oz things scores of collectors had no idea even existed!! It has change the game of collecting completely! Making information and these items more accessible to those who desire them.
TL – I believe you coined your collection an “Ozsession”. Do you find this a good thing?
WK- I think out of all the things that people could have afflicting their lives, this is definitely a good thing… and has brought joy to the so many I share it with
TL – How has Oz helped you in your life? I’ve read you were bullied in your teens for being openly gay. How did Oz help you get through this?
WK- I was able to relate my life experiences with what I love so much! I was completely fortunate in being able to find the parallel between Dorothy’s story and my own that I was living, Life is a whirlwind that we can get sucked up in and it will take us on an adventure which along the way we will meet people who are brainless, heartless, and cowardly, we are brought to them to help them learn about themselves and in return they help us learn about ourselves! There are good witches and bad witches in this life and it’s up to us to make our way through them and with them. The Wizard of Oz is a metaphor for life, I realized that being very young, so having that under my belt made identifying who I was much easier… after all before you start your journey, you must have a good idea of who you are.
TL – Do you have any collectibles from the old Land of Oz theme park in North Carolina?
WK- Many many many. And I love all of them! My very favorite among the vintage items I have just because of my employment at the park and the amazing fun history they have! The selection of souvenirs is not lacking either, we are talking so many different wonderful items to collect it makes my head spin like a tornado!
TL – Are there any Oz movies or television shows you thought could’ve been better?
WK- NBC’s Emerald City could have had a kinder heart and soul to it… I’m all for modernizing Oz, but let’s remember the original works you take from are bound with magic and imagination, not malice and darkness. I think it would’ve been more successful had it kept somewhat of an innocence that families could’ve watched it together instead of the demographic being so direct to the Game of Thrones crowd. That basically choked it to death. Hence it being canceled.
TL- When you go out to collect something, do you have something in mind to get or do you just go & see what you find?
WK- I never know what my yellow brick road will lead me to when I’m collecting! I just keep my eyes open and hopes up! A lot of times it is a surprise to even me what I can find! Or rather what finds me…
TL- Would you say there’s more Oz collectibles out now than previously?
WK- I’d say over the decades it’s been pretty steady and the same! Oz has always been a popular choice among merchandising!
TL – Have you seen the theme park proposal Garry Goddard has on his website for a Wizard of Oz theme park? If so, what do you think of it?
WK- That was a dream that was supposed to be a long time ago, way prior to 9/11. Many investors and people even people I personally know where involved with the development of the park plans and Investor meetings, the world was so different prior to terrorist attacks and oil wars! They even had the land picked out! Ready to go! But then September 11th happened and our world changed and the company for “World of Oz” theme park closed.
TL- What did you think of the Tom & Jerry Wizard of Oz & its sequel Tom & Jerry Back in Oz?
WK- I grew up with the 1990 cartoon that aired up every Sunday morning, so having Tom and Jerry bring back something very familiar was such a delight! I absolutely love Tom and Jerry and the Wizard of Oz and it Sequel movie Back to Oz! It’s exactly what we need to explore in order to keep the world of ours and its characters fresh and new for new generations! Now they just need to do Merchandise for the cartoon characters!
TL – When you first started collecting Oz did you think your collection would ever become what it has?
WK- I always dreamed as a little boy that it would, I never thought in a million years that it actually would be so … I guess its proof in never giving up on your dreams!
TL – Would you ever stop collecting Oz or do you think you always will?
WK- I don’t think I ever will stop, just because of how much joy it brings me and other people who love watching and learning from me. It is such a part of the fabric of who I am.
TL – What does Oz mean to you?
WK- It definitely is a metaphor for life as I said, we are sometimes sucked up in a whirlwind of life and taken to new grounds and meet new people and along the way down the yellow back road we search for our dreams and our hopes and helping those around us realize theirs. We all have a yellow brick road we all want to go to the emerald city. It’s realizing it’s going to take each other to get there.
TL – Walter we want to thank you for taking the time to discuss your collection with us. We wish you the best for your museum. Please keep us informed on how it goes.
The Toy-Lines Crew