1963 saw the publication of the final book in the Oz canon, Merry Go Round in Oz by Eloise Jarvis McGraw and her daughter Lauren. Although this would be the final official trip to Baum’s literary fairyland, television audiences paid their annual visit to the MGM musical, and in February of the following year, fans of Tales of the Wizard of Oz got to find out what happened next in that version of the land “halfway to yesterday and back,” as Dorothy put it in the prologue of Return to Oz.
(This is not, of course, to be confused with the live-action movie Return to Oz, released by Disney in 1985. We have a lot of filmed Oztory to go through before we explore that movie!)
The hour-long special was presented as part of the General Electric Color Fantasy Hour on NBC. Rankin and Bass came back to produce it, and “Budge” Crawley once more took the reins as director, assisted by Thomas Glynn and Larry Roemer. Romeo Muller, a talented screenwriter with a flair for presenting fantasy tales in a way which appealed to young and old alike, provided the script. Muller would in fact go on to a long and prolific association with Rankin and Bass, creating scripts for most of their beloved Christmas specials, including Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Little Drummer Boy, and Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (which starred Sacrecrow- and Wizard-to-be Mickey Rooney as jolly old Saint Nick). He also penned the scripts for their animated adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Return of the King.
In a departure from Tales, Return featured the characters breaking into song, with music and lyrics by Gene Forrell, Edward Thomas, and James Polack, and orchestration by Murray Laws.
Most of the cast of Tales returned to reprise their roles. Carl Banas (billed as “Carl Banis”) once more essayed the part of Dandy Lion, as well as playing the wonderful (?) Wizard, Alfie Scopp played Socrates Strawman, and Larry Mann threw himself back into the parts of Rusty Tinman and the Wicked Witch of the West, while Stan Francis barked again as Toto. Series stalwart Pegi Loder was cast as Glinda, who had appeared only once during the run of the show (unless, of course, that was Tattypoo).
Corinne Conley being unavailable (though she would be heard in 1964 as the voice of a Doll on the Island of Misfit Toys on Rudolph), Dorothy needed a new voice. As a matter of fact, she got two: Susan Conway, who was twelve years old, did the talking, giving every line with the enthusiasm only a real child can, and Susan Morse, also twelve, a child singer with a remarkable, soaring voice.