L. Frank Baum's granddaughter lives in Manhattan Beach, California. As it turns out, her next-door neighbor was one very tall professional basketball player. It took a desperate volunteer fund raiser (me) to bring them together in an event that became local legend.
Through Baum's granddaughter, we secured permission from the estate to use Oz characters in an amateur charity review for the local chapter of the Heart Association. The key to success in these fund raisers is to use as many people as possible, so folks will pay to see their local banker, doctor and realtor make fools of themselves.
Sadly, as wonderful as "Wizard of Oz" is, the book and film are primarily a three-person show. The major exception is the Munchkin segment where you can fill a stage with dozens of men wearing costumes that make them look like complete jackasses. I didn't have permission from MGM to use the music, but a guy down the street who was a lawyer said not to worry, he knew someone who knew someone at MGM, and besides, it would be a PR disaster to go after a nonprofit trying to raise a few thousand bucks.
I quickly ran into a snag. Nobody wanted to be a Munchkin. "Look, I'm five-six, thirty pounds overweight with a paunch belly," the high school principal said. "You want me to put on leotards and pretend to be a dancing dwarf? In your dreams, fella." I found it hard to argue with him; he was actually at least fifty pounds overweight.
When I told Baum's granddaughter Lynn my dilemma, she flashed the same creative genius of her granddaddy. "Why don't we flip it on its head? My next door neighbor plays for the Clippers. He's such a sweetie." She picked up the phone and dialed. "Hi, Danny, it's Lynn. Yeah, listen, can I fly an idea by you?"
In days Danny recruited Kiki, Marcus and a bunch of other guys who used to, still did, or wanted to play pro basketball. The only criteria for selection, as far as I could see, was to sing loudly, wear funny clothes and be taller than most trees. "I think I'll give nature a hand," Lynn told the guys when they showed up for their fitting. "I'm going to give you all platform shoes."
The event at the local hotel ballroom was completely sold out. Danny and his giants showed up in green tights, yellow liederhosen, and elevator pointy-toed shoes. Everybody had a great time, and later at the auction, a well-lubricated local offered a thousand bucks if Danny would do an encore of his gravelly-falsetto "Lollypop League?" Danny said for that kind of dough, he and Marus would do a doo-wop version of "Over the Rainbow."
We raised more than $25,000, a very big number in those days. Lynn was game to do it again, and her creative juices were still kicked in. "What if we do Dorothy in drag next year. Tim Brown lives just down the street, and if we did it in the off season, I'm sure the Raiders wouldn't mind. He's such a sweetie."
Causes Jack Shakely Supports
International relief through Operation USA (board member)
Center for Philanthropy and Public Policy, University of Southern California