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William Wallace Denslow

W. W. Denslow
William Wallace Denslow,
photographed in 1900
Born (1856-05-05)May 5, 1856
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died March 29, 1915(1915-03-29) (aged 58)
New York
Nationality American
Education National Academy of Design
Cooper Union
Known for Illustration
Notable work The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
collaborations with L. Frank Baum
The Black Sheep, from a 1901 edition of Mother Goose
Denslow's illustration for "There was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe", from a 1901 edition of Mother Goose.

William Wallace "W. W." Denslow (May 5, 1856 – March 29, 1915) was an American illustrator and caricaturist remembered for his work in collaboration with author L. Frank Baum, especially his illustrations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.[1] Denslow was an editorial cartoonist with a strong interest in politics, which has fueled political interpretations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.


  • Biography 1
  • Personal life 2
  • Later Oz Illustrations 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


Born in Philadelphia, Denslow spent brief periods at the National Academy of Design and the Cooper Union in New York, but was largely self-educated and self-trained. In the 1880s, he traveled about the United States as an artist and newspaper reporter; he came to Chicago for the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, and chose to stay. Denslow acquired his earliest reputation as a poster artist; he also designed books and bookplates, and was the first artist invited to work at the Roycroft Press.[2]

Denslow may have met Baum at the Chicago Press Club, where both men were members. Besides The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Denslow also illustrated Baum's books By the Candelabra's Glare, Father Goose: His Book, and Dot and Tot of Merryland. Baum and Denslow held the copyrights to most of these works jointly.

After Denslow quarreled with Baum over royalty shares from the 1902 stage adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, for which Baum wrote the script and Denslow designed the sets and costumes, Baum determined not to work with him again. (As co-copyright-holder, Denslow demanded an equal share in royalties with Baum and composer Paul Tietjens.) Denslow illustrated an edition of traditional nursery rhymes titled Denslow's Mother Goose (1901), along with Denslow's Night Before Christmas (1902) and the 18-volume Denslow's Picture Books series (1903–04).[3] He also used his copyright to the art of the Baum books to create newspaper comic strips featuring Father Goose and the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman during the first decade of the twentieth century. He also created the comic strip Billy Bounce, notable as one of the earliest comic strips in which the protagonist has some manner of super powers.[4]

The royalties from the print and stage versions of The Wizard of Oz were sufficient to allow Denslow to purchase Bluck's Island, Bermuda,[5][6] and crown himself King Denslow I.

Denslow wrote and illustrated a children's book called The Pearl and the Pumpkin.

Personal life

Denslow had three wives and three divorces in his lifetime. His first wife, Annie McCartney (née, Anna M. Lowe, 1856-1908) married him in 1882 and gave birth to his only child, a son, the following year. The couple were already separated, however, and Denslow never saw his son. They finally divorced in 1896, freeing her to marry the man she lived with for five months. That same day, February 20, 1896, Denslow married Anne Holden Denslow, the daughter of Martha Holden, writer.[7] The marriage did not last long either. Anne filed for divorce in September 1903, alleging that he told her in June 1901 that he did not love her and henceforth declined to live with her. In less than a month she married a young artist, their friend, Lawrence Mazzanovich, and left with him for Paris. Denslow then married his third wife, Mrs. Frances G. Doolittle December 24. Frances left him in 1906 and they finally divorced in 1911. He rewrote his will in 1914 leaving his estate to a fourth woman.[8]

Later Oz Illustrations

Dorothy meets the Cowardly Lion, from the first edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

John R. Neill illustrated the rest of Baum's additions to the Oz series. He made many changes in the appearance of the characters, not all at once. Following Baum's death, Neill continued to illustrate the 19 Oz books written by Ruth Plumly Thompson, and upon her retirement, wrote and illustrated three of his own additions to the series. He was succeeded by Frank Kramer in 1946 and 1949 for two additions to the series by Jack Snow. Dirk Gringuis illustrated the next addition to the series by Rachel Cosgrove in 1951. The final addition to the original series was illustrated by Dick Martin for Eloise Jarvis McGraw and Lauren Lynn McGraw in 1963.

In 1944, artist Evelyn Copelman became the next illustrator, when she illustrated the 1944 Bobbs-Merrill edition of The Wizard of Oz. Although the book credit for the new illustrations reads "Adapted from the famous pictures by W.w. Denslow", Copelman's versions of the characters were largely based on the way they looked in the 1939 MGM Technicolor film version, although the Cowardly Lion looked quite different, and Dorothy had braids rather than long pigtails, as Judy Garland did in the film.

Copelman's illustrations of the Oz characters were much darker, more realistic and less cartoon-like than those of her predecessors. They were reprinted in 1956, in the edition of The Wizard of Oz published by Grosset & Dunlap, as part of a series labeled the Illustrated Junior Library. 1956 was also the year that the MGM film came to television (see The Wizard of Oz on television).

The footstone of William Wallace Denslow in Kensico Cemetery, featuring his seahorse insignia and images of the Scarecrow and Tin Woodsman
This edition of the book was popular throughout the 1960s, as showings of The Wizard of Oz on television gained an ever larger following. The Illustrated Junior Library edition of The Wizard is still in print today, though with a cover illustration by a different artist.

In the 1990s, Donald Abbott released several new Oz books, with illustrations that returned to the Denslow style for the first time in nearly a century. Abbot's Denslow-inspired books are How the Wizard Came to Oz (1991), The Magic Chest of Oz (1993), Father Goose in Oz (1994), and The Amber Flute of Oz (1998).


  1. ^ Douglas G. Greene and Michael Patrick Hearn, W.W. Denslow, Mount Pleasant, Clark Historical Library, Central Michigan University 1976.
  2. ^ L. Frank Baum, The Annotated Wizard of Oz, Edited with an Introduction and Notes by Michael Patrick Hearn; revised edition, New York, W. W. Norton, 2000; pp. xxix-xxx.
  3. ^ The Annotated Wizard of Oz, pp. lii-lvi.
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ (subscription required)

External links

  • Works by William Wallace Denslow at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about William Wallace Denslow at Internet Archive
  • Works by William Wallace Denslow at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
  • Hearn, Michael Patrick. “The Man Behind the Man Behind Oz: W.W. Denslow at 150” AIGA July 5, 2006.
  • DHS Denslow Seahorse at
  • Denslow's Humpty Dumpty From the Collections at the Library of Congress
  • Denslow's Mother Goose From the Collections at the Library of Congress
  • Denslow's Three Bears From the Collections at the Library of Congress
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