SUSAN CONWAY MITCHELL "RETURNS TO OZ"
by Rick Goldschmidt
Howard Beckerman, who was the storyboard artist on the special (to be featured in the near future on our site) passed along a review of the special from the March, 1964 edition of the New York Herald Tribune, which said, "RETURN TO OZ was a charming sequel for the very young, its action and sentiment -cut from the original pattern- probably evoking more delight and some youthful nostalgia....general good taste and gayety. Children were the ones this musical was aimed although its commercials were directed at adults."
When we talked to Susan, we were surprised to learn that she had not seen the special since its original airing. We immediately sent her a network print of the show and this is what she said: "I haven't seen that special since I was a child and it brought back wonderful memories. It's amazing how familiar the words and music were to me as I watched it again. They are apparently etched deep into my being! I can't thank you enough for enlivening those memories and giving my family a chance to share in that part of my life."
Susan has since tracked down some of the Canadian voice talent for us that were a big part of the RUDOLPH special. We hope to bring you more interviews with the talent in this fraction of the history of RANKIN/BASS.
Susan recalls, "My desire to be an actress had been very strong since the age of five and when in grade three, I had a chance to direct a play, my choice was THE WIZARD OF OZ! So the story was dear to my heart from an early age. I cast myself as the wicked witch in that production, but it was a dream come true a few years later when I was asked to be the voice of Dorothy in RETURN TO OZ."
"Working on the NBC special was a wonderful experience. I loved working with the talented actors. As a child it was fascinating to watch them change their voices and transform themselves into many roles. When Larry Mann and some of the others chattered as the Winged Monkeys, I was laughing so hard that tears were rolling down my cheeks. (I don't think I've laughed that hard since)."
"I remember both Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass as warm and friendly and from my perspective the message of optimism was a real experience."
When asked for her strongest memory of the experience, Susan replied, "In a climatic part of the story Dorothy speaks some words that have always resonated deeply within me: 'Golly, I'm no wizard, but I know you should never give up hope - there's plenty of magic. Why a little Robin poppin' out of its shell in the middle of May...what's that but magic? When your with those you love and who love you there's magic there with you." The message is simple but profound and I'm proud to have been a part of a production that reminds people of those values. I guess the truth is - I deeply believe in the magic that Dorothy describes and I feel it was no accident that I played the role. I'm touched to have had the opportunity."
Susan continues to work as an actress in Canadian television as well as stage productions. She is better known in the Toronto area for the live action work she has performed. Paul Soles (Hermey the elf) and Billie Mae Richards (Rudolph) have also performed together in a made-in-Ontario slasher feature called "The Shadowbuilder", in which Soles played an ax murderer.
Susan Conway Mitchell will be forever known to us as Dorothy from RETURN TO OZ and Susan Bond from THE KING KONG SHOW. She has been very gracious with us and has provided some rare behind the scenes photos that her mother took in the recording studio. Jules Bass sits at the piano and directs the cast which includes the wonderful talents of Larry D. Mann (better known as Yukon), Alfie Scopp (better known as Charlie In The Box), Carl Banis and Pegi Loder.
RETURN TO OZ is unfortunately out-of-print on video BUT has the potential of being re-released by GOLDEN BOOKS FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT. You can find rental copies in most video stores that have been around for a while. It was issued by PRISM in a clamshell package. It is cell animated and has a nice soundtrack, which was the first that Maury Laws worked on for the studio.