William Wallace Denslow

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W. W. Denslow
Black-and-white photograph of a man with a large mustache and a pipe in his mouth, at work, seated behind a cluttered desk on which a drawing board is propped at a slight angle.
Denslow sketching, 1900
Born(1856-05-05)May 5, 1856
DiedMarch 29, 1915(1915-03-29) (aged 58)
Known forIllustration
Notable workThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz
collaborations with L. Frank Baum

William Wallace Denslow (/ˈdɛnsl/; May 5, 1856 – March 29, 1915), professionally W. W. Denslow, 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,[citation needed] which has fueled political interpretations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.


Born in Philadelphia to a tobacco wholesaler, 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. The strip, titled Denslow's Scarecrow and [the] Tin Man, was intended to promote a forthcoming sequel he was writing.[4] The strip ran concurrently with Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz. 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.[5]

The royalties from the print and stage versions of The Wizard of Oz were sufficient to allow Denslow to purchase Bluck's Island, Bermuda,[6][7] and crown himself King Denslow I.

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

Personal life[edit]

The footstone of William Wallace Denslow in Kensico Cemetery, featuring his seahorse insignia and images of the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman

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.[8] 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.[9] Frances left him in 1906 and they finally divorced in 1911. He changed his will in 1914, leaving his estate to a fourth woman.[10]


Denslow died on March 29, 1915, in the Knickerbocker Hospital, New York City[11] of pneumonia following an alcoholic bender with $250 (equivalent to $6,697 in 2021) obtained from the sale of a cover to Life.[12] The cover appeared on the July 1915 issue.[13]

He was buried in Kensico Cemetery, in an unmarked grave. A cenotaph exists in Grove Street Cemetery, on the more elaborate family stone.


In 2018, "The Lost Art of Oz" project was initiated to locate and catalogue the surviving original artwork John R. Neill, W. W. Denslow, Frank Kramer, Richard 'Dirk' Gringhuis and Dick Martin created to illustrate the Oz book series.[14]


  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. ^ David L. Greene; Dick Martin (1977). The Oz Scrapbook. Random House. ISBN 978-0-394-41054-8.
  5. ^ "Don Markstein's Toonopedia: Billy Bounce". Toonopedia.com. Retrieved 2012-04-16.
  6. ^ GeoNames, retrieved August 6, 2009
  7. ^ "In the Real Estate Field" (PDF), The New York Times, June 5, 1908, retrieved August 6, 2009
  8. ^ Frank Joslyn Baum, Russell P. MacFall. To please a child: a biography of L. Frank Baum, royal historian of Oz. p. 97.
  9. ^ "Artist Denslow Married". Harrisburg Daily Independent. 30 December 1903. p. 9.
  10. ^ "Decree to Mrs. Denslow". Chicago Daily Tribune. 1903-09-17. p. 7. Archived from the original on 2012-11-04. Retrieved 2010-12-03. (subscription required)
  11. ^ "W. W. Denslow Dead". Buffalo Morning Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express. 2 April 1915. p. 7.
  12. ^ Michael Patrick Hearn (July 5, 2006). "The Man Behind the Man Behind Oz: W. W. Denslow at 150". AIGA.
  13. ^ Douglas G. Greene; Michael Patrick Hearn (1976). W. W. Denslow.
  14. ^ "About".

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