Romola Remus Dunlap, who walked the Yellow Brick Road to Oz 31 years before Judy Garland ever set foot on it, has died.
The original Dorothy in the first film version of “The Wizard of Oz,” was believed to be 86 or 87 but would admit in interviews only to being “somewhere over the rainbow and somewhere over 80.”
Mrs. Dunlap, who died Tuesday in a Chicago hospital, was cast as Dorothy by L. Frank Baum, himself. Baum was the author of the “Oz” series and in 1908 filmed two one-reel films to promote the sale of the books he had written eight years earlier.
Her mother, Lilian Remus, took her to Chicago’s Selig Polyscope Studios to try out for the role of Dorothy in the film.
She skipped school to perform and was paid $5 a day for her work. Both the 1908 and subsequent 1939 “Oz” films were in color but in the case of the first film it was because the negatives were hand-tinted as opposed to the Technicolor process used in the classic musical with Miss Garland, Frank Morgan, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley and Ray Bolger.
In all there have been 29 one-reel films, feature pictures and cartoons made from the 45 books that Baum and his successors devoted to the mythical kingdom.
Mrs. Dunlap, who boasted that “I never capitalized on being the first Dorothy,” went on to become an organist, singer and dancer in vaudeville.
She surfaced in 1984 at the 28th annual convention of “Ozmopolitans” in Holland, Mich., where scholars and fans from across the country gathered.
There she entertained the crowd with such songs as “Every Time I Gain a Pound, That’s Another Pound to Love” and “I Was a Flora Dora Baby.”
She told a Los Angeles Times reporter at the convention that she had “loved Judy Garland” in the 1939 MGM film but regretted never meeting her. “She didn’t know I existed,” Mrs. Dunlap lamented.
Most recently she had been teaching music on Chicago’s North Side, where she lived in an apartment with a cat, a turtle, a parakeet and her clippings.
Her will asked that her age not be disclosed.