“There’s no place like home!”


“Did you watch The Wizard of Oz last night?”

How old was I before I was able to answer yes to the neighbor kids’ question? I knew the 1939 film was broadcast every year – in early December between 1959 and 1962, thereafter in the spring – but we didn’t yet have a television set. It seemed like ours was the last house on the block to get one.

Then one of the kids described the scene where the door to Dorothy’s sepia Kansas house opens into the Technicolor land of Oz. “Wasn’t that neat?” By now I’d seen the movie, but I didn’t know what they were talking about. Again, we seemed to be late in getting a color television.


Living in the bland suburban tract felt akin to Dorothy’s existence in Kansas. No one understood me, I was bullied by other kids, and I longed for another place. For a while that other place was Los Angeles, where my grandmother lived. With her fancy clothes and jewelry, her red hair, and her sophisticated sensibilities, she was Glinda to my boring parents Uncle Henry and Auntie Em. I couldn’t possibly be related to them, could I?

My "Baba" aka Georgette Simon Burns.

My “Baba” aka Georgette Simon Burns.

My “Glinda” seemed to understand me, taking me to movies and operas, fancy parties and restaurants. My times with her in the city were inspirational, but then I would have to return to the brown-and-white world of the suburbs.

I read the book by L. Frank Baum as soon as I was able, then quickly devoured the more than dozen titles in the series. I checked them out from the Buena Park Public Library and sequestered myself in my room. Being transported to the magical land of Oz was far preferable to playing baseball in the cul-de-sac with the other kids.

I didn’t know anything about Baum’s Populist allegories, if they ever even existed, nor did I know who Judy Garland or Billie Burke were. All I knew was that somewhere there might be a place for someone like me.

Finally I found that place. I saw the film for the first time in color, shortly after I moved to San Francisco in 1972. Was it at the Castro Theatre? Though it was available, over the years on various video formats, I only watched it at the Castro, with an audience of gay men, as if it was a religious experience. I quickly grasped why the film became a metaphor for the many gay people who moved to the city to find themselves. This is what the kids had seen so many years ago. This was what I’d been imagining.

Over the years I saw Dorothy and Glinda portrayed in the long-running San Francisco musical review Beach Blanket Babylon, and by drag queens. I saw the very first public performance of Wicked, running almost four hours, before it became a Broadway hit, then read, Gregory Maguire’s revisionist Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, on which it was based. I read Geoff Wyman’s 1992 novel Was, the annotated version of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and The Ruby Slippers of Oz by Rhys Thomas.I wouldn’t say I was fixated on Oz, merely intrigued by its multivalent metaphors.

This year, the 75th anniversary of the classic film, my many memories were triggered. I have lived in San Francisco for over forty years and I hope never to leave. Glinda was right: “There’s no place like home.”


“Starring San Francisco”


Last week a movie was being filmed across the street in the community garden. At first I was annoyed to see the “no parking” signs along my block, but my anticipation of inconvenience quickly segued to pleasure that some location scout and/or director appreciated my neighborhood as an ideal film location. I could just imagine characters wandering the verdant labyrinth backed by panoramic views of the cityscape. On the day of the shoot I peered from my window trying to see what was going on, but aside from lots of trucks parked, and crew running around, I saw little or nothing. I didn’t even find out the name of the film. Oh, well… I realize I’m less interested in watching the actual making of movies than in seeing the finished product on the screen.

Two books on San Francisco movies have come out relatively recently. (By which I mean since Will Shank and I published Celluloid San Francisco: The Film Lover’s Guide to Bay Area Movie Locations in 2006). Christopher Pollock’s Reel San Francisco Stories: An Annotated Filmography of the Bay Area is a comprehensive listing of more than 600 movies shot in San Francisco, in whole or in part. World Film Locations: San Francisco edited by Scott Jordan Harris, part of the University of Chicago Press’ World Film Locations series, offers iconic images and essays to highlight seven selected San Francisco films.

I am pleased to have been invited by various branches of the San Francisco Public Library to present two film programs in June. “Starring San Francisco” traces the city’s rich history of movie making and “On Location: The Golden Gate Bridge on the Silver Screen” looks specifically at one cultural icon as depicted in dozens of Hollywood movies. Seeking to update my talk I quickly researched recent films, identifying Blue Jasmine, Contagion, La Mission, Milk, Hemingway and Gelhorn, Pursuit of Happyness, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and something called 180. While I’d seen, or at least heard of the others, 180 was completely unfamiliar. Directed by Jayendra, it turned out to be a Bollywood movie largely set in San Francisco and largely incomprehensible. Oh, well.

Now my boyfriend informs me that the new version of Godzilla coming out next month takes place in San Francisco. I watched the trailer and can’t wait to watch the Golden Gate Bridge destroyed, yet again!Image

Here’s a still from The Core (2003)