John R. Neill
John R. Neill had the longest tenure of any Royal Historian. He served as Imperial Illustrator from 1904 until his passing in 1943. He collaborated first with L. Frank Baum and then, after Baum passed away in 1919, he illuminated Ruth Plumly Thompson’s reportage. He even penned a series of histories himself – but I’m skipping ahead.
Neill was born in 1877 in Pennsylvania, the fifth in a family of eight children. He showed his artistic talents early, spending a semester in 1895 at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts before discovering that he already knew more than his teachers. From then until 1904 he built a career providing illustrations for newspapers, magazines and other periodicals in New York and Philadelphia.
On the rare occasions when he was between commissions Neill would spend the afternoon at a park or in a cafe sketching passers by. In the early spring of 1904 he sketched two girls playing fetch with a terrier dog. On a whim he gave them the sketch. Later that year he was approached by Reilly & Britton, the American publishers of the Oz histories, to illustrate The Land of Oz. By then Neill’s schedule was so full of assignments that he thought it best to pass on the job. The publishers came back with a second offer. Again he passed. It took a third meeting for them to convince him to add the book to his schedule.
For Land he based his depictions of Oz on Denslow’s work. He expected the book to be a one time commission and, once finished, he continued his magazine and illustration work. In the fall of 1906 Neill made the first of four visits to Oz. I haven’t been able to uncover many details about the adventure. It was apparently short, lasting less than a day. He visited the Royal Palace and briefly met many of the personalities in Ozma’s court at a dinner given in his honor. Before he returned to Earth Ozma asked him to sign the sketch he had given her in 1904. Shortly after that he received the manuscript for his second history, Ozma of Oz.
Neill continued to accept commissions from magazines, newspapers and other periodicals. He illustrated over 35 histories of Oz and wrote 5 himself. He visited Oz again in 1919, 1927 and 1936. His second wife, Margaret, accompanied him in 1919 (it was their honeymoon) and they brought their daughters on the subsequent visits. In 1936 he bought a 130 acre farm in Flanders, New Jersey. He lived there until his passing in 1943.