Scanning the entertainment section of the paper the other day, I noticed that the Broadway hit “The Wiz” is playing in Indianapolis. Now, I was not yet born when this story began, but as a consumer bankruptcy specialist in Indiana, I know the very interesting and sad saga behind the show. It all started with the book upon which this wildly popular play “The Wiz” is based, “The Wizard of Oz”, which was first published in the year 1900. The then 44-year old author was L. Frank Baum, and he enjoyed enormous success with his book – for a time. In fact, within the first two weeks of publication, the book sold 10,000 copies, and the first year sales totaled 90,000. Then Frank Baum decided to expand upon his success, producing a very expensive slide show with an orchestra based on Oz. Unfortunately, neither of those ventures was well-accepted, and when that show closed, Baum was forced to file bankruptcy.
The supreme irony about this tale is that, several years after Baum died, Samuel Goldwyn bought the movie rights to The Wizard of Oz for $40,000. Today, more than a century later, you and I can attend the new Indianapolis showing of “The Wiz”, which has delivered millions of dollars in profits, but of course too late to benefit even the descendants of the imaginative author of Oz.
Even though the seeds of this bankruptcy were sown several generations before my time, as the adviser to many small businesses that file bankruptcy in Indiana, I understand only too well what happened. Business owners – all business owners – take risks. They invest their time, their expertise, and often their life savings in ventures which they believe have a good chance of success. But sometimes, factors beyond their control undermine their chances. It might be a general downturn in the economy or in their particular field. It might be a medical problem that struck the business owner or a family member, or even an expensive divorce. Quite often, decisions that you and I, in hindsight, might agree were solid at the time, turned out not have been so good given later circumstances that could not have been predicted. The bankruptcy court system is there to serve as a safety net for just those reasons.