She was looking forward to her July 23rd date in Forest Hills as a challenge to “create intimacy” in a large setting. She seemed not to mind at all that the booking — a recent surprise to her — was scheduled on the eve of The Wiz. “When they gave it to me, I said, ‘Gee, well, it’s not a bad idea. In fact it’s a terrific idea, and I’ll be moving to New York [from her home in Beverly Hills] and it might be absolutely fun.’ That’s perfect and right. Otherwise it wouldn’t have come up at this time.”
Diana Ross has a way of talking as if she’s already been to the Land of Oz. Asked how she got involved in The Wiz, she says: “The actual truth is that there was a lot of magic involved. And you can’t explain magic, do you know what I mean? I had seen the play and heard that Motown was going to be involved [in producing the film version]. When I called and asked them, they told me it was already set, and I said, ‘Fine, I just wanted to put it out that I was interested if anybody cared.’ And during that time I was given by Berry Gordy all the reasons he felt that I shouldn’t do it, and they’ve got another film planned that he was doing, and I said, ‘Fine.’ The next day he called me and asked if I was serious about wanting to do it. Something had happened, the guy that was going to direct it was not in anymore, nothing had been set, and they called within a week or so and said I was going to be doing it. And that’s the magic of it.
“I think a lot of people feel that if it’s a project Motown’s involved in, then for sure they’re gonna try and get me involved, and it wasn’t that at all. In fact, they were —” (Ross, the Motown and Gordy loyalist, corrects herself) “— oh, ‘they’! — Motown and Berry had just never ever thought about it. Then I started doing a lot of reading and found out that the man who wrote the story [L. Frank Baum] had never ever described who Dorothy should be, her age, or anything about her. If you were to read the book and not have the pictures to go along with it, you would never ever know that it was supposed to be a young girl. It was just a girl. And I read a book that explained why he never described Dorothy: because everybody, all women, all men, have a Dorothy, a youthful something inside them that’s searching for who they are. So to me, when she meets the Scarecrow and he’s looking to have some brains, everything she’s talking about is herself — she’s looking for her own brains and her own heart … and a lot of us, even today, we’re looking for that one person that’s gonna give us all the answers: the Wizard” — she corrects herself — “the Wiz.”
Diana never read children’s books as a child. “My parents had six children and my mother didn’t have time to read to us. The excitement of making pictures by reading, I didn’t get that. I’m doing that with my children. I read fairy tales to them at night, and in my taking time to find out all about The Wiz, it made me interested in other fairy tales.” That in turn led to her wanting to do a children’s album, as “a love gift … for my children. There’s a few things about who I am that I would like them to know … but it’s really a gift of story, about a little girl who wants to be grown up, ’cause we all never accept what we are and want to be somebody else.” Out of somewhere, she adds: “I’m the kind of girl that’s a constant dreamer. I keep coming up with ideas.
“And I do know there’s a part of my teenage years that I missed, because everybody was in school, and after I graduated from school I didn’t go to college; I went out on the road and started working, and there’s a whole area, that fun area of your life, that I haven’t experienced yet. I think I’ll get a chance to go through that during the filming of The Wiz.”
The Wiz also stars Richard Pryor as the Wiz, Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow and Lena Horne as the Good Witch, with Sidney Lumet directing. Filming begins in October, with rehearsals beginning in early August.
Diana has to get moving, over to Motown. I ask about her separation from rock manager Bob Ellis. “We’re divorced,” she says, matter-of-factly. “But still friends. I saw him today. It’s very difficult in a marriage to have a career, and we agreed we needed time to part, and people get married again if they have to — I mean, if they want to. But we had one difficult year.” She stops and laughs. “We had five good years of marriage and then one difficult year, and that’s the way it had to be.”
But she has no complaints about the clamor of her life. “I really like it this way,” she says. “I’m not the kind of person who can just go somewhere and lay in the sun. I just sent my children away for the summer and I’m absolutely lost without having my minutes filled up. I’m used to something always going on. I pack up a day so I can get a lot of things accomplished. In my life, I really want to live every moment of it. I want to burn it up.”