Once upon a time – in 1939 to be exact – there were 124 Munchkins. You know, the “little people” who used to be (and in some cases still are) called midgets. They were cast by the Singer Agency to appear in the Wizard of Oz.
Eight years ago there were only six surviving -only three of which were healthy enough to travel – when I interviewed Lollipop Guild Kid Jerry Maren when he flew in for the grand opening of the Legends 14 movieplex in KCK.
And now, as of this week – after the death of Margaret Pellegrini – we’re down to two, Maren 93, who lives in LA and Ruth Duccini, 95, who resides in Phoenix.
And soon there will be none.
I had the pleasure of interviewing sundry Munchkins on two occasions, at Legends in 2005 and at Dickinson’s EastGlen 16 opening in 1999.
Unfortunately, most of the Munchkin groupies who hit the Lee’s Summit theater to catch the four the little people missed them because they were late.
Net result: Many attendees in 7:30 p.m. screenings missed their appearance at the Lee’s Summit multiplex entirely.
“They got off the plane and took a nap,” a one theater official told me then.
Another take: “Stiffed by the Munchkins,” quipped master of ceremonies Jack Poessiger.
About the risque rumors about amorous activities among the little folks during the film’s shooting, as popularized in the movie “Under the Rainbow”?
“Absolutely false,” Maren told me. “It was inaccurate and made to give a bad name to the midgets. We didn’t have midgets sliding down banisters. Actually we were well-behaved.
“The movie, the story, accused everybody of being drunk, but we couldn’t afford (that) at those prices. Toto made $125 a week, and we only made $50. He had a better agent.”
When I caught up to Maren again at the Legends he was 85 and hawking Munchkin memorabilia on a website no longer in service.
“I used to be an 18 (handicap), now I’m a 25,” Maren told me.
“He’s a real sports fan,” Elizabeth says. “And he plays shortstop for the Hollywood Shorties.”
Then there were Maren’s bad habits …
That said, he did get the odd request to sign women’s breasts.
Maren’s post Oz career made him into something of a Birthday Boy.
“They had eight guys playing the drums, and everybody was going crazy,” Maren recalled. “You know, like crazy musicians.”
The $64 million question: Will Maren indeed be the last Munchkin?