Hearne: Weekend Munchkin Roundup – One Down, Two to Go

Dorothy-With-The-Munchkins-the-wizard-of-oz-5590344-600-400Then there were two…

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.

Margaret Pellegrini

Margaret Pellegrini

“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.

 I did get a chance to pop a couple of loaded questions to the Munchkins.

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.

Jerry+Maren+AMPAS+Screening+Wizard+Oz+0J2kE2nzlnZlOh and playing lots of golf.

“I used to be an 18 (handicap), now I’m a 25,” Maren told me.

 Getting the right clubs was his primary concern.
“He buys the ladies’ clubs, then cuts them down,” his wife Elizabeth told me.
He also said that he enjoyed jazz, country, a touch of opera, baseball and football.

“He’s a real sports fan,” Elizabeth says. “And he plays shortstop for the Hollywood Shorties.”

 “I go to the racetrack (too),” Maren said. “Thoroughbred horses.”

Then there were Maren’s bad habits …

 “He smokes about two (cigars) a day,” Elizabeth told me. “(But) I take good care of him – he’s going to be the last one.”
As for frenzied fans, “We don’t have groupies,” Maren says. “I mean, there are people who love ‘The Wizard of Oz’ so much.”

That said, he did get the odd request to sign women’s breasts.

 “Oh, yeah,” he said. “But we’re not allowed to do that. If something happens and they get sick or something…”

Maren’s post Oz career made him into something of a Birthday Boy.

 “When Cher was dating Gene Simmons with Kiss, it was her birthday, and he wanted to surprise her,” Elizabeth said. “So he had Jerry and I go to her bungalow on her birthday and knock on her door. And when she opened the door we gave her a can of Pepsi and a glass of ice and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to her at the Beverly Hills hotel. She loves Pepsi.”
The pricetag for Maren’s delivery: $200. The sentimental value of Cher’s surprise: priceless.
pamelaandersonThen there was the time Pamela Anderson had a birthday for Tommy Lee
“She hired about eight little people to greet the guests as they came to the event,” Elizabeth told me. “The women (little people) dressed as belly dancers and the men dressed as Arabs or something.”

“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?

Stay tuned…

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6 Responses to Hearne: Weekend Munchkin Roundup – One Down, Two to Go

  1. Sergent Shriver Stedenko says:

    Better little person, Bridget the Midget or Stretch?

    • admin says:

      Tough one.

      Bridget was pretty cool though. I remember her telling me how she got kicked out of some screen actors guild thing for sparking an orgy and getting caught.

      She was a very confident young lady.

  2. Rick Nichols says:

    In the interest of accuracy, the correct year would be 1939, the year movie-goers were treated to both “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone with the Wind,” with the latter taking top picture honors. As I recall there was another classic that came out that same year but the title escapes me at the moment.

  3. admin says:

    Well, let’s see…

    There was Goodbye Mr. Chips, Of Mice & Men, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stagecoach, Wuthering Heights, Dark Victory and Ninotchka.

  4. chuck says:

    I think she is way too tall for the part, but I am going to go see that Amanda Seyfried movie about Dr. Miguelito Lovelace.

    Again, she is way too tall, but if Cate Blanchett can play Bob Dylan, then this movie will not be that much of a stretch. It’s great to see little people gettin some run.

  5. Thanks chuck.

    Speaking of getting some run, I am reading for the part of Jesse Owens in the new musical biopic about the 1936 Olympics. Picture “Caberet” with music from Wagner, a kind of ‘will-o-the wisp’ touch that lightens what could have been a pretty heavy script.

    It’s called, with a nod to Wagner, “Die Short Swartza.”

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