The death of Jerry Maren was announced yesterday. Maren, 98, was the last surviving “Munchkin” from the film The Wizard of Oz.
In the movie, Dorothy’s house is lifted into the sky by a raging Kansas twister, flies over the rainbow, and then drops to the ground in Oz, in Munchkinland. To the delight of the Munchkins, the house crushes the evil Wicked Witch of the East, who had been tormenting the Munchkins for years. The grateful Munchkins treat Dorothy and Toto as heroes — “this is a day of independence, for all of the Munchkins and their descendants!” one of them declares — and hold a hastily arranged ceremony to express their appreciation and welcome Dorothy and Toto to Munchkinland. After the saccharine-sweet, high-pitched Lullaby League ballerinas go en pointe to thank Dorothy, the three tough-guy members of the Lollipop Guild, singing with a sneering Brooklyn accent, do a tap-dancing jig up to Dorothy and hand her a giant lollipop. It’s one of the memorable moments of the film, and Maren played the twitchy leader of the Lollipop Guild.
Maren was a pituitary dwarf, which meant his body was proportionately correct, only smaller than the normal human body. MGM specifically searched for pituitary dwarves to play the Munchkin characters, and they comprised the vast majority of Munchkins in the movie. After The Wizard of Oz, Maren became a leader of the group, helped to found the organization Little People of America, and went on to have a long acting career and became a successful real estate investor. But when he died in late May, he was most remembered for his role in The Wizard of Oz.
The Wizard of Oz is one of my all-time favorite movies, and the scene with Dorothy, Toto and the Lollipop Guild is one of scenes I love best. Thanks to Jerry Maren and the other little people who helped to make that movie so special and put it in the pantheon of all-time Hollywood classics.