Collecting The Munchkins of Oz – In 1939, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released a film that would become an enduring classic, “The Wizard of Oz.” This fantastical journey through the Land of Oz captured the imagination of audiences worldwide, in no small part due to the unforgettable characters and innovative filmmaking. Among the most memorable elements of the film were the Munchkins, portrayed by a unique ensemble of little people actors. Their story, both on and off the screen, is a fascinating chapter in the annals of Hollywood. In this Collecting The Munchkins of Oz feature we take a look at the Munchkins story, some of the key actors who played them and some of the related memorabilia and collectibles created.
The Making of a Classic
“The Wizard of Oz” was adapted from L. Frank Baum’s beloved 1900 children’s novel, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” The film’s production was an ambitious undertaking for MGM, then at the zenith of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Under the helm of producers Mervyn LeRoy and Arthur Freed, and directors Victor Fleming (and uncredited others), the film pioneered the use of Technicolor, special effects, and musical storytelling in cinema.
The casting of the Munchkins was a significant task. MGM sought little people from all over the United States, Europe, and even as far as Australia. The studio eventually cast over 120 little people, a casting feat unparalleled at the time. The search was challenging, as there were no established avenues to find so many actors of shorter stature. Ultimately, talent scouts employed various means, including contacting circuses and vaudeville acts.
Life on the Set
For many of the Munchkins, “The Wizard of Oz” provided a rare opportunity to work alongside others of similar stature, in an era where they were often marginalized in society and in the entertainment industry. The set of “Oz” became a unique community for the duration of their time filming.
Life on the MGM lot was not without its challenges. The actors endured long hours, often in uncomfortable costumes and makeup. Despite these hardships, many recalled their time on the set fondly, noting the camaraderie and sense of belonging that developed among them.
Standout Munchkins: Jerry Maren, Meinhardt Raabe and Margaret Pellegrini
Among the ensemble of Munchkins, several actors stood out for their subsequent careers and contributions to the legacy of “Oz.”
Jerry Maren, who famously handed Dorothy (played by Judy Garland) a lollipop as part of the Lollipop Guild, was one of the youngest Munchkin actors at 18 years old. Maren’s bright smile and energetic performance made him one of the most recognizable Munchkins. After “Oz,” he continued to work in film and television, becoming one of Hollywood’s most enduring little people actors. His career spanned over 70 years, including appearances in films like “Under the Rainbow” and TV shows such as “Seinfeld.”
Meinhardt Raabe, who played the Munchkin Coroner, had one of the most iconic lines in the film, declaring the Wicked Witch of the East “really most sincerely dead.” A native of Wisconsin, Raabe was one of the few college-educated actors among the Munchkins, later earning a degree in accounting. His post-“Oz” life was as colorful as his time in the film. He worked for many years as a spokesman for Oscar Mayer, touring the country in the Wienermobile. Raabe also became an advocate for little people, speaking out against the stereotypes and discrimination they often faced.
Margaret Pellegrini was one of the youngest Munchkin actors in “The Wizard of Oz,” being only 15 years old at the time of filming. She portrayed multiple characters, including the “Sleepyhead” Munchkin and one of the “Flowerpot” Munchkins. Pellegrini’s contribution to the film was characterized by her youthful energy and distinctive appearances in these roles. After “The Wizard of Oz,” she remained an active ambassador for the film, often appearing at festivals and events celebrating its legacy. Her continued involvement in “Oz” related activities and her eagerness to share her experiences from the film made her a beloved figure among the “Oz” fan community.
Legacy and Recognition
The impact of the Munchkin actors on popular culture and the legacy of “The Wizard of Oz” is profound. They brought to life a vital part of Baum’s fantasy world, embodying the joy and whimsy of the Munchkinland segment of the film. Their portrayal helped set the tone for the magical journey that unfolds in the story.
For decades, the contributions of these actors were somewhat overshadowed by the film’s overall success. However, in recent years, there has been a growing recognition of their role in cinematic history. In 2007, the remaining Munchkin actors were honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a fitting tribute to their collective contribution to one of the most beloved films of all time.
The story of the Munchkin actors in “The Wizard of Oz” is a testament to the enduring power of film to create a sense of wonder and community. It highlights how a group of often overlooked and marginalized individuals came together to create something magical that has stood the test of time. The legacies of Jerry Maren, Meinhardt Raabe, Margaret Pellegrini, and their fellow Munchkins continue to enchant audiences, reminding us of the diverse talent and resilience that contributed to the making of this cinematic treasure.