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The Munchkins Remembermunchkins of oz
by Stephen Cox (1989)

I found this short book on a high shelf. After growing up as a friend to a former Munchkin, Cox set out in The Munckins Remember (later retitled as The Munchkins of Oz) to account for the "little people" who appeared in the 1939 Technicolor classic, The Wizard of Oz. Like many kids who grew up with black-and-white televisions, I never realized the film had a color segment until years later. The Munchkins, like the Oompa-Loompas in Willy Wonka, held me spellbound; Cox calls their 10 minutes on screen "one of the most enchanting sequences ever encased in celluloid." Of the 122 actors hired to portray the tiny townspeople, Cox located 28 and kneeled down to ask about their experiences during their seven weeks on the set in November and December 1938. Fifteen he traced had passed away, and several who claimed to be former Munchkins were not. Munchkins are still turning up. One little person not listed in Cox's book is Karl Slover, the 78-year-old who last year became a pawn in David Copperfield's love games. The magician wanted to celebrate the first anniversary of his marriage to supermodel and Oz fan Claudia Schiffer in a special way, so he introduced her to Slover. Cox also spoke to three of the dozen actors who were hired as children to fill out crowd scenes. In 1996, celebrity reporter Vernon Scott interviewed Jerry Maren, one of the Lollipop Guild trio, Ruth Robinson Duccini, who played a "sleepyhead" in a nest, and Margaret Pellegrini, who played a townswoman with a flower pot on her head. The three were appearing to promote the release of The Wizard of Oz on video (and now DVD). "Only 14 of the original Munchkins survive," Scott noted. "The tiniest Munchkin of them all, about 3-foot-4, was Olga Nardone, the brunette cutie of the Lullabye League, who now is a recluse at her home in New England. Another Munchkin, Jack Glicken, who weighed 34 pounds, made headlines four years before The Wizard of Oz by marrying Mildred Monte, 400 pounds, in New York."
Wizard of Oz"It's kind of sad," Maren told Scott. "Midgets are a vanishing tribe. Thanks to new growth hormones, when a child looks as if he's stopped growing, they give him these hormones and he shoots up." The Munchkins were brought to Hollywood for The Wizard of Oz by an agent named Leo Singer, who specialized in little people vaudeville and who had earlier supplied the cast for the all-midget musical, The Terror of Tiny Town. He paid each Munchkin $50 to $75 a week. Singer hired only midgets because they were proportional like average-size people. Dwarfs have slight deformities, making them less adept at dancing and moving about fluidly. In his book, Cox describes the actors' memories of the shooting, Judy Garland, the hotel where they stayed, the train trips to and from Hollywood, and how they were selected for particular parts. He also discusses rumors that the Munchkins were a wild bunch. This fallacy was popularized by the farcical 1981 film Under the Rainbow (in which dwarfs played midgets who played Munchkins) and by Garland, who in 1967 disparaged the Munchkins as "little drunks." The surviving Munchkins dispute this, saying that for the most part everyone acted professionally. Jerry Maren says a couple of Irish midgets named Ike and Mike Kelly "drank a bit during the shoot," but that was the extent of the trouble. Cox devotes a chapter to settling a controversy over who played the Munchkin Mayor. Before he died in 1984, Prince Denis claimed the role, but Cox's research shows it was actually Charley Becker, who died in the early 1970s. Cox also discusses the day during filming when Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch, was severely burned. Several of the Munchkins claimed that they rescued her from the flames, but before her death in 1985 Hamilton said she didn't recall any short people helping out.

visitor feedback

From Theresa LeClair:
I am a descendent of the Mayor of Munchkinland. We knew him as Uncle Louie. He played in a great deal of movies and commercials. His top movie was High Plains Drifter with Clint Eastwood. He also was the hamburgerler for the McDonald commercials. His real name was Lewis Curdo. As a child we got to see him a number of times. He had a sister also a midget named Mary who he visited often. What many people don't know was that it was not his voice in the Wizard of Oz when the Mayor spoke (they used his real voice for the apple trees). His former wife still lives in California and has much of the memorabilia. I remembered him stating that they where not all a bunch of wild little drunks. A few set that example and it stuck for all. He was disappointed for he felt that they where underpaid and taken advantage of. As an actor he moved on to bigger and better things. He also did a publicity stunt where he married the tallest women in one of the circuses. We have that picture with him standing next to her and also one sitting on her lap. Your review of the book was great and has prompted several of us to purchase the book.

This review first appeared in my fanzine, Chip's Closet Cleaner, Issue 13.

Links: We're Off to See the Munchkins (video), The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (book),
The Annotated Wizard of Oz (book), The Making Of The Wizard of Oz (book)

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