Boq, Fyter, Jinjur, Nimmie Amee, Ojo the Lucky, and Unc Nunkie. These are some of the names of the Munchkins we all adored when we were kids. These cute and lovable characters of the fictional Munchkin Country first appeared in the 1900 children’s novel written by L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and were the ones who helped Dorothy follow the yellow brick road in the beloved 1939 Victor Fleming film, The Wizard of Oz.
Described in the books as the same size as a 12-year-old child, the Munchkins in the movie were portrayed mostly by a cast of 124 adults with dwarfism. There were no more than 10 children among them.
They came to be so famous that now the word munchkin is used as a synonym for anything small. In 2007, they were awarded a special recognition on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, with their own star on the pavement. Seven of the surviving Munchkin actors attended the ceremony, including the actor Gerard Marenghi, better known as Jerry Maren, now the last surviving Munchkin.
Maren wasn’t just any Munchkin. He was one of the “Lollipop Guild,” who handed that sweet lollipop to Dorothy.
Born in 1920 in Boston, Maren was only 18 at the time of casting and was no taller than three feet and a couple of inches. Although he was the youngest of them all when cast as a Munchkin, the actor was specifically picked to play the green-garbed member of the Lollipop Guild and the central figure in the male Munchkin trio.
Maren launched a show business career before Wizard of Oz came calling. Five years prior to casting, he began taking lessons for singing during school vacations while all the other kids were playing in the sun. On top of them, he took classes for dancing. Soon after, helped by his dance teacher Leo Singer, he developed an act called Three Steps and a Hop. He toured New England with the stage act, but it didn’t become a huge success. However, later on, he became a member of Singer’s popular vaudeville troupe, called Singer’s Midgets.
Almost all of the Singer vaudevillians were cast in Oz, but because of his ability to sing and dance and most of all his distinctive hop, director Fleming presented young Maren with the privilege of handing the complimentary sweet to Dorothy.
When the movie hit the big screen, Maren was the one who emerged from the crowd in the middle of the trio, danced a little, and sang, “We represent the Lollipop Guild, and we welcome you to Munchkinland,” after which he presented his large lollipop.
It’s a sequence now frozen in the childhood memories of all of us who cherish this dream of a movie.
After his screen debut in The Wizard of Oz, Maren continued to showcase his brilliance in other movies and few tv shows on occasion, working as Little Oscar for the Oscar Mayer Company in the 1950s as well as portraying Mayor McCheese and the Hamburglar in McDonald’s commercials. In later years, he had a small role in one Seinfeld episode, the “The Yada Yada.” All in all, he’s had different opportunities in show biz, but none as memorable as his Munchkin role.
Apart from acting, Maren traveled throughout the country with some of his fellow Munchkin actors, actively taking part in different state fairs and film festivals over the years. On Jan. 16, 2014, after his fellow Munchkin Ruth Duccini passed away, he came to be the last surviving Munchkin.
Today Maren resides in a retirement community in North Hollywood, after decades of living high on a hill in Hollywood with his late wife, Elizabeth.