Jerry Maren, the oldest living actor to portray a Munchkin in the beloved 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, has died. He was 98 years old.
Maren wasn’t just any Munchkin. He was one of the “Lollipop Guild,” and during the long song-and-dance sequence in Munchkinland, he emerged from the crowd in the middle of a trio, danced a little, and sang, “We represent the Lollipop Guild, and we welcome you to Munchkinland,” after which he presented Dorothy with his large lollipop.
TMZ broke the news, later confirmed by other news agencies, of Maren’s death. TMZ reported: “We’re told … Jerry died over a week ago. His funeral was held over the weekend at Forest Lawn in Hollywood. The cause of death is unknown, but we’re told he suffered from dementia.”
Born in 1920 in Boston, Maren said in a later interview that he was the only little person in his family. He reached a height of three feet and two inches.
Maren was only 18 at the time of casting in Oz.
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 of that male Munchkin trio.
Maren had 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 outside. On top of singing, 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 Victor Fleming presented young Maren with the privilege of handing the complimentary sweet to Dorothy.
Maren said in a 2009 interview in the New York Post that filming the number “was so simple” for him because he “was a dancer.”
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“The two other guys weren’t, and I felt sorry for them,” he continued. “We wore rubber caps on our heads, which was very hot under the Technicolor lights.”
Described in the books as the same size as 12-year-old children, the Munchkins in the movie were portrayed by a cast of 124 adults with dwarfism and about 10 actual children.
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 Maren.
In years after the film came out, behind-the-scenes stories circulated of drunken debauchery among the dwarves cast as Munchkins. These stories were later denied by a few cast members.
Maren himself said on the subject of the wild parties in an interview: “There were a couple of kids from Germany who liked to drink beer. They drank beer morning, noon and night, and got in a little trouble. They wanted to meet the girls, but they were the only ones.”
After The Wizard of Oz, Maren continued to act in other movies and few TV shows, 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, 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 became the last surviving Munchkin.
For years Maren resided in a retirement community with his late wife, Elizabeth, also a little person. She passed away in 2011.
Nancy Bilyeau, the U.S. editor of The Vintage News, has written a trilogy of novels set in the court of Henry VIII: ‘The Crown,’ ‘The Chalice,’ and ‘The Tapestry.’ The books are for sale in the U.S., the U.K., and seven other countries. For more information, go to www.nancybilyeau.com.