Friday, October 9, 2009

The Lollipop Guild lives: my encounter with the Munchkins

I am not a Wizard of Oz cultist, but I have indeed memorized the picture — as did most people have who grew up watching it annually (and then semi-annually) on TV. In my “other life” as a freelance writer/reviewer, I was able to recently bask in the glow of this evergreen fantasy when I was sent to cover an Oz press junket and then a lush party at the Tavern on the Green, which began with a hot-air balloon being inflated on the lawn (to promote the DVD/Blu-ray release of the newly restored version of the film) and ended with a series of performances inside the restaurant.

As I note in the piece linked to below — which is written in a rather straightforward reportorial style, as VB is indeed a trade mag — there was a slightly surreal cast to the Oz events, as the folks who were celebrating the film were celebrating it for a whole host of reasons: because they participated in it; because their famed relatives participated in it; because they grew up with it, and know the thing by heart; because they grew up with it, and secretly began living it; or because they were/are starstruck by Judy Garland, the tragic star who wasn’t tragic at all when she made the classic 1939 film (but that song, that sad, sad, freakin’ song…!).

In any case, there were several highlights to the day, but one personal highlight meant much to me: shaking the hands of three of the male Munchkins who were in attendance. Only six of the little people who acted in the film are still alive (out of a number above 120) and five of them appeared in the event. I got some time to chat with Jerry Maren and his lovely and friendly wife — Maren has had an amazingly long career in show biz (the surviving Munchkins range in age from 86 to 94), and his credit list includes both At the Circus with the Marx Bros. (yes, he’s the butt of Groucho’s “three on a midget” gag) and The Gong Show (he was the confetti guy at the end). Maren is quite friendly and has honed his anecdotes (all he will say about the Gong experience is that working with Chuck Barris was fun, “he wouldn’t hurt a fly — but he’s crazy!”). All in all, it was quite a colorful day, and I must salute the little people who populated the film that spawned many a daydream and nightmare. Here is my “button-down” account of the day for the VB blog, and here is a terrific pic of the five Munchkins who attended:

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