By John Fricke

Above: Eighteen-year-old Jerry Maren is the “Lollipop Guild” representative in the center here — most certainly “caught in the act” at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios in Culver City, CA, in December 1938. On the left is Jackie Gerlich, twenty-one; on the right, Harry Doll, who was nearly forty. Age wasn’t a consideration when the three men were cast together; they were matched for the Munchkin trio because they were basically the same height, and it was felt that they would look good together.


In our August 26th entry — posted on Chittenango’s All Things Oz and OZ-Stravaganza! Facebook pages (as well as on this blog site) — we celebrated 2023’s Oz festival. The highlights of that weekend, of course, were provided by the song, dance, autographing-and-reminiscing participation of ninety-one-year-old Betty Ann Bruno, an original “MunchKid” from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1939 feature film, THE WIZARD OF OZ. This was Betty Ann’s second annual visit to the upstate New York village where L. Frank Baum was born in 1856. Mr. Baum went on to write THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ (1900) and thirteen other Oz Books, and one and all involved in the OZ-Stravaganza! that has joyously honored him for more than four decades happily anticipated that Betty Ann would make many return trips to his birthplace in the future.

Incidentally, for those unfamiliar with the terminology, it’s important to note here that the unofficially named “MunchKids” were comprised of a dozen little girls from Hollywood dance schools who mostly “filled in” background spots on the MGM OZ set. Five, as of earlier this year, were still among us, although – as all are in their nineties – it was only Betty who traveled.

Most unexpectedly, however, she herself passed away just a month after Chittenango’s forty-sixth festival. The shattering loss of Betty has since reminded me of other MGMunchkins, whose local appearances beginning in the late 1980s were much responsible for putting the village’s long-term Oz event on the map.

These men and women were among the 124 “little people” (as they preferred to be called) who played in the film; more than five years have passed since we lost the last of them, and it’s been more than a decade since any were able to appear in Chittenango. As I wasn’t doing a blog across the 1989-2012 era of their participation, it occurred to me that this autumn might be an opportune time to especially remember some of them. In that manner, we’re able to again celebrate their contributions as we did those of Betty Ann in 2022 and 2023.

So, in keeping with such a “tribute” concept, this blog heralded Munchkins Ruth Duccini, Karl Slover, and Meinhardt Raabe across the last three months. Today, we move on to one of the most recognizable of all of Judy Garland’s Ozian welcoming corps: “The Lollipop Guild” kid in the middle!

Above: Moments after her arrival from Kansas, Dorothy Gale looks around Munchkinland. It’s a posed still, as Judy Garland is actually never seen on the bridge in the OZ film itself. This art, however, gives a rare, clear view of a good portion of the set, as — once Billie Burke (Glinda) hove into view and beckoned “the little people who live in this land” to “come out, come out, wherever you are” — the plaza was never again this uninhabited for the rest of the sequence!



He’s one of very few MGM Munchkins from THE WIZARD OF OZ to write – in company with revered pop culture historian Steve Cox — a full autobiography. (Betty Ann Bruno and Meinhardt Raabe are two of the others.) Yet it’s safe to say that one could do no better than to seek out a copy of SHORT AND SWEET/THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE LOLLIPOP MUNCHKIN (Nashville: Cumberland House, 2008) to get a sumptuously illustrated sense of the life and times of — as it’s put in the heralding copy — “The Most Famous Midget Since Tom Thumb.”

As Jerry’s professional career spanned nine decades, we can only trace highlights here. Gerard Marenghi was the youngest (and the only height-challenged) of twelve children, born January 24, 1920, in Roxbury, MA. His entertainment career began informally; he followed Anna, one of his sisters, to her dancing classes, aced any challenges there, and by the time he was sixteen or seventeen, he ended up performing in a hotel cabaret show with his dancing teachers. They were billed as Three Steps and A Half – the latter two words, of course, referenced the diminutive Jerry. In best traditional “show biz” fashion, he was seen in that act by an agent, who offered him a not-great-deal to appear in the all-midget western movie, THE TERROR OF TINY TOWN. A family counsel of Marenghis wisely turned it down, but it was Jerry’s sister Rae (“she was my encouragement”) who soon thereafter saw the following newspaper notice: “Mervyn LeRoy needs 100 midgets for WIZARD OF OZ, address him at MGM.” She submitted Jerry’s photo and received in return a telegram from Loew’s, Inc. (Metro’s parent company), asking that Jerry come to New York to catch the bus and meet two dozen other little people who were being driven west to be in the film. As MGM’s offer included transportation, hotel, meals, and fifty dollars a week, Jerry – fresh out of high school – accepted it.

When he got to NYC, Loew’s put the teen up at a hotel and the next day, he foregathered in Times Square for a promotional “photo op” before getting out of town. In the top picture below, he’s third from the left in the front row. In the second picture, he’s the second actor in the fourth window from the left, under the CHARTERED signage. (This photo was chosen for our blog because it both shows Jerry — already seemingly happy, excited, and “at home” with all the strangers — and provides a clear view of the ballyhoo banner that would promote MGM’s forthcoming film — ten months prior to its release! — as these Munchkins-to-be were carted across country. 😊 )

The work itself began in an MGM rehearsal hall, where Jerry’s life became increasingly exhilarating. Quickly cast as one of “The Lollipop Guild,” he was told that his salary — while filming — would jump to $100 per week; his later recollection is that impresario/entrepreneur Leo Singer took a twenty-five per cent cut of that. (Singer held the contract with the studio to provide most of the Munchkins appearing in the picture, and it was his vaudeville troupe of two dozen or more little people that made up the nucleus of that specific OZ ensemble.) Although savvy businessman Maren would die a millionaire eighty years later, the teenage Jerry didn’t worry much about financial arrangements in 1938. He and his compatriots elatedly jumped into four weeks of music rehearsal, staging, wardrobe fittings, and make-up and wig tests. The costume reference photo below, taken at Metro in December 1938, shows the Munchkin trio who were termed the “3 Little Tough Boys”; Jerry is once again center, with Jackie Gerlich (misspelled Gerligh on the chalk board) on his left and Harry Doll on his right:

As rehearsals progressed, those in charge realized that Jerry had unusual presence and charisma – and that he was one of the tiniest and cutest of the Munchkin cast. Director Victor Fleming, choreographer Bobby Connolly, and his assistants Dona Massin and Arthur “Cowboy” Appel thus utilized the kid from Roxbury all over the set. One of the most quietly comical Maren moments happens when the Wicked Witch of the West explosively appears, mid-plaza, in Munchkinland. Jerry is upstage, on the right hand side of the screen. On cue, he dashes from right to left and jumps in the window of one of the Munchkinland huts. Thereafter, whenever that hut is seen during Margaret Hamilton’s scene, there’s a pair of striped green and white stockings sticking out of the window frame. Additionally, there are some close-ups of Glinda – with several Munchkins, including Jerry, behind her — as she’s speaking to Dorothy. When the film cuts to a response shot, with Judy talking to Billie Burke, there are Munchkins behind Judy, too . . . also including Jerry! He’s frequently that omnipresent, as in the moment illustrated below as the gathering sings “We welcome you to Munchkinland” to Dorothy. The latter holds the lollipop Jerry had given her moments before: 

Even though their singing voices were dubbed (per surviving studio records by Billy Bletcher, Pinto Colvig, and Harry Stanton), the “3 Little Tough Boys” made an immediate hit with OZ audiences when the film premiered. Harrison Carroll reviewed the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre opening night screening for the Los Angeles HERALD-EXAMINER, and the next day (August 16, 1939), he wrote, “Three midgets who receive no program credit offer a scene-stealing bit in [the ‘Munchkinland’] sequence.” The moment that especially tickled the audience came immediately after the “Lollipop Guild” song, when Jerry, Harry, and Jackie backed up — each with his own two hands clasped together and raised triumphantly over his head — in the then-standard imitation of a prize-winning boxer at a sporting event. This production still depicts the moment just before that:

Gleefully enough, Jerry was there at Grauman’s to share that memorable moment of spectator recognition. He and four fellow Munchkins were enlisted by MGM to “inhabit” the theater courtyard – wearing costumes from the film – so as to greet the stars and general public in attendance. Here they pose with Glinda herself, Billie Burke; from left: Tommy Cottonaro, Jerry (wearing the garb of the Munchkin Mayor just for the occasion), Billie, Nona Cooper, and Victor Wetter. In this shot, the latter two unfortunately and pretty much completely obscure another Munchkin, Billy Curtis:

When filming of “Munchkinland” was completed circa New Year’s Eve 1938, most of the little people — some as singles, some In duos, some in groups — went back home or returned to their respective vaudeville, supper club, theater, and circus engagements. Jerry, however, stayed in Hollywood – and really never left.

He also – at least seemingly — never again stopped working. Just days after completing OZ, Jerry was cast by MGM in an “Our Gang” short subject, TINY TROUBLES.  This was immediately followed by a featured role in THE MARX BROS. AT THE CIRCUS, and throughout the next sixty-plus years, he conquered every entertainment medium. Jerry amassed more than seventy motion picture and television credits; the former include HERE WE GO AGAIN (in which he played the running, dancing, and highly active incarnations of Edgar Bergen’s ventriloquist dummies, Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd), SAMSON AND DELILAH, SUPERMAN AND THE MOLE-MEN, WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, PLANET OF THE APES, HELLO, DOLLY!, THE APPLE DUMPING GANG, and UNDER THE RAINBOW. (Heavily cloaked, Jerry was even one of the “Dinks” in SPACEBALLS.) He also did “doubling” and/or minor stunts for child actors, and that work included television shows, as well. These days, and thanks to nostalgia TV cable channels, it’s very easy (and a lot of fun) to watch for Jerry’s appearances on such classic series as – among others — THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, BEWITCHED, HERE’S LUCY, THE ODD COUPLE, THE WILD, WILD WEST, STAR TREK, CHARLIE’S ANGELS, and NIGHT COURT. He had a recurring stint on THE ANDY WILLIAMS SHOW (as the Little German General) and a regular job as finale confetti-tosser on THE GONG SHOW. Perhaps topping much of the foregoing, Jerry and his real-life wife, Elizabeth Barrington, played the parents of Kramer’s girlfriend in a definitive episode of SEINFELD.

Amazingly, there was much more. The diverse Maren talents extended to radio roles; a World War II USO tour with fellow ‘little person” Billy Curtis; and a song and dance coupling with Jeanette Fern. (Both Curtis and Jeanette were OZ veterans as well.) Onstage, Jerry appeared as the Munchkin Mayor in a production of OZ and as one of the seven dwarfs in a massive mounting of Disney’s SNOW WHITE at the outdoor, eleven-thousand-seat St. Louis MUNY Opera. Finally, there were his lucrative commercials and product representations; outstanding among these were long-term employment as both Buster Brown and Little Oscar. (In the latter capacity, he extensively toured with the Wiener Mobile!) Those extraordinary occupations were followed by a ten year stint with McDonalds – primarily as either The Hamburglar or Mayor McCheese.

Just above, you’ll have read a reference to Elizabth Barrington. Another little person, she was the opposite of Jerry in that she was the oldest (but, again, the only height-challenged) of twelve kids. Jerry and Elizabeth married in 1975, built a Hollywood house for themselves “to scale,” and thereafter worked both separately and together. In the latter category – and in Jerry’s own “return to the rainbow” – the Marens appeared in a brief Munchkin fantasy sequence in THE DREAMER OF OZ (1990), a TV-movie biography starring John Ritter as L. Frank Baum. In the publicity art just below, Courtney Barilla appears with Jerry, Elizabeth, and Joe Griffo. (Ms. Barilla played a real-life niece of Frank Baum who died very young. Her parents had dubbed her Dorothy, and very soon thereafter, Baum used that name for a little girl about whom he was writing a book . . ..)

By that juncture in Jerry’s life, however – and amidst all else — Oz was never far away. Reunions of surviving Munchkin players were launched with the fiftieth anniversary of the MGM film in 1989. Oz festivals sprang up around the county, and pending their budgets, imported the little people as special guests – and very special attractions. Some of the occasions were one-time-only events, but several others became annual festivals. Additionally, the Munchkins began to turn up in countless TV and radio interviews, on talk shows, and in video documentaries.

A long-overdue and deserved honor was then provided them when Chicago-area theater manager, Ted Bulthaup – who’d featured the Munchkins as special guests at his venues — began a lobbying campaign within the film industry to get the Munchkins their own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Major influencers fell in line to endorse Bulthaup’s idea and to appeal to the Mayor of Hollywood to get onboard with the project. (Among those in support:  Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Ted Turner, Roger Ebert, Hugh Hefner, Tippi Hedren, Mickey Rooney, Leonard Maltin, TCM, the AFI – and every major Hollywood studio: Warner Bros, Universal, MGM, Sony, Disney, and Paramount.) It all came to pass on November 20, 2007; from left, below: Clarence Swensen, Jerry, Mickey Carroll, Karl Slover, Ruth Duccini, Margaret Pellegrini, and Meinhardt Raabe:

Two years later, Jerry and four of the Munchkins — plus Lorna Luft (Judy Garland’s daughter) and yours truly joined forces in New York City for three days of press conferences, radio, TV and internet interviews, and a by-invitation-only party at Central Park’s famed Tavern on the Green restaurant. Our efforts hailed the new seventieth anniversary OZ book (which I coauthored with Jonathan Shirshekan) and seventieth anniversary DVD set (which I helped produce). All these festivities were capped by a screening of THE WIZARD OF OZ at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center. Oddy enough, for all their coast-to-coast festivals and gatherings, the Munchkins – en masse — had never before done an open-to-the public Manhattan appearance. When they took stage that morning, it was a complete surprise for the supposedly urbane, sophisticated (and all-ages) NYC audience, which went immediately and unquietly mad. The crowd — including Spike Lee — gave increasingly greater response to each brief anecdote or song snippet rendered by the five little people. (Lovingly, Jerry never tired of singing his five-line theme to an appreciative throng – and no spectators anywhere could ever get enough of it.) Across those days, the constant posing resulted in this photograph; from left: Meinhardt, Jerry, Ruth, Margaret, Karl, Lorna Luft (at right) and me (at left):

Jerry made what was basically his last formal public appearance by returning again to the Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. This time, however, it was all about him, as he autographed – and placed his hand and footprints in — a block of cement. Swamped by photographers from international news services, he obliged one and all, and when the ceremony was over, he then willingly moved to the barricades beyond the theater forecourt to greet some of the hundreds of fans who’d gathered to concur with that day’s unique entertainment accolade. Ronnee Sass of Warner Bros. Classic Home Video was largely responsible for propelling the event to reality; we lost Ronnee in 2021, but she’s shown in the picture below with Jerry and me “on the day” in September 2023. (I was on hand for his “cement event,” as it was one of many anticipatory, celebratory aspects initiating another OZ anniversary. This included the launch of an even more elaborate deluxe DVD set and — notably! — inaugurated the debut of the 3D version of the film itself. Warner Bros. invited me to serve as their spokesperson for all the seventy-fifth birthday proceedings, and these included emcee duties at the 3D premiere, held right back at the Chinese Theatre, where – as referenced above – the film had received its official Los Angeles debut in 1939.)

During those days in 2013, Jerry also enjoyed a reunion with Ruth Duccini; at that point, they were the final surviving little people Munchkins of THE WIZARD OF OZ. He poignantly and privately told her that he didn’t “want to be the last” to go, but Ruthie quietly preceded him in 2014. Meanwhile, Jerry’s Elizabeth had unexpectedly passed in 2011, and it was left to Jerry to retire and otherwise quietly withdraw. He welcomed and enjoyed the occasional familiar visitor to his assisted living situation; he much more frequently and much more often enjoyed his omnipresent cigars — until he, too, passed on May 24, 2018.

Needless to say, there are countless other Maren career highlights. (Please seek out the Maren/Cox tome mentioned above; it’s a journalistic and pictorial beauty!) Finally, however, I’ll speak personally — grateful and privileged to be able to note that Jerry and Elizabeth and I worked together perhaps eighty times between 1989 and 2010. Their nickname for me was “Big John,” and my memories of their dynamism are vast and powerful.

So this month’s blog comes (as always) with gratitude to them – and to any and all of you for reading this far and sharing in recollections of some of Jerry’s countless accomplishments. He was a lovely but “real” human being, with an extraordinary sense of humor, memory, and loyalty. The last photo, below, is the Jerry I knew and continue to treasure. He was about to launch one of his innumerable appearances, with his lollipop prop and his ready smile – and the anticipation of his own joy at the opportunity to please another few hundred children (and people who used to be children). Lining up, sometimes for hours, they never could believe they were going to meet HIM. . . yet there he was: ready to sign, to kibitz, to josh with the very youngest of his cult. 😊 (Sudden remembrance: how he’d invent, on the spot, alliterative nicknames for the kids: “Your name is Patty? I’m going to call you ‘Patty Petunia’!”)

And I’ll never forget Elizabeth, always right there, alongside: a cheerleader, a caregiver, a wonderful wife. With her at hand to help with the fans and photos and fun, Jerry was ever-ready, and – to the benefit of all – ever on the circuit, just as you see here.

One last thought and realization: For Jerry Maren — as with so many of us – it all started with Oz! 😊