By: John Fricke

Above: This photo unquestionably captures one of the many Mt. Everest-like pinnacles of my own Oz festival associations. It was never anything less than the greatest joy, the greatest pleasure, and the greatest privilege to work several dozen times with the incomparable Margaret Pellegrini, movie Munchkin from THE WIZARD OF OZ. We were “caught” here, clowning on the Munchkinland bench in the Oz Park Poppy Field in Chittenango, NY, during a wonderful weekend roughly two decades ago. Her flowerpot hat upstages me – but Margaret could do that with a simple aside to an audience, and they loved it almost as much as I did. 😊


In our August 26th entry for 2023 — posted on Chittenango’s All Things Oz and OZ-Stravaganza! Facebook pages (as well as on this blog site) — we celebrated the Oz festival of last June. 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 everybody involved in OZ-Stravaganza! (which 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” group was 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 Ann who traveled.

Most unexpectedly, however, she herself passed away just a month after Chittenango’s forty-sixth festival. That shattering loss 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. Although I was regularly on site for the local festival beginning in 1990, I wasn’t writing a blog for All Things Oz at any point “back in the day[s]” of the Munchkins’ 1989-2012 era of participation. This past summer, when Betty Ann left us, it occurred to me that it was more than appropriate that this space now provide a means of remembering some of the others who preceded her in dazzling central New Yorkers, as well as the Oz fans from all over the world who found their way to “Baum Country.” In this manner, we’re able to again celebrate their contributions, as we did those of Betty Ann in 2022 and 2023.

In line with that concept, this space has — across the last four months — heralded Munchkins Ruth Duccini, Karl Slover, Meinhardt Raabe, and Jerry Maren. Now we move on to arguably the best loved of all the festival-going corps of little people: “Miss Margaret” Pellegrini.

Above: Here’s a rare, peaceful moment on the Munchkinland set. Glinda, Dorothy, and Toto – i.e., Billie Burke, Judy Garland, and Terry – are all three either quietly rehearsing or just on momentary “hold.” As soon as Glinda begins her welcoming song, however (“Come out, come out, wherever you are, and meet the young lady who fell from a star”), they’ll be joined by more than one-hundred-and-thirty of those who “live” in that surrounding village.



If you track down the 1994 home video documentary, WE’RE OFF TO SEE THE MUNCHKINS, you’ll see a brief audio/visual clip that was photographed a year earlier at the Chesterton, IN, Oz Festival. The moment in question depicts three or four children costumed as movie characters from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s THE WIZARD OF OZ. They’re crowded around an open convertible; the vehicle is parked in line with other cars, preparatory to driving on to the annual parade.

Perched on the back seat of that car, however, is one of the approximately 124 “little people” who appeared in the 1939 film. Garbed in a duplicate of her townswoman/villager wardrobe and sporting a flower-pot hat on her head, she’s welcoming and encouraging to the kids. Suddenly, one of the children unhesitatingly and colloquially pipes up, “Are you theREALLY Munchkin?”

To which Margaret Pellegrini instantly responds, “Yes, I’m REALLY a Munchkin!”

She was, of course, so very much more. Yet her ultimately international fame came as an indefatigable representative of the cast of Metro’s OZ. During twenty-seven years of personal appearances at Ozzy events, festivals, and conventions, Margaret was sought after, greeted, hugged, and then held in fond memory by hundreds of thousands of people.

Above: In this closer view of Glinda, she assures the Munchkins they have nothing to fear from the recently arrived girl from Kansas. As for Margaret Pellegrini? She’s posed here in her dancing townswoman wardrobe, and you’ll find her just to the right of Judy Garland’s left hand. Notice, though, that a renegade Ozzy palm frond obscures most of her classic flowerpot hat. Margaret also had a second costume for the Munchkinland sequence, and in her own words, it was “a pink nightgown and bonnet with white lace trimming. I was put in the Sleepyhead Nest – I’m the second in the back. That nest was beautiful; it was pink satin. Even the eggs were lined in satin.”

The Pellegrini back story is best found in Steve Cox’s definitive history, THE MUNCHKINS OF OZ. As Steve notes, Margaret’s unexpected show business career and subsequent life as mother and grandmother (and eventually great- and great-great grandmother) was surprisingly topped off when Oz collector Tod Machin tracked her down – along with fellow Munchkins Fern Formica and Hazel Resmondo — to invite them to a 1985 birthday party for a senior citizen fan in Liberal, KS. By the time the OZ film celebrated its 50th anniversary four years later, the concurrent first edition book of Cox’s round-up research had been published as THE MUNCHKINS REMEMBER, and multiple other diminutive cast members also took to the circuit.

All the little people were feted. But from the onset, Margaret was In the forefront. She and Fern were the two youngest of the surviving little people, and the Pellegrini energy, accessibility, and spirit were outstanding. Always game, always rarin’ to go, she would stand (seldom sitting) through hour after hour of autograph sessions, photo ops, handshaking, and hugging.

Above: To save time, MGM catered the Munchkins’ noon meal in an area adjacent to their set. The challenge for the cast, of course, was to keep their costumes clean and food-free, but they managed it. Fifteen-year-old Margaret is shown as she comes down the aisle on the left, completely decked out for OZ and carrying her lunch tray.

Margaret Pellegrini embraced the world, from Sheffield, Alabama, on September 23, 1923, to Phoenix, AZ, on August 6, 2013 — and there’s no counting the stops in between. She was a strong and vital human being, withstanding occasional chaos at home and surviving the loss of husband, both her children, and a great-great grandchild. But she found renewal, peace, and company both with the family she loved and among the hordes of strangers everywhere who ecstatically recognized and embraced (figuratively and literally) a true Ozian. The International Wizard of Oz Club certainly honored her; she was the 2011 recipient of their L. Frank Baum Memorial Award.

My own personal memories of Margaret are incalculable. There were shared hours on stages from coast-to-coast, where — once we knew each other well, and SHE knew she could tease me to the max — she’d sometimes commandeer my microphone and stride to center stage so as to take over and joyously disrupt the proceedings. The voluble glee of the all-ages audiences on every such occasion doesn’t need to be described. 😊

There was, as well, the visual, visceral joy one felt at seeing a muumuu’d Margaret walking hotel hallways after-hours, looking to unwind with the festivalgoers who’d long since become trusted compadres. This invariably led to her lighting upon a chair in the lodging’s lobby or on the bed in someone’s room, as many loyal constituents and courtiers relished the never-waning thrill of sitting on the carpeted floor in a semi-circle at her feet. She and we would talk away the hours, tackling – it seems — a million or more topics. Sometimes, those late-night conversations would enable Margaret to privately, wisely, and pointedly vent about those whom she felt had somehow betrayed Oz. Or we’d hear about her original “discovery” by other little people, as she passed out potato chip samples for her brother-in-law at the Tennessee State Fair. She was then too young to accept their invitation to leave home and join their legitimate troupe, but on request, she nonetheless gave them her contact information. A year or so later, she heard from a Los Angeles theatrical agent, who offered her a job.


Above: One of the tiniest, cutest, and most talented of those playing Munchkins in OZ, Margaret constantly found herself placed in view on camera. Sometimes, she’d be in the distance; sometimes (as in these two pictures), she’d be more to the fore. At top: In this frame from footage taken just prior to (or just after) a “take,” you can plainly see Margaret and her blue flowerpot hat, above Judy Garland’s right shoulder. Below that photo, the Munchkins are shown after they’ve escorted Dorothy to the border of their country. Margaret was a good dancer and – moments prior to this shot – she was one of the preeminent females to swing out of the throng and into formation behind the five little fiddlers. As the citizenry marched and frolicked forward in farewell, they sang, “You’re Off to See the Wizard,” and this moment captures the finale of their rendition. The blue flowerpot is once again your “clue”; this time, Margaret is in the second row, far to the right and just behind the fifth miniature violinist.

Perhaps the best of all these late night activities came with the opportunity to watch in amazement as Margaret — after twelve or more hours of stand-up, hard work at “posing and signing” – gleefully galloped back to the hotel; doffed the Munchkin garb; donned slacks, comfortable shoes, and a formal, iridescent pullover top; and then trotted off to the nearest casino until the wee hours. (She more-than-frequently seemed to win, too!)

There’s no question that THE WIZARD OF OZ Munchkins had to wait a long time to be recognized for their movie-associated fame. But how fortunate were the countless fans to find that nearly three decades of Oz festivities eventually came to be populated and led by “the little people who live[d] in” that land. To be sure, it would have been wonderful to see Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Margaret Hamilton, or Judy Garland in an Oz parade. Yet by the 1980s and 1990s, their ages and altered appearances would have been confusing (at best) for the myriad young fans along any route. The Munchkins, however, were instantly identifiable: they were still small, still child-size, still conceivably direct from the Yellow Brick Road.

Or at least Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Above: All the surviving Munchkins became popular and public favorites. Here – from left – the jubilant “first trumpeter” Karl Slover, Margaret, and “Lollipop Guild” mainstay Jerry Maren are shown in a celebratory mood during a festival “wrap party.”

Finally! Here and now, for me, for many of us — and for the record and with no exaggeration whatsoever — I want to state that the most adored of all our Munchkin little people was Margaret Pellegrini. It didn’t matter what she was wearing; in street garb, formal garb, gambling garb, or in the petticoats and plastic that “poofed” her costume skirt and puffy sleeves (not to forget the omnipresent and headache-inducing flowerpot hat), she was everyone’s pal, everyone’s cherished companion, everyone’s wise counsel.

Everyone’s irreplaceable and indisputably magical Munchkin. 

Above: We end as we began: Same duo! Same location! At the Chittenango OZ-Stravaganza! (But it’s a different year than that shown up top.) Margaret and I were like everyone else: We knew that such event participation was an honor, and we elatedly anticipated our reunions around the country, year after year. Some of the attendant magic was captured in the aforementioned VHS documentary, the box cover of which is also shown above. There’s a bad copy of the film on YouTube; it’s been inexpertly transferred, and we’re all stretched sideways! But it provides an opportunity to hear eight of the extraordinary little people tell their own stories. I don’t think anyone seeing it — or reading here — will doubt my sincerity when I say that I will spend the rest of my life indebtedly acknowledging that “I knew the Munchkins!” 😊

[This blog was expanded and edited from a briefer John Fricke feature that appeared in THE BAUM BUGLE: A JOURNAL OF OZ (Winter 2013) — a publication of The International Wizard of Oz Club, Inc. (ozclub.org)]