By John Fricke

Above: The impact made by the 1989 coast-to-coast, fiftieth anniversary celebrations of THE WIZARD OF OZ was predicated on two factors: the undiminished glory of the film itself and the sudden public reappearances by Munchkins from the motion picture cast. Even more importantly, such joy continued, and — for more than twenty years thereafter — the however gradually-diminishing number of “little people” of OZ were ceremoniously feted at festivals, movie screenings, charity events, parades, tap dance competitions, lectures, and (as shown above) on the “Munchkin Cruise”! This week-long Caribbean sojourn featured (standing in back, from left:) Robert Baum, the great-grandson of OZ author L. Frank Baum; auditor-only Dotty Fricke (my mom!); and yours-truly-OZ-historian John Fricke. Seated across in front (from left): flowerpot-hatted dancer/Sleepyhead Margaret Pellegrini, soldier Clarence Swensen, first trumpeter/soldier Karl Slover, and Coroner Meinhardt Raabe. Clarence is one of those who are heralded in this month’s blog; six others – “MunchKid” Betty Ann Bruno, villager Ruth Duccini, Lollipop Guild mainstay Jerry Maren, and Margaret, Karl, and Meinhardt — have had blogs written about them in this series during 2023. Please scroll down beyond this entry to find those.


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 approximately 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 enthralling central New Yorkers, as well as 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 blog entries.

In line with that concept, this space has — across the last five months — heralded Munchkins Ruth Duccini, Karl Slover, Meinhardt Raabe, Jerry Maren, and Margaret Pellegrini. Now we move on to reference a number of others – as well as the treasured Swensens and a certain Ms. Formica!

Above: You’ve heard, of course, of Alice in Wonderland. What we have here is Chaos in Munchkinland – and director Victor Fleming hasn’t even called “Action!” Please note that this between-takes image captures horses, carriage, a goodly percentage of actors, Fleming himself – just to the left of Judy Garland, “Glinda” Billie Burke (holding what appears to be her on-camera wand/staff), a technician just to the right of Ms. Burke (holding her alternate wand/staff, with a less ornate star at its peak), and a mass of other staff and technicians. Just to the right of center at the bottom of this photo, an inked-on arrow points to OZ assistant director Wallace Worsley, with his back to the still photographer.



In 1989, I was privileged to extensively travel the country to promote THE WIZARD OF OZ: THE OFFICIAL 50th ANNIVERSARY PICTORIAL HISTORY book (for which I served as principal writer), as well as the best-selling VHS tape of the film. (I was enlisted to help in that assemblage by MGM/UA Home Video.) In the process, I got to meet many Oz enthusiasts, collectors, and — among the best of all — a number of those who’d actually participated in the creation of the movie in 1938-39. 

More than thirty of the film’s Munchkins were still alive in 1989, although roughly half of them were unwilling (or too frail) to travel. During that year, however — and across a couple of subsequent seasons — upwards of fifteen of them gathered in Los Angeles, Minnesota, Indiana, and Kansas to publicly celebrate their “dual citizenship” in the United States and Oz. In the photograph below (taken in Chesterton, Indiana, circa 1990), I got to pose with the brilliant pop culture and Munchkin historian Steve Cox (top right) and uber-fan Richard Mikell (top center). Immediately in front of us (from left) are Munchkin-by-Marriage (hereinafter MBM) Fred Duccini, dancing villager Fern Formica, and soldier Lewis Croft. The next row shows just the hair of MBM Elizabeth Maren; she’s standing next to MBM Marie Raabe, villager Ruth Robinson Duccini, and coroner Meinhardt Raabe. Across the front are Lollipop Guild member Jerry Maren, dancing villager/Sleepyhead Margaret Pellegrini, and MBM Mary Ellen St. Aubin.

Another early-era festival photo – also 1990 — gathered a bunch of us in Liberal, KS. From left: Ruth Duccini, Marie and Meinhardt Raabe, Mrs. Lewis (Eva) Croft in the background, Fern Formica and Margaret Pellegrini in front of her (and draped over me; I did not have to manufacture that smile!), soldier Lewis Croft, soldier/villager Emil Kranzler and his MBM wife Marcella, and (again) Fred Duccini, Ruth’s husband. The tall lady in the back on the right is blessed Jean Nelson, who put her Chesterton, IN, Oz Festival on the radar by inviting soldier Pernell St. Aubin to appear there from 1982-1985 with his MBM wife, Mary Ellen.

Across the years, Oz events were graced – whether for one go-round or several — by Nita Krebs (tallest of the three “Lullaby League” ballerinas), villagers Betty Tanner and “Little Jeane” LaBarbera, and soldier Gus Wayne. There were other MBM guests, as well, notably Anna Mitchell, widow of villager Frank Cucksey, Olive (Mrs. Gus) Wayne, and Mary Ellen (Mrs. Pernell) St. Aubin. The latter was beamingly omnipresent for decades at Midwest Oz happenings and attended one of her final events at age 99 in 2019 in Tinley Park, Illinois. Several of the MunchKids also participated along the way, including (in her case, both early on and across these past two years) the beloved Betty Ann Bruno.

During the 1990s and early 2000s, Mickey Carroll was probably the most “controversial” of the surviving Munchkins. He became a semi-regular event attendee in 1989, but prior to that — and away from the watchful eyes of his fellow actors — he had been for years meeting and greeting fans and signing movie stills with the claim that he’d played the Munchkin Mayor (actually Charlie Becker), Coroner (the aforementioned Meinhardt Raabe), or appeared as a member of the Lollipop Guild trio. Once Mickey began festival jaunts with others, however, he had to pull way back on such declarations, although he then summoned up another series of odd pronouncements! His statements continue today in vintage video and print interviews and can be safely dismissed. Just for the record, however: He did not dub the soundtrack cries of Clara Blandick (Aunt Em) as she screeched “DORRR-THEEE!” during the tornado; he did not dub numerous singing voices of the Munchkins; he did not stay at Judy Garland’s house while appearing in the film; and he did not suggest to director Victor Fleming that the Munchkins skip as they sang “We’re Off to See the Wizard.”

But where credit is due, Mickey Carroll WAS a Munchkin solider; and one of the five little fiddlers who escorted Judy to the border of Munchkinland; and — in a purple-jacketed villager costume — he can be seen walking from left to right across the screen at the onset of the Munchkin musical number. (This appearance comes as the dubbed voices echo, “Kansas she says is the name of the star.”) So it was right and proper that Mickey joined six other surviving Ozians when “the little people who live in this land” received their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on November 20, 2007. In this picture, Mickey is posed at the far left; to his left: Clarence Swensen (more about him below!), Jerry, Karl, Ruthie, Margaret, and Meinhardt.

If Mickey was infamous for his voluble chicanery, he was also hallowed for a number of other qualities. Among such hallmarks: His indefatigable energy as he greeted and entertained fans, especially children; his ongoing kindness to (and care of) his disabled nephew; and – especially — for his heartwarming and generous gesture that will live on. In 1898, L. Frank Baum and his wife Maud were much saddened by the death of their five-month-old niece, Dorothy Louise Gage. Family history convincingly suggests that Baum then named the heroine of his book, THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ (1900) as a memorial to the child. Some nine decades later — after scrupulous research by preeminent history Sally Roesch Wagner — the much-weather-worn gravestone for the child was discovered in Evergreen Memorial Cemetery in Bloomington, Illinois. Mickey Carroll soon heard about this situation, and as his family had owned and operated a tombstone business in St. Louis for sixty years, he caringly donated a superb new headstone for the child, which was dedicated on May 31, 1997. The replacement marker states the Gage birth and death dates as they appear on the original stone; it was later confirmed that Dorothy Louise actually passed on November 15, 1898. Regardless, it’s thanks to MGM Munchkin Mickey Carroll that there is now a stunning remembrance of – as it plainly states – the “namesake of Dorothy In THE WIZARD OF OZ”:

Gus Wayne was one of nearly thirty little people who traveled by chartered bus to MGM in Culver City, California, from New York City in November 1938. Another of these bus pictures – taken as the Ozians-to-be assembled in Times Square before leaving town — was used here to accompany the blog about Jerry Maren a couple of months ago. This one, however, features future Munchkin soldier Gus as the first gentleman at left in the front row – and diminutive Jerry is the second traveler to his left. Both were just eighteen years old.

The bus contingent congregated at MGM on November 12, 1938 – with roughly one hundred additional Munchkinland actors – and work began in earnest. There were immediate rehearsals and costume measurements, followed by costume, hair, and make-up tests; these occupied the first month or more of their assignment. Actual filming of the “Munchkinland Musical Sequence” and scenes began in mid-December and continued for approximately two well-organized weeks. In this behind-the-scenes photograph, the massive Technicolor camera and its operator are swooping in from the left to capture the jubilant action:

Finally, we come to three special denizens of Oz: an unforgettable lady, a miraculous gentleman, and his own MBM: Fern Formica and Clarence and Myrna Swensen.

We lost Fern early on, but she was an extraordinary and dazzling personality. Once people on the “Oz Circuit” met her, she was invited EVERYwhere, although she was only able to enjoy such appearances until about 1992 or 1993. A life-long smoker, Fern had a wondrously deep voice and a wise, sparkling, sometimes sassy, sometimes flirtatious, always straight-from-the-shoulder (and heart) individuality. Her passion, compassion, and repartee were precious and treasurable, and she wholeheartedly embraced life, including her MGM past. She owned, operated, and taught from her own ceramic shop, turning out craft items that were certifiably “Munchkin-Maid-Made!” She was also the first of the reappearing Munchkins who had a duplicate of her OZ costume created to wear at events.

We used the photo just below in an earlier entry in this Munchkin series, but the version here is – as you’ll see – personally special. Beyond that, however, it also couldn’t be more appropriate. Fern autographed it during the first weekend we met, in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, at the Judy Garland Festival in June 1989, and she is the only really visible Munchkin on hand in the image! Enjoy her expression of caution and awe as she acts her way out of the bushes, harking to the command of Billie Burke/Glinda to “meet the young lady who fell from a star.”

This frame grab offers a happy Munchkinland moment. Billy Curtis is front and center as he carols out (again, with a dubbed voice), “And, oh! What happened then was rich!” Margaret Pellegrini (in the light blue flowerpot hat) is immediately to his left; Fern, in blue, is second to his right; and Betty Tanner (in brown) is to Fern’s right:

This rare photo of Munchkinland activity shows the actual filming of one “take” (or perhaps rehearsal) when the camera tracked down the line of little people, immediately after Billy’s line. This is just conjecture, but I think that might be Mickey Carroll in his striped top and purple coat, about four or five people from the top. Five or so Munchkins down the line from (maybe!) Mickey, it looks like little Margaret, facing Billy in his tall, tall hat. And if I’m wrong . . . I still like the thought! (If I’m right, Fern, and Margaret, and Betty have switched places since the preceding shot. 😊 )

I was always so pleased and grateful when I was able to share several of the OZ fiftieth anniversary events with my mom and dad. Wally Fricke was a lifelong movie fan; I first watched THE WIZARD OF OZ on a black-and-white TV, sitting on the floor at his feet. (Well, I did briefly crawl up into his lap when the Wicked Witch of the West sent the Winged Monkeys to the Haunted Forest to “Bring me that girl and her dog!,” but I was only five at the time.) This happened on November 3, 1956 – the movie’s initial nationwide telecast. From then on, both Wally and my mom, Dotty, were each other’s equal in supporting me in an instantly blooming passion for Oz and Judy Garland. That’s a whole other story of joy and caring and love, but they joined me in my excitement on many occasions. Here, in December 1989, mom and dad have gathered at St. Luke’s Christmas House for Cancer in Racine, Wisconsin, with Fern Formica, Margaret Pellegrini, the oldest Fricke son (that’s me!), and two local actors in costume. This was a long-time annual event in Racine: a different and appealing theme would be chosen each year (OZ was a natural in 1989), a vintage home was appropriately decorated, people paid to tour this unusual holiday locale, and the money went to a very fine cause. We were there to sign photos and books across several days.

And now . . . here’s to one of Nature’s Noblemen: Clarence Swensen — a marching Munchkin soldier of OZ. In 1938, he’d not yet met his wife-to-be, Myrna, but that’s because she and her parents (each of the three of them little people) were an MGM “no-show.” Though all had been offered roles in OZ, the family had been kept at home in Texas, thanks to Myrna’s emergency appendectomy; by the time she recovered, it was too late for them to make the trek to California. Fortunately, however, fate managed to align Clarence and Myrna back in Texas just a few years later.

If I’m correctly recalling the facts, Clarence was the first of the male Munchkins to have a replica costume made for his latter day Oz appearances. A dedicated fan created one for him, and he wore out a couple more – with pride! — as the years went by. Clarence and Myrna were glorious contributors to every festival and occasion, and after he died, she continued to be a delightedly welcome and honored guest, until her own health precluded attendance.

There are so many adjectives to ascribe to Clarence. He was appropriately affectionate and known for his hugs – yet he was always a gentleman of the old school: courtly, unfailingly polite, ever aware of what was going on around him, dignified — and jolly. (And if you’re thinking that’s a colossal package, you’d be right!)  When interviewed on stage and a request was made, he was delighted to leap up, in costume, and demonstrate the Munchkin soldier “goose-step” – at which, in his case, no one could take offense. Even better was a statement he used to make at the end of every Munchkin presentation. He would advance to the edge of the stage and say, with simplicity and sincerity: “I want to thank the public, because you made us what we are today.” (This photo typifies the warmth and glow of the Swensens – taken in Indiana circa 1994 or 1995.)

As noted, Margaret Pellegrini and Clarence were two of the Munchkins who presented themselves “in costume” at every event. The jolt of surprise and visible, tangible thrill this caused in audiences of all ages had to be seen — and felt — to be believed. As a result, and after many visits to Chittenango, both Margaret and Clarence wanted the All Things Oz Museum to possess one of each of their recreated ensembles. Here they are, now on permanent display among the other outstanding archival holdings in the central New York State village of Frank Baum’s birth.

What to say in conclusion – amidst all the memories, experiences, and gratitude? I could never express enough appreciation to all of the Munchkins referenced or pictured here, or in the preceding five blogs. They grew to trust me, which was a major point of pride. Over two decades, we arranged to travel and appear together whenever we could. Then, once we were “on location,” we’d sit up late or get up early — to eat or talk or both. In 2009, Jonathan Shirshekan and I invited Margaret Pellegrini to write the introduction for our seventieth anniversary book, THE WIZARD OF OZ: AN ILLUSTRATED COMPANION TO THE TIMELESS MOVIE CLASSIC. She kindly and beautifully summarized the association by offering, “[John] always sees that we’re looked after. He knows the questions to ask, so audiences hear our best stories. We finally made him an honorary Munchkin”!

As is shown by the Christmas House for Cancer photo above, the “miniature Metro mob” was also infinitely welcoming to my family — especially Ms. Pellegrini and the Swensens. I wasn’t even around for one of the most memorable of those occasions, when Margaret, Clarence, and Myrna were riding on the back of a flatbed truck in a suburban Milwaukee parade. They waved, nonstop, to streets lined with fans; among them were my mom, my sister-in-law, and my two youngest nieces, sitting in bleachers along the route. When the flatbed truck came briefly to an unexpected stop directly in front of the Fricke faction, my mom stood up and called out, “Hi, Margaret! Hi, Clarence! Hi, Myrna!” The three heads snapped in the direction of the greeting, and – as if they’d rehearsed it – they excitedly exclaimed, “DOTTY!” “DOTTY!” “DOTTY!” Then the three of them, heedless of the parade route, clambered OFF the truck into the street to greet the four Frickes — holding up the procession but elating my gleeful gang. 😊

This last is another previously used photo, but I have to share it one more time. It was taken of Clarence, Margaret, and me in OZ Park in Chittenango – the place where, of course, Oz “began.” And I am still surprised, in awe, and yet again five years old in viewing proof that I knew these two extraordinary and favorite Oz people – among all of those many others who have helped insure the continuing bliss, legend, and rapture of “homeboy” Frank Baum’s creation.

One all-important additional fact. It’s important to state that the kindness of the Munchkins to me was nothing out-of-the-ordinary. They were that kind of gracious and caring to everybody. They earned and warranted their retroactive fame and attention; “in person,” they made literally hundreds of thousands of people immeasurably euphoric in the process. “The little people who live[d] in this land” have now again become “the little people who LIVE in this land” – never, ever to be forgotten.


A special note of its own: I’m sure that everyone reading here will be moved and exhilarated to learn that one of Betty Ann Bruno’s replica Munchkin costumes has also been given to Chittenango’s All Things Oz Museum. It will be unveiled and dedicated there during the annual OZ-Stravaganza!, May 31st through June 2nd, 2024. 😊