As with many of the Oz stories, there’s more than meets the eye. Little people were not something I was aware of until watching the movie as a young child. Back then they were called midgets or dwarfs, both considered pejorative and now replaced with a kinder “little person”. Upon questions to my Mom, I am sure she gave satisfactory answers at that time about their childlike stature. It was a few years after that before I actually saw a “real” munchkin. As with many new experiences, I was merely an observer. But as an empath, and upon reflection, I was also a bit uncomfortable because of some awkwardness around the little person’s family. Now I know it was because of the prejudices of the time. Lesson learned that we are becoming more genteel humans. Education, exposure, and media remove the differences we all share.
(Unlike dwarfs, whose small stature is often caused by defective cartilage or bone growth and is usually genetically transferred, midgets’ bodies are proportionately correct miniatures caused by a malfunction of the pituitary gland, which can often be corrected with hormonal treatments.)
There were a number of actual children hired to play munchkins’. They were kept separate from the adult munchkin’s because of some rather “rough & unsavory” types that could be intimidating! Plus the kid’s had limited schedules because of age and school requirements at that time.
Do you have an experience with little people you would share?
The plot is loosely based on the gathering of little people in a Hollywood hotel, to audition for roles as Munchkins in the movie The Wizard of Oz. The movie also has nobility, assassins, spies, and tourists.
The movie was nominated for Razzie Awards for Worst Musical Score by Joe Renzetti, and Worst Supporting Actor (Billy Barty). It received extremely negative reviews, many of which condemned the various sight gags involving the little people.
It was partially filmed on location at the Culver Hotel, where the “Munchkins” actually stayed during the production of Oz.
(The wild tales and stories that emerged from this Munchkin “residence” inspired the 1981 Chevy Chase and Carrie Fisher movie, Under the Rainbow and, in 1997, six of the original cast returned for a Beyond the Rainbow event to share their remembrances with the Culver City Historical Society).
The gathering of so many little people spawned tall tales of misbehavior, some of them spun late in her life by Judy Garland herself in a bibulous appearance on Jack Paar’s television show, in which she dismissed the Munchkins as ”little drunks,” one of whom, ”about two inches high,” had asked her for a date. A 1981 film flop, ”Under the Rainbow” starring Chevy Chase, was a slapstick spy comedy set in the Culver Hotel and portrayed the Munchkins as trashing the place.
”That’s a lot of hooey,” said Jerry Maren, 77, who played the smirking bad-boy in the middle of the Lollipop Guild and is perhaps the best known of the ex-Munchkins, having spent a long career playing parts in movies and commercials, from Buster Brown to Little Oscar, the Oscar Mayer hot-dog man.
”She was higher than a kite and didn’t know what she was saying,” Mr. Maren said. ”How the hell could we be acting up? We were making $50 a week and working six days a week starting at 6 o’clock in the morning.”
Mr. Carroll added, referring to Judy Garland’s daughter Liza Minnelli, ”Even Liza said, ‘Mama always made things up to make a better story.’ ”