Friday, July 28, 2017

Short and Sweet: The Life and Times of the Lollipop Munchkin

When L. Frank Baum first described the people who live in Oz, specifically the Munchkins, he described them in this manner:
They were not as big as the grown folk she had always been used to; but neither were they very small. In fact, they seemed about as tall as Dorothy, who was a well-grown child for her age...
But when MGM adapted Baum's story for their classic film, they hired Leo Singer to bring his troupe of midgets to depict these pint-sized people of Oz. Why? Perhaps they merged the idea of the Munchkins with the Dainty China Country. Perhaps they were inspired to channel the short and stocky look of W.W. Denslow's pictures of the people of Oz. Perhaps they decided to dial the whimsical nature of Oz up to an 11. Or perhaps having little people in film was a trend and MGM saw a chance to work it into their take on Oz.

Short and Sweet: The Life and Times of the Lollipop Munchkin is a memoir by Jerry Maren, who played one of the Munchkins, one who can clearly be seen in several shots in Munchkinland, and is finally revealed as a member of the Lollipop Guild, particularly the one who hands Dorothy the lollipop that quickly disappears from the film. Today, Jerry is the last surviving little person to play a Munchkin in the film.

Short and Sweet opens with a foreword by Sid Krofft who remembers how he came to meet Jerry. A bit more informative is the introduction by Steve Cox, who also has a bit of co-author credit. Cox informs of us of the terms "dwarf" and "midget," and how Jerry doesn't mind the latter term. He gives us a bit of information on how Hollywood used little people in their productions, setting up for Jerry's story.

Cox informs us that Jerry is of few words, but there will be plenty of pictures, which is true. I suspect that Cox's co-author role comes from collecting and possibly even transcribing Jerry's anecdotes on his life and career.

The book comes off as a very personal memoir. Maren rarely drops exact years and dates, which feels what someone trying to recall their life would do: you can remember generally when these happened, but rarely the specific dates.

Maren talks about his childhood, how he coped with being a pituitary midget, how his parents attempted treatments to make him grow taller, and how he got into show business. While the "Singer Midgets" were a troupe, for The Wizard of Oz—Maren's first role in Hollywood—a call went out for little people looking for work. He reveals his father refused to let him work on another film—The Terror of Tiny Town, an all-little people western that other Oz Munchkins worked on—because it wouldn't pay for getting Jerry to where the film would be shooting and the salary wouldn't make it up. But Oz would cover those costs, so Jerry was allowed to go and wound up becoming immortalized on celluloid.

Because so many people have asked Jerry about his work on The Wizard of Oz, he spends a good amount of time detailing that experience. He doesn't directly say it, but his career in show business basically began because Oz brought him to Hollywood and he never left, taking jobs in television and film that IMDb lists as recently as 2010. His work led him to meet many fascinating people, who he mentions briefly. It's very off the cuff.

He also recalls his work in promotions, as Buster Brown for Buster Brown, and one of the little people portraying Oscar Meyer's "Little Chef." He also talks about how he met and worked with Billy Barty, and supported him in found Little People of America. Late in the book, he talks about how he happily met his wife Elizabeth and how they've done many jobs together, including costume work for McDonald's commercials.

The final chapter is titled "Oz Revisited" and he talks about how he and other surviving Munchkin actors reunited and attended Oz events and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In addition, he tells of working on the film Under the Rainbow—a comedy inspired by urban legends about Munchkin actor shenanigans at MGM during the filming of Oz—and the television movie The Dreamer of Oz, where he played a Munchkin once again.

The book is an enjoyable read, not very long or detailed. I suppose someone researching further could create a longer and more detailed biography of Maren, but his own narrative is quite welcome. To anyone wanting to read more about MGM's The Wizard of Oz, I don't think you'll actually find a lot of information you wouldn't find in books like The Making of the Wizard of Oz and the trio of books by Bill Stillman and Jay Scarfone, but you do get to read it from the perspective of someone who was actually there. It's also very interesting to see what else people who have been involved with Oz have also worked with.

So, I recommend this one. And thanks, Sam, for getting it for me sometime back!

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