Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Short and Sweet by Jerry Maren

Jerry Maren with Steve Cox. Short and Sweet: The Life and Times of the Lollipop Munchkin. Nashville: Cumberland House, 2008.

The little people in “The Wizard of Oz” were managed by “Papa” Leo Singer and are credited as a group as the Singer Midgets.

MGM Studio, as well as Singer, preferred using midgets, who are the category of dwarfism where their bodies to proportional compared to most larger people. Thus, there was a movie industry discrimination against non-midget dwarfs.

Midgets, whose population was larger in the past than now, composed several touring performing groups and circus clowns in Europe through the 19th century into the mid-20th century.

Jerry Maren is the stage name of actor and midget Gerald Marenghi. “The Wizard of Oz” was his first film. During the filming, he became long friends with fellow Munchkin Mickey Carroll. The co-author Steve Cox befriended them and began searching for the whereabouts of the rest of the Munchkins. Several remaining Munchkins did a national tour in 1995.

Maren loved movies as a child. His sister Anita was in a chorus line in a local theater. Anita began taking Jerry with her to her dancing lessons. The dance teachers asked Jerry to tour New England with them one summer. He was later offered a role in an all-midget Western movie but he was still in high school and his father refused to let him be in the movie.

Later Leo Singer offered him around $50 a week plus food, hotels, and transportation to perform in his traveling midget group. Jerry Maren’s pay was later increased to $75 a week, although he recalls Singer deducting about $25 for himself. Maren for the first time in his life met another midget.

Maren was 3’5” when he filmed “The Wizard of Oz”. The movie used 124 midgets with about a dozen children blending in the background. They sang their songs on the set yet their voices were dubbed by professional singers.

Maren hands a Dorothy a lollipop as she arrives to Munchkinland. Early script descriptions have Maren’s character as one of the Little Tough Guys or Little Tough Boys whose weapons were lollipops. Their wardrobe was to show they were part of the juvenile delinquent underclass. One enters from a manhole while smoking.

Most Munkins were well behaved on the set. A few did drink but maren states they all behaved appropriated on the set. Maren was in the most Munchkin scenes and was usually the first to go through makeup.

During filming with Margaret Hamilton, as she disappeared around flames through a trap door, a malfunction set her on fire. Her makeup was toxic, so it was fortunate the flames were quickly extinguished.

Maren worked for almost two months on “The Wizard of Oz”. He was hired to be in costume at the premiere, where he was given the Mayor’s costume.

Maren next worked in an Our Gang film, “Tiny Troubles”. He got an agent Frank Ryan who then got Maren work in the Marx Brothers movies “At the Circus”. He has the role of Professor Atom. This was followed by several radio shows, commercials, and MGM short subject films. Maren was not a stuntman, but he was hired to do a few stunts. One stunt was to be on the back of a wagon that crashed. He often would be a a stunt double for child actors.

Maren did local shows and commercials at the beginning of TV in the 1940s. He recalls acting in freshly constructed TV studios. He was Boko on an early syndicated TV series “Magic Lady & Boko”.

Maren played a mole creature in the first Superman movie “Superman and the Mole Men”. He had a ray gun constructed by placing a tin funnel on a modified vacuum cleaner.

Maren played Buster Brown in a series of commercials. When the company decided to replace him, probably because he and his voice had grown too old for their image, he demanded they remove his picture from all their advertising. Maren was then provided $25,000 additional for his work.

Maren landed a job as a public appearance character Little Oscar for Oscar Mayer.

Maren was in the first live color TV show on NBC, “The Lord Don’t Play Favorites”.

Maren was on the “Andy Williams Show” for several years. He did several comedy routines. In 1967, he did a “Star Trek” episode.

Maren also appeared in the movie “Silent Movie”.

Maren had several roles on Sid and Morty Kroft’s “Lidsville”. The little people wore interchangeable costumes so no one had set roles. Charles Nelson Reilly outwardly disliked being on the show and would cause delays by not showing up to work, sometimes with absences a week long. These delays helped kill the show after two seasons.

Maren also did appearances on “Bewitched”, “Laugh-In”, “The Beverly Hillbillies”, “The Lucy Show”, “Julia”, and “Daniel Boone”.

Maren and his wife Elizabeth did commercial work together as Santa’s elves. Maren was a chimp in “Battle for the Planet of the Apes”. He did an episode of “The Odd Couple” which he considered to be one of the best roles. He then worked as a stand-in for children on the TV series “Bad News Bears”.

Maren had a large role in the movie “The Little Cigars Movie”.

Maren’s next big role was working for ten years in McDonald’s commercials. He did 10 to 15 commercials a day. It was an unusual set as it had been available during shots for one the actors who demanded it. The actors would switch roles. Maren was Mayor McCheese, Big Mac, and the Hamburglar. The costumes were heavy and were very warm to wear while working.

A stage production of “The Wizard of Oz” cast Maren as the Mayor of Munchkinland. Maren also performed a children’s show in the White House.

Maren was a regular these years of “The Gong Show” as the winner greeter. He later was a regular on the TV show “All New Truth or Consequences” and a sitcom “No Soap, Radio.”

Maren and his wife Elizabeth both appeared on the famous “Yada, Yada, Yada” episode of “Seinfeld” portraying Kramer’s girlfriend’s parents.

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