Remembering the Lollipop Guild Actors and Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz
When Dorothy (Judy Garland) lands in Oz in “The Wizard of Oz,” she steps into Munchkinland and is greeted by the Munchkins who live there under the fear of the Wicked Witch of the East. Today, we are going to remember the Muchkinland actors, the Lollipop Guild, and the “Wizard of Oz” song they sang.
“The Wizard of Oz” is probably one of the most iconic films in U.S. cinema history. There is a deep level of nostalgia that “The Wizard of Oz” has in its dual-toned world of sepia and Technicolor.
Who Greets Dorothy When She Lands in Oz?
When Dorothy steps into the strange and magical Land of Oz, the Munchkins and Glinda, the Good Witch, celebrate the death of the Wicked Witch of the East. Glinda informs Dorothy that she killed the Wicked Witch of the East by landing the house on the witch.
Through a song, the Munchkins reveal that the Wicked Witch of the East had been terrorizing them. Free from her torment, the Munchkins celebrate Dorothy as a hero.
Munchkin Land Song
The Munchkins sing three songs: “Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead,” “We Welcome You to Munchkin Land,” and “Follow the Yellow Brick Road.”
While two of the actors with dwarfism had their voices used in the film, the majority of the Munchkins’ voices were dubbed with studio voices that were recorded at a slow speed and then sped up when played back.
Mayor of Munchkin City
The Mayor of Munchkin City (played by Charlie Becker and voiced by Billy Bletcher) is one of the characters that Dorothy meets. Some believe that the character is based on Boq, one of the richest Munchkins in the Munchkin Country, from the original novel.
Becker was chosen for the role of the mayor because of his large belly, round face, and facial hair. His thick German accent made it hard to hear his lines, which is why the studio had Bletcher dub the lines.
‘The Wizard of Oz’ Lullaby League
After the coroner presents the Certificate of Death, the Munchkins celebrate further. Dorothy first receives gifts from the Lullaby League, which includes three ballerinas (played by Betty Rome, Carol Tevis, and Lorraine Bridges).
Dressed in pale pink outfits, the trio of ballerinas presents Dorothy with a greeting to Munchkin Land through a song. The song is simple, as the lyrics state three times that the trio is the Lullaby League and they welcome Dorothy to Munchkin Land.
‘The Wizard of Oz’ Lollipop Guild
After the Lullaby League, the Lollipop Gang (played by Billy Bletcher, Harry Stanton, and Pinto Colveg), sometimes referred to as the Lollipop Kids, welcomed Dorothy. Bletcher notably was the voice of one of the Lollipop Guild men and mayor.
The Lollipop Guild actors, who are all male, perform a short song while holding huge lollipops. The lyrics to Lollipop Guild are similar to the Lullaby League, as they state three times, “We represent the Lollipop Guild,” and welcome Dorothy to Munchkin Land.
Jerry Maren Was the Last Surviving ‘The Wizard of Oz’ Cast Member
Jerry Maren, a lollipop guild member, became notable after being the last surviving cast member from “The Wizard of Oz,” which was filmed in 1939.
Maren, who boarded an MGM chartered bus headed to Culver City in November 1938, had never met another little person. In his 2006 memoir, “Short and Sweet,” Maren revealed that his “eyes lit up” when he first met the Munchkin cast. “I wondered if they walked like me. Did they have a high-pitched voice like me? Do they eat the same things as me?” he wrote (via The New Yorker).
The Myths of the Munchkins Outside of ‘Oz’
Two myths surround the little people who were cast as Munchkins for “The Wizard of Oz.” The first is a persistent urban legend that a Munchkin actor hanged themselves during the filming which can be seen briefly in the background of the film.
The supposed Munchkin in the background is a large bird perched on a branch. No evidence of the incident ever occurred during production according to production notes.
Judy Garland Perpetuated the Rumor Around the Munchkin Actors
The long-standing rumor, perpetuated by one of “The Wizard of Oz” stars, alleges that the Munchkins were unruly and frequently engaged in drunken orgies while filming.
However, the truth about the little people on set was crafted into a myth. In an interview with Jack Paar in 1967, Judy Garland said, “They were drunks … They got smashed every night, and they’d pick ‘em up in butterfly nets.” In 1981, Garland’s dehumanizing comments were adapted into Chevy Chase’s comedy “Under the Rainbow.”
The Myths Around 'The Wizard of Oz' Munchkins Are Disproved
A longtime Hollywood correspondent for the New York Times, Aljean Harmetz, debunked the rumors about the little people in her book “The Making of ‘The Wizard of Oz.” She did admit that there were a few “promiscuous women, a few sexually aggressive men,” on the set. Jerry Maren told the Times in 1997 that the stories about the little people were “a lot of hooey.”
The only evidence of misbehavior was found in a memo from production manager Keith Weeks who wrote that Charley Kelley and another person had “tried to knife [an] assistant, Mr. Torelli, in an altercation.”
Some of the Munchkin Characters Were Afraid to Be in 'The Wizard of Oz'
Maren died in May of 2018 at the age of 98 after a lengthy career in Hollywood. While many of his performances were more characterized by humiliation, he didn’t seem to be bothered by them and was thankful to be cast in anything where he could entertain.
Not all the little people of “Oz” shared Maren’s sense of indifference. According to a New Yorker article, Addie Eva Frank refused to mingle with them, calling them derisive slurs, believing she was a serious actor. Nita Krebs sometimes cried in her dressing room, fearing that the vaudeville audiences saw her as a “cute little thing” and not an artist.
Why Are the Munchkins in 'The Wizard of Oz'?
Little people have often been demonized in Hollywood or looked at as “cute little things.” While strides have been made to create a more inclusive world for actors with dwarfism, there is still a long way to go.
“The Wizard of Oz” characters in the Lollipop Guild, Lullaby League, and background actors often serve as an introduction to young audiences to little people. It was rare at that time for these actors to be highlighted on the silver screen, let alone in Technicolor.
The Legacy of the Muchkin Actors
In 2007, all 124 Munchkin actors in “Oz” were honored with a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Hollywood, California. Present were Becker, Maren, and the six surviving Munchkin actors, which included Mickey Carroll, Ruth Duccini, Margaret Pellegrini, Meinhardt Raabe, Karl Slover, and Clarence Swensen.
The actors arrived at the ceremony via a “horse-of-a-different-color” drawn carriage led by the Hollywood High School Marching Band. The Star is located in the Motion Pictures category at 6915 Hollywood Boulevard.