In the early hours of March 1, several news sources reported the unfortunate news that Jerry Maren, the last surviving Munchkin, had skipped down the yellow brick road into eternity. As of March 2, the Examiner confirmed that the reports were wrong.
If anything good can come of this week’s erroneous report, it is the fact that more people than ever now know Jerry Maren’s name. After such a notable career, he certainly deserves recognition.
Not everyone knows his name, but Jerry Maren is recognized everywhere he goes. The diminutive, Boston-bred thespian was a teenager when he made his second feature-length movie appearance as the leader of the Lollipop Guild in the 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film classic, The Wizard of Oz.
After portraying the gruff, frog-voiced munchkin who presents Dorothy with candy and a song upon her arrival at the in-color portion of The Wizard of Oz, Jerry Maren went on to become a household face, if not a household name.
Born Gerald Marenghi on January 24, 1920, Jerry Maren played an array of characters over the course of his lengthy career.
According to his IMDb biography, Jerry Maren made his film debut as an uncredited townsperson in the offbeat, all-little person western, The Terror of Tiny Town. Written by Fred Myton and directed by Sam Newfield, the 1938 film was touted on movie posters as being about “little guys with big guns.” The movie can be watched in its entirety right here:
Maren appeared in numerous movies throughout the 20th century. Due to his distinctive dearth of height, the multi-talented song and dance man naturally portrayed an elf, gremlin, space alien, or other little person. In the first Planet of the Apes movie, released in 1968, he appears as a baby ape.
Watch for Jerry in Space Balls, The Great Outdoors, Under the Rainbow, Where the Buffalo Roam and the 1982 version of TRON.
Maren’s more recent movie roles were as Manlon in Frankenstein Rising and as an unnamed mime in Dahmer vs. Gacy. Both movies were released in 2010.
In addition to umpteen movie roles, Jerry Maren guest starred in a variety of television shows, including Bewitched, The Wild, Wild West, Get Smart, The Beverly Hillbillies, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, and The Odd Couple. Maren also appeared as a character known only as “Dad” on the “Yada Yada” episode of Seinfeld. [Season 8, Episode 19]
It is worth noting that Jerry Maren did not receive title credits for most of his movie roles, including his part as the Lollipop Kid in The Wizard of Oz. Nor did he or any other munchkin receive as much pay as the pooch. When interviewed later in life, Maren claimed that munchkins were paid a paltry $50 per week, while the terrier that acted as the canine nemesis of Mrs. Gulch hauled in a whopping $200 weekly paycheck from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Movies and TV aside, Jerry Maren may be best recognized by Baby Boomers as the man who defined Little Oscar. As spokesman for the American hot dog company in the 1960s, Little Oscar made personal appearances and passed out red plastic “wienie whistles” to tens of thousands of American children. This writer was among those kids who waited curbside for the arrival of chef-hatted Little Oscar and his low-slung, frankfurter-shaped Wiener Mobile.
Little Oscar was not Jerry Maren’s only turn as a well-known product promoter. In the 1970s, Maren featured prominently in McDonald’s advertising, sometimes as Hamburglar, sometimes as Mayor McCheese.
As reported by UPI, Jerry Maren’s hand prints and footprints were immortalized in cement at the former Grauman’s Chinese theater in September 2013. The well-attended ceremony happened two days before the venerable movie house, currently known as TCL Chinese Theater, debuted an IMAX 3-D version of The Wizard of Oz. In 2007, Jerry Maren and the other then-surviving Munchkins received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
At four feet, six inches tall, his stature is slight, but actor Jerry Maren has made a big impact on generations of American culture. May he continue to do so for a very long time.
[Photo via Hulton Archive/Getty Images] [Photo via Tim Boyle/Getty Images]