Jerry Maren, the oldest living actor who portrayed a munchkin in the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz, has died. He was 98 years old. According to TMZ, Maren died a week ago in a San Diego nursing care facility; the cause of death is unknown, though he reportedly suffered from dementia.
Maren played a member of the Lollipop Guild in Oz, the group that welcomes Dorothy and her crew to Munchkinland. In the video below, Maren can be seen at the 30-second mark, wearing a green sweater and tap dancing between two other actors. At the end of his verse, he hands Dorothy, played by Judy Garland, a giant swirly lollipop.
The Wizard of Oz was young Maren’s first film, a lucky coup for the actor. He was one of dozens of little people who were cast to fill Munchkinland. The experience was eye-opening for Maren, who said in a 2009 interview that up until that point, he had never even met another little person. “I was the only small person in my family,” he said. “Making the film was the greatest fun I ever had in my life.”
All the actors were put up in the Culver City Hotel for the duration of filming, which immediately became notorious for its parties and late, drunken nights, according to Wizard of Oz lore. Maren maintained, however, that only a handful of little people from Germany were constantly getting up to trouble: “They drank beer morning, noon and night,” he once recalled.
For the young actor, the film was an eye-opening experience, from communing with other little people to meeting Garland. “She was an angel,” he said. “She was a movie star and I’d figured she’d be a pain in the neck. But she was glad to meet us, and we were glad to meet her.”
After Oz, Maren continued acting, landing parts in a plethora of movies and TV shows, like Planet of the Apes and Seinfeld. In 1975, he married Eliabeth Barrington, a fellow actor. The two were together until her death in 2011, at 69 years old.
Maren’s last role was in 2010. Though he retired from acting, he regularly attended Garland-themed and Oz-themed festivals, celebrating the legacies of the actress and the iconic film that launched his career. In 2013, he was honored with a handprint and signature ceremony at the TCL Chinese Theatre.
“It means everything to me,” he said. “It shows you it could happen to any one of us.”