Just prior to the 70th anniversary reissue of The Wizard Of Oz on DVD and Blu-ray, five of the six surviving Munchkins from the film — Ruth Duccini (a Munchkin Villager), Jerry Maren (the middle Lollipop Guild singer), Margaret Pellegrini (a Munchkin Flowerpot Hat Dancer), Meinhardt Raabe (the Coroner) and Karl Slover (the First Trumpeter) — visited New York to do press and attend the big Oz bash at the prestigious Tavern On The Green restaurant, which is owned by Jennifer LeRoy, granddaughter of the film’s producer, Mervyn LeRoy. I was one of a handful of journalists that had the honor of interviewing them that day. Without further ado, here is the Q&A from that twenty-minute roundtable, during which I collected all of their thoughts about working on what has been called the most watched movie of all-time.
Margaret, why was Mervyn LeRoy your idol?
Margaret Pellegrini: I just thought he was such a nice man, and he was so nice on our set. On the set when they said “come out, come out, wherever you are,” I was lucky that that was the last scene that they shot that day. When we were called to come out, I got a nosebleed. Meryn LeRoy picked me up and carried me to first aid. I’ll never forget the way he picked me up out of there and went over to first aid, and they took care of me. He was so nice about it.
Are you all surprised at how much more popular the movie became over the years? When did you notice it was becoming a much bigger cultural phenomenon?
Margaret Pellegrini: Back in the 1950s. When it first started out it didn’t do so good, and then all of a sudden [it was on TV], and from then on it got bigger and bigger. I never realized there were so many people who liked the movie as much as they do. And all over the world, it’s not only in one little town. The Wizard Of Oz has such a big meaning, not just for kids. It’s for grown-ups, too. It’s for everybody.
What are your favorite memories of working on the movie, and what are some things people might not know about?
Jerry Maren: My favorite memory was the special effects. I [remember that I] saw the witch and then she was gone [because of] the elevator and smoke and fire. They had a man for all these things — they had a man for smoke, a man for fire, and a man for the elevator so it could be exact when the witch disappeared or appeared. I was four feet away from the [Wicked] Witch when she got burned [during a filming mishap].
Was the shooting schedule very hectic?
Jerry Maren: Oh yes, it was. It was hectic because we didn’t know what was next. We didn’t know what a long shot, a medium shot or a close-up were. We learned as we went.
Do you have any fun stories or recollections of working on the film?
Meinhardt Raabe: Obviously getting together with the whole group in California and meeting a lot of friends that I had known for years. It was interesting to meet them again. My favorite impression was walking on the set and seeing the colorful set. It was mind-boggling to start out with. It was amazing to me, of course, all the work that had been done to prepare the set. The imagination that it took to prepare the set was astounding. Each corner of the set was a new revelation.
Karl Slover: I had four parts in the picture. I was the First Trumpeter, one of the soldiers, one of the sleepyheads coming out, and one of the ones who told Judy Garland to follow the Yellow Brick Road. I was 21 years old when the picture [was made]. I did other pictures, too — one with Laurel Hardy, one with Spencer Tracy, and I worked with Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend. The first one I did was called Bringing Up Baby. That was in 1938. Laurel and Hardy were nice people to work with, and that’s how I found out that the movie stars are really nice people to work with and be with. But the doubles are the ones that are stuck up. [laughs]
Ruth Duccini: Did you know that I met my [late] husband when I worked on The Wizard Of Oz? He had been [working] at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933 and 1934 in the midget orchestra. MGM had a cafeteria set up for us to eat at, and he knew a lot of people who were in The Wizard Of Oz and got to visit. So that’s how I met him. I was 20.
Karl Slover: When we first made the picture none of us ever gave it a thought that the picture would last. Three years later I actually got to see The Wizard Of Oz, and I told my friends that I didn’t hear any bad language or swearing. I’ve heard compliments from people saying if we had more pictures like that it would be great.
Ruth, what are your recollections of Judy Garland?
Ruth Duccini: The only thing about Judy Garland is that we were both born in Minnesota. When she was in the movie she was only about 16. She wasn’t a big star at that time. I never got to talk to her, but she went through and gave us each an autographed picture. I haven’t met her two girls, but I’ve met her son Joey, and he is the nicest young man.
Did you do any movies afterward?
Ruth Duccini: I did. The last one I worked on — Jerry and I were both in Under The Rainbow.
It was obviously a very fictionalized and outrageous account of shooting the Wizard Of Oz. What did you think of it?
Ruth Duccini: I didn’t like it, and I didn’t care for Chevy Chase. I didn’t like the film, but they paid us good money. That’s what you work for, you know. They were trying to make fun of The Wizard Of Oz, but they didn’t succeed. Midgets swinging from the chandeliers and all that stuff.
Were you amazed at how much more popular the movie became in the Fifties, especially when it began airing on television?
Ruth Duccini: It still amazes me, all of the interest in it. Actuially, on the West Coast it isn’t that big of a deal, but back in the Midwest and on the East Coast it is.
Do you think that even today it’s a bigger deal out here than on the West Coast?
Ruth Duccini: I think so. Maybe there are a lot of fans, but you don’t hear that much about it [out there]. But all the interest in The Wizard Of Oz still surprises me. You know the funny part? It isn’t the little children that are excited, it’s the 40-year-old kids that have grown up with The Wizard Of Oz. We’ve seen great, big six-foot tall men come in, and especially with Jerry, start crying.