He led the Lollipop Guild in the classic movie and was the cast’s last surviving little person.
LOS ANGELES — Jerry Maren, the last surviving Munchkin from the classic 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz” and the one who famously welcomed Dorothy to Munchkin Land, has died at age 99.
Mr. Maren died May 24 at a San Diego nursing home, his niece, Stacy Michelle Barrington, said Wednesday.
In a career that spanned more than 70 years, he portrayed The Hamburglar and Mayor McCheese in McDonald’s commercials, appeared in scores of films and TV shows and made personal appearances as Little Oscar for Oscar Mayer hot dogs.
He also paved the way for many like him who followed him to Tinseltown and helped found Little People of America, an organization devoted to improving the status of little people. “Hey, I’m a normal human being. All of us little people are,” he told The New York Times in 1993. “Some are wiseguys. Some are a pain in the ass, just like the bigger folks. All the world is represented in little people.”
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Most of the “Wizard of Oz” little people went on to lead non-Hollywood lives, returning to the spotlight only occasionally for studio-organized publicity stunts and fan events. But Mr. Maren spent his life as a performer, including doing stunt work for child actors like Jodie Foster and Ron Howard. He appeared in more than 60 films and television series.
But it was his role as one of the Lollipop Kids in “The Wizard of Oz” that always held a special place in his heart. He would show up regularly at film conventions, Munchkin gatherings and other events honoring the cast over the years.
“I’ve done so many things in show business but people say, ‘You were in The Wizard of Oz?’ It takes people’s breath away,” he told writer Paul Zollo during a 2011 interview for the publication North Hollywood Patch.
“But then I realized,” he added, “Geez, it must have been a hell of a picture, because everyone remembers it everywhere I go.”
Mr. Maren, who stood 4-feet-3, was one of more than 100 little people recruited to play Munchkins in the movie.
He stood out from almost all the others, however, as the “Lollipop Kid” who sang and danced his way to front and center before the film’s star, Judy Garland as Dorothy, and then, with a flourish, handed her an oversized lollipop.
Mr. Maren said he improvised that lollipop handoff in an early take and the director liked it so much he told him to keep doing it.
“He was a very sweet person, and he was very approachable if you were a fan,” his niece said Wednesday. “He was the kind of person who would always take time to talk to you.”
Gerald Marenghi was born in Boston on Jan. 24, 1919. The youngest of 12 children, he wanted to be a baseball player. But his pituitary dwarfism prompted him to consider show business, despite discouragement from his father, a shoe-factory worker. He was singing and dancing at a show at a Connecticut hotel in 1938 when MGM talent scouts saw him and invited him to Hollywood to join the Munchkin cast. He adopted the stage name Maren and traveled by bus to Los Angeles. He would later recall being paid $50 a week for the role, twice what his father was making.
He’d go on to appear in dozens of other films, TV show and commercials. Among them was another film classic in its own right, “The Terror of Tiny Town,” a traditional Western but with a little-people cast. Other films included “Under the Rainbow,” the 1981 sendup of the making of “The Wizard of Oz,” and “Hello, Dolly!”
He appeared on TV in episodes of “Seinfeld,” “The Twilight Zone,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Bewitched,” “The Wild Wild West,” “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” “Lou Grant” and “Julia,” among others.
A fan of horse racing, Mr. Maren also played softball in a league called the Hollywood Shorties until he was in his 80s. And he was an avid golfer. Asked by the Los Angeles Times in 1993 to name his golfing strength, he said, “My short game, of course.”
Mr. Maren was preceded in death by his wife, Elizabeth Maren. The couple had no children.