“The Wizard of Oz,” the Last Munchkin, and the Little People Left Behind It’s strange that so many journalists dwell on the orgies when a genuine Munchkin scandal has gone virtually unreported for seventy-five years. In the nineteen-seventies, the producer of “Oz,” Mervyn LeRoy, recalled that he wanted to amass a group of “little people who were little and cute and looked perfect.” Consequently, Munchkin headhunters were instructed to weed out achondroplastic dwarfs and dwarfs of color. Nobody involved in the production seems to have questioned the Jim Crow strictures of Munchkinland. It’s as if they all thought, Of course—why on earth would Dorothy dream about black people? One victim of M-G-M’s discriminatory casting policy was the African-American tap dancer Crawford Price. In the only photograph I can find of him, from 1938, Price is pictured alongside five other members of Henry Kramer’s Hollywood Midgets. At twenty-five, he is trim, suspendered, and preternaturally grave, with a perfect Harvey Comics nose. Due to his race, Price was the only performer in the photo not enlisted for “Oz,” despite a dire shortage of trained dancers among the little people. M-G-M wound up hiring amateurs and shunting them to the rear of the soundstage, where nobody could see them bungling the choreography. There’s no way of knowing how Price felt about this, or how he filled his days while Jerry Maren and his ilk were on the Metro lot, bonding and learning their blocking and methodically hunting down Clark Gable. For Margaret Pellegrini, colloquially known as Popcorn, the experience was heaven-sent. Just fifteen when she began filming “Oz,” Pellegrini made garrulous public appearances well into her eighties, usually wearing a flower-pot hat and retailored versions of her original Munchkin duds. (Her motto: “Costumes go over big.”) “Every time I go to the bank,” she once boasted, “someone comes up to me and asks, ‘Were you in ‘The Wizard of Oz’?” Reading that, I immediately thought of Crawford Price. The indignity of being asked that question every week and having to answer “No” can scarcely be imagined.
Homer Glen man collects $1 million of Wizard of Oz memorabilia Judy Garland’s famous line “There’s no place like home,” rings true as can be for Walter Krueger, whose Homer Glen house is covered with one word: Oz. Dorothy, Toto, the Tinman, Cowardly Lion and Scarecrow can be found almost everywhere you turn as miniature figurines, painted on a tea set, as puppets hanging from the ceiling and even on a peanut butter jar. “Anything that they could find marketable to put the Wizard of Oz title on I have,” said Krueger of his ever-growing collection that currently totals more than 10,000 pieces of memorabilia. The mélange of merchandise includes dolls, a pinball machine, books from across the globe and a few pieces Krueger said are authentic props from the 1939 classic film. They include “an Emerald City guard’s coat,” which he called “very art deco for the time the movie came out,” plus “one of the spears from the movie,” and “an actual piece of the Yellow Brick Road.” The collection fills two rooms plus portions of his basement and still spills into the hallways; there’s also a hidden section behind a bookcase door-Krueger’s homage to the man behind the curtain. Krueger walks through all of the displays in his very own pair of ruby sneakers to match Dorothy’s slippers.
Newman to perform L. Frank Baum: “The Man Behind the Curtain” solo play in Fergus Falls On New Year’s Eve, 1908, “The Wizard of Oz” author L. Frank Baum announced to his audience that his theatrical production had been canceled. Since the writer couldn’t give the audience a show, he gave them the story of how he transformed his fears and failures into the great American fairy tale. Dr. John Newman tells this story in his solo play, “The Man Behind the Curtain.” Newman will perform his solo play “The Man Behind the Curtain” in Fergus Falls, Minnesota on Tuesday, July 31. The performance will take place at the Otter Tail County Historical Society’s (1110 Lincoln Ave. W.) Community Picnic at noon and at PioneerCare (1131 S. Mabelle Ave.) at 3 p.m. Both events are open to the public and admission is free.