by Edwin L. Carpenter – Editor, The Dove Foundation
The surviving Munchkins from the classic “The Wizard of Oz” feature film finally received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, reserved for immortals of film lore. The ceremony was held on November 20, 2007. The Dove Foundation recently interviewed four of the surviving Munchkins, a rare group indeed. We recently posted interviews with Karl Slover (the first trumpeter in the film) and Meinhardt Raabe (the coroner Munchkin). The next two interviews took place with Jerry Maren, the Lollipop Kid who handed the world’s largest sucker to Judy Garland, and Mickey Carroll (The Town Crier and a fiddler).
When I started off by congratulating Mr. Jerry Maren, aka The Lollipop kid, on receiving the star, he said, “Thank you,” and then quickly added, “It’s the group that’s getting a star.” He wanted to share the honor with his fellow actors, a commendable response.
“It’s got to feel pretty good to be part of that group,” I said. “Oh, and how,” he said. “We deserve it, I’m telling ya. I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie, it’s probably one of the finest sequences ever filmed.” I assured Mr. Maren I had seen the film every year growing up and I own the DVD. “Then you know how good that Munchkin sequence was.”
I have seen pictures of a young Jerry Maren, eighteen at the time, and the make-up job was terrific as it makes him look like an older character with an edge. I asked how long it took him in the make-up chair when filming Oz.
“Half an hour or an hour…a long time.” In some respects an hour doesn’t seem long, but as often as Maren would have been needed on the set, the hours added up. Dove asked Mr. Maren if he got tired of the process. “Oh yes,” he said. “That’s one thing I hated. I had to get to the studio ahead of everybody else, and it was a pain.”
We asked Mr. Maren how much of his own voice was included in the dialog, such as “We thank you very sweetly for doing it so neatly,” and the song, “We represent the Lollipop Guild.”
“My voice was used but it was all taken out. The whole sequence was dubbed in,” he said. When I mentioned that he had such a great screen presence, he said, “Don’t forget there were three of us singing.” I replied by saying he was a gracious man. Again, he wanted to honor all of the Munchkins, not just himself. He mentioned that another one of the guild members, Harry Doll, aka Harry Earles, who appeared in the film “Freaks,” “was a wonderful man.” In “The Wizard of Oz” Earles appears on the right side of the screen during the Lollipop Guild’s scene, and he appears elsewhere in the film, including one of the first Munchkin scenes when he pops up from a manhole.
Maren has done a ton of work in Hollywood including a TV commercial with basketball superstar Larry Johnson during the 1993 Super Bowl. He appeared as a troll-like Munchkin dressed in a striped referee’s uniform. He welcomed Johnson “to three-point land” in an Oz lampoon. “They ran it at a terrific time,” Maren said. “Those commercials were expensive to run.”
He also performed in McDonald’s television commercials as “Mayor McCheese” and the “Ham burglar.” In the 1950’s he helped co-found the “Little People of America” organization with his buddy and fellow actor, the late Billy Barty. His other television credits, which are vast, include “Star Trek,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “The Lucy Show,” “Daniel Boone,” “Get Smart,” and “The Twilight Zone.”
“What was it like working with Judy Garland?” we asked. “She was an absolute angel,” he replied. We mentioned she was a wonderful singer. “A wonderful everything,” he said. “She was a lovely woman.”
We asked Mr. Maren what were one or two of his favorite scenes, apart from the Lollipop Guild scene. “There was one scene with the witch when she made an appearance. I was just about four feet away from her. I thought, ‘Where the heck did she come from?’ I have a pretty good eye. She came up out of the ground, an elevator—that’s how they make them disappear. It took a lot of preparation. They had an elevator to push ‘em down and push ‘em up.”
Dove asked Mr. Maren about other favorite roles and he replied, “’Marx Brothers at the Circus.’ I played Professor Atom.” Maren said he had a lot of fun making the picture. The plot involved his character living on a train and the Marx Brothers conducting an investigation. They asked if he smoked cigars as they were trying “to connect me with the murder.” At one point Maren said one of the characters stuck his face “right in front of me and I’m laughing, and the director said ‘Cut! Jerry, what are you laughing at? You’re a suspected burglar in the movie.’ I didn’t mean to laugh but if you were around them (Marx Brothers) you couldn’t help but laugh!” Maren added that in the film both he and the furniture were blown around by the Marx Brothers. He speaks highly of the film. “I enjoyed it very much,” he said.
Mr. Maren has a book coming out titled “Short and Sweet: The Life and Times of the Lollipop Munchkin.” It will be published by Cumberland House. “It was a lot of work but we did it,” he said.
We asked if he still attends “The Wizard of Oz” conventions around the country and he said, “Every one of ‘em!” He plans to attend the annual convention which will be held in Chesterton, Indiana, in September. “I love that one,” he said. “That’s one of the biggest ones of the year.”
We closed by telling him once more how great it is that the Munchkins are receiving a star. “I think so too,” said Mr. Maren. He ended the interview by saying, “Thank you, if you have any more questions be free to call.” His graciousness and class stood out. Mr. Maren is a big man in our book.
Mickey Carroll helped clear up who did the singing for “The Lollipop Guild.” It was Mr. Carroll who did the song. We caught up with the Munchkin who saunters across the screen with a bell just after Harry Earles pops up from a manhole. In addition, Mr. Carroll was the second fiddler from the left who plays as Dorothy dances when the Munchkins sing “You’re off to see the Wizard.” He did some other voices in the film too.
Mr. Carroll resides in St. Louis, Missouri, and is a big Cardinals fan. He has lived in the area for years and when he attends the games or a meal in a restaurant, he is swarmed by eager fans seeking autographs. He had a long run in show business and when he learned we were calling from Grand Rapids, Michigan, he said, “I’ve been there, years ago. Who hasn’t? I was in vaudeville. I did it all my life to make a living. My mother wanted me to be a lawyer! When I was in seventh grade in Hollywood my agent called me up and he said, ‘I have thirty six weeks for you for $500 a week.’ I said, ‘There goes my education!”
Mickey Carroll is a quick-witted man with a sharp memory and, although he just turned eighty eight years old in July, he still enjoys entertaining. “I was a song and dance man,” he said. Suddenly he broke out into song on the phone! “One of these days, you’re going to miss me honey!” he sang. He still has a great voice. “Do you remember a commercial (and he breaks into song again) ‘Call for Philip Morris?’ I got $500 a week and I coughed all the way to the bank!”
When we congratulated Mr. Carroll on the star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he said, “Guess whose name is going to be first?” “Who’s that?” I enquired. “Me.” “Hey, that’s awesome!” I replied. “You know why?” he asked me, “cause it starts with a ‘C’!” His name comes first in the alphabet. I must admit he nailed me on that one. “Alphabetically!” he laughed.
Mr. Carroll spoke for a bit on “The Wizard of Oz.” He said many of the Munchkins did not speak English, or his voice was more suited for some of the roles than some of the other actors, and “I dubbed their voice. I was three weeks late getting into the picture. I had an accident and was in the hospital. But the director Victor Fleming said, ‘Mickey, don’t worry. All you’re going to do is read the script and you’re going to do the voice when you see the picture.’ Like the lollipop kid, he used his fist (Jerry Maren, shaking his fist in a scene) and I said, ‘We represent the Lollipop Guild, the Lollipop Guild, we wish to welcome you to Munchkinland.’
“And then Auntie Em, when she was looking for Dorothy in the tornado at the farm, she was hollering in the tornado with all that noise and she was saying, ‘Dorothy! Dorothy!’ And the director said, ‘Dorothy won’t be able to hear you. Go ahead Mickey, you do it.’ ‘Dorothy!’” Mickey cried out in a high voice.
“So you did that part?” Dove asked. “Yeah, I did her voice,” replied Mr. Carroll. “I did three weeks of voiceovers. Before I did the movie I was to go to Hollywood at Disney and do voices for Disney.”
He also wound up being the town crier in the brief scene already mentioned, and the second fiddler. “I said, ‘We thank you very sweetly for doing it so neatly,’ and then ‘Follow the yellow brick road.’ And then when she (Dorothy) went down the yellow brick road I was the second one with the violin. We went down the yellow brick road with her. We only went down about thirty feet because it showed it like the yellow brick road went on for about two hundred miles. If she’d have gone more than forty feet, she would have bumped into the wall!”
Mr. Carroll said he used to use return address labels with a picture of him on the yellow brick road with Judy Garland. Much of his mail didn’t make it to the intended locations as many people, assuming there were autographed photos in the envelopes (which there were) stole the letters! He said a lot of people get his autographs at his various appearances and then he sees the autographs on Ebay.
I asked about Mr. Carroll working with Judy Garland, and he said, “We grew up together. When she was six we did vaudeville together. I knew she was a great singer, even at six years old. We did vaudeville and Al Capone was there in Chicago at the World’s Fair in ’33. She worked with her sisters. She was Frances Gumm and they were the three Gumm sisters.”
As happy as Mr. Carroll is about the star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he is prouder of a few other special moments in his life. “The best thing that happened to me, in ’33, I wrote a speech for Roosevelt. He was the governor of New York then. He wanted something funny for the men’s club. And I wrote something. He was with his (future) wife, but not yet married. And in the speech I did his voice too. ‘I say again, and again, I hate war. Eleanor hates war. And I hate Eleanor!” I must admit to chuckling with Mr. Carroll on that one. Mr. Carroll said he wrote some speeches for Harry Truman too.
Mr. Carroll also mentioned his fellow Munchkin, Jerry Maren, saying he hopes to read his upcoming book, and that “Jerry was a pretty snappy guy. He was pretty smart.” He mentioned that Jerry had started out young in the business as he had.
“I love people,” said Mr. Carroll as we wound down our interview. “I never get angry at people. I love ‘em. I love to talk in front of them. I love to make them laugh.” He also recalled his past years of entertaining people with thirty week contracts at $500 a week.
“Everybody in my family was tall. That’s one thing I didn’t want to be—tall. There’s no money in it!”
Mr. Carroll shared a funny anecdote about an occurrence in 2006 when Tony LaRussa, the St. Louis Cardinals manager, was about to attend a press conference, and Mickey talked him into wearing a pair of ruby slippers. Of course the Cardinals won the World Series last year and LaRussa said he owed it all to Mickey Carroll and the ruby slippers!
Mr. Carroll said that Donald O’ Connor once visited him in St. Louis and that his favorite song was “Make ‘em laugh! Make ‘em laugh!” Of course Mr. Carroll had to sing it to me and not just tell me! He added that recently he was asked why “The Wizard of Oz” is still so popular after all these years. “We all grew up with it,” he replied. Mr. Carroll may be 88 years old now, but he hasn’t slowed down much.
He spends a lot of his time “keeping busy,” so old age doesn’t catch up to him too quickly. He participates in parades honoring “The Wizard of Oz” and he donates his time to charities, including the local fire department and the Ronald McDonald House.
Mr. Carroll lamented all his uncles and aunts and cousins who are now dead, and won’t be able to join with him when he receives the star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But one gets the impression that for those who attend the ceremony that day, Mr. Carroll will “make ‘em laugh, make ‘em laugh, make ‘em laugh.”
Read Dove’s Review of “The Wizard of Oz“