Actor Jerry Maren, known best as the candy-toting Munchkin leader of the Lollipop Guild in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz, passed away on May 24, 2018. His death, at an assisted care facility in La Jolla, was confirmed by his nephew Lloyd Decker. The 98-year-old was the last survivor of the more than 100 actors who performed as Munchkins in numbers like “We’re Off to See the Wizard” and “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead.”
Born Gerard Marenghi on January 24, 1920, Maren began his foray into the arts by taking singing and dancing lessons at age 13. He later toured Massachusetts with his dance instructor in an act called Three Steps and a Hop. During this tour he was noticed by MGM scouts, who were in the middle of casting three guys who could sing and dance for an upcoming project. Fresh out of high school, a 19-year-old Maren headed to California to work on what would become one of the greatest films in cinema history.
Clad in green, Maren stood alongside Jakob “Jackie” Gerlich and Harry Earles as the Lollipop Guild members who welcomed Judy Garland’s Dorothy to Munchkinland and presented her with an oversized lollipop. In the same year as The Wizard of Oz, Maren also appeared in an Our Gang feature, Tiny Troubles, playing criminal Light-Fingered Lester. The Boston native later portrayed Little Professor Atom in The Marx Brothers’ At the Circus, a mole-man in George Reeves’ Superman and the Mole-Men, as well as a child ape in Battle for the Planet of the Apes.
Later on, Maren reunited with fellow Munchkin Billy Curtis, in American International Pictures comedy film Little Cigars. In addition to commercial work with McDonalds, the Buster Brown shoe company and Oscar Meyer, Maren also made regular guest appearances on Mary Hartman and Lidsville. Throughout the ’70s he also served as the dapper man on The Gong Show, heralding each show’s big finish with an onslaught of confetti. Additional credits included work on The Odd Couple, The Beverly Hillbillies, Get Smart, The Wild Wild West, and Seinfeld more recently in Frankenstein Rising and Dahmer vs Gacy.
Maren was married to actress Elizabeth Barrington from 1975 until her death at age 69 on January 27, 2011.