Last surviving munchkin from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ dies

Jerry Maren, the last surviving munchkin from “The Wizard of Oz,” died at 98 due to complications from congestive heart failure, according to his family.

Maren died in his sleep on May 24 at a private home care residence in La Jolla, California, where he had been in hospice care for six months. He was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Burbank and is interred in the mausoleum at the Court of Remembrance.

Standing at 4 foot 3, he acted in over 100 movies and TV shows over the past seventy years, but he is perhaps best remembered for his role in the 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz.”

“My uncle was a hardworking professional who led a very full life,” Maren’s nephew, Lloyd Decker, told CNN. “Being short never stopped him from doing anything.”

Born Gerard Marenghi in Boston on January 24, 1920, he was the youngest of 11 children and took dancing and acting classes, his nephew said. Right after Maren graduated from high school, he met with a group of actors bound for California.

“He was a ‘song and dance man,’ which is how he got the Munchkin job,” his nephew said.

In the classic hit movie, Maren was part of the group, dubbed the Lollipop Guild, that danced and sang in front of Judy Garland’s character, Dorothy, before she headed off to see the Wizard. In the scene, Maren hands her a large lollipop welcoming her to Munchkinland.

“Making the film was the greatest fun I ever had in my life,” he told Independent in 2009. “It’s given me a good life, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

Throughout the years, Maren held roles on episodes of TV shows “Seinfeld,” “The Twilight Zone,” and “Bewitched,” among others. He graced the big screen in other movies like “Battle for the Planet of the Apes” and “Under the Rainbow.”

He was also featured in marketing campaigns as he portrayed McDonald’s Hamburglar and Mayor McCheese, as well as Oscar Mayer’s Little Oscar. But he couldn’t escape the recognition of his role in Oz.

“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.”

Over the years, Maren attended conventions and Oz reunions with a giant lollipop in tow. In 2007, Maren, along with six other Munchkin actors, were honored with a Hollywood star for the “Wizard of Oz” Munchkins on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2013, he placed his handprints in cement outside Hollywood’s Chinese Theatre.

Maren was preceded in death by his wife, Elizabeth Maren. His family held a private celebration of his life before his burial.