The last surviving 'Wizard of Oz' Munchkin Jerry Maren dies at 98, leaves behind a long legacy of memorable performances
Rest in peace, Jerry Maren! The Boston-born actor, who is engraved in fan memories as the candy-toting Munchkin from 1939's 'The Wizard of Oz', has passed at the age of 98 in California. After the death of the fellow member of the Lollipop Guild, Ruth Duccini, Maren had come to be known as the last surviving Munchkin from the original MGM film.
The news of his passing surfaced on Wednesday with reports confirming that the actor died on May 24 at a care facility in San Diego. Since the loss, it has appeared that the cause of death was congestive heart failure, according to the actor's nephew Lloyd Decker, New York Times reported.
Out of the 100-plus actors of restricted growth who filled in the shoes of the Munchkins, leaving behind memorable performances on tracks like 'You’re Off to See the Wizard' and 'Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead,' Maren was said to be the last survivor.
“In many ways, with his humble charm, he became the most beloved of all of them,” Stephen Cox, the author of 'The Munchkins of Oz' said of Maren. "He took it as his responsibility to show, through a strong sense of self and speaking out and personal example, that little people are just people. All of the other Munchkins had a great deal of respect for Jerry," Cox added.
While Maren himself described his 'Wizard of Oz' role as the "greatest fun I ever had in my life", the actor followed it up with several other performances, unlike most of his cast-mates who quit spotlight following the 1939 movie.
In fact, with an acting career that spawned more than 60 films and television series, Maren's life as a performer can be best described through his works. He has appeared in 'Our Gang' comedy shorts, in Marx Brothers' 'At The Circus', and as an ape in 'Battle for the Planet of the Apes'. Later, he starred in George Reeves movie 'Superman and the Mole-Men'.
Alongside fellow Munchkin Billy Curtis, Maren has also appeared in the comedy called 'Little Cigars' (1973), which was about a gang of "midgets" on a crime spree. His other credits include 'The Gong Show' in the late '70s, ABC sitcom 'No Soap, Radio', and a walk-on role in an episode of 'Seinfeld'.
The late actor, who also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, was remembered at a service held on Saturday at in Hollywood Hills.