At museum, a return to `Oz'

November 17, 2006|By Joe Burris | Joe Burris,sun reporter

Jerry Maren sauntered before the audience assembled yesterday at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum and bellowed, "The Lollipop Kid from The Wizard of Oz is here!"

The 86-year-old actor from Los Angeles, who played one of the Munchkins in the 1939 classic, was there to help display Judy Garland's ruby slippers and Ray Bolger's scarecrow costume at a temporary exhibit while the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History undergoes a 20-month renovation.

He was accompanied by fellow Munchkin character Ruth Duccini, 88, of Phoenix, Ariz.; the two are among eight surviving Munchkin characters from a cast of 124.

Maren, who was 17 when the movie was filmed, carried an oversized wooden lollipop and donned a Lollipop Kid cap. He entertained the crowd with his bounciness and gaiety.

"My part in the movie was that the city council of Munchkin Land designated me to be part of the welcoming committee when Dorothy landed on the Yellow Brick Road," said Maren, who was among the three-Munchkin committee known as the Lollipop Guild.

Yesterday he broke into an altered rendition of the popular Lollipop Guild song that he and two others sang in the film: "I represent the Lollipop Guild, the Lollipop Guild, the Lollipop Guild. And in the name of the Lollipop Guild, we wish to welcome you to Smithsonian!"

Maren and Duccini travel around the country, greeting fans and signing autographs.

"This is my first trip to Washington, and I got to see Charles Lindbergh's plane," said Duccini, referring to the Air and Space Museum exhibit. "I remember when Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic."

Duccini, who Maren said is an expert in Wizard of Oz trivia, was 20 when the movie was filmed. She said the movie marked "the first time when they had that many small adults together. One of the reasons why that [Munchkin] scene is so great is because we enjoyed what we were doing. If you watch it, you can see that it was a lot of fun."

The classic has become ingrained in American pop culture, replayed on television annually and enjoyed by millions of fans who weren't even born when it was originally released. But Duccini said she scarcely watches the film anymore.

"You know why I don't? Most of the people [in the film] that I knew are gone already," she said, "and it makes you kind of sad when you see them. It's not that easy to watch."

The Wizard of Oz items are among 150 well-known objects normally housed in the history museum that have been moved to the temporary exhibit, which opens to the public today. Other items include Susan B. Anthony's shawl, Thomas Jefferson's Bible and the lunch counter from Greensboro, N.C., where four black students staged the first sit-in during the 1960s civil rights movement.

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