Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Godspeed Jerry Maren

Jerry Maren, who played a member of the Lollipop Guild in the classic The Wizard of Oz (1939) and appeared on TV shows from Lidsville to Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, died on May 24 2018 at the age of 98. He had been the last surviving member of the cast of The Wizard of Oz with a singing or speaking part.

Jerry Maren was born Gerard Marenghi in Boston, Massachusetts. He was twelve years old when he began taking dance lessons alongside one of his sisters. By age 18 he was performing with a vaudeville act called Three Steps and a Half (as might be expected, Mr. Maren was the "half"). A scout for MGM took notice of Jerry Maren and he was soon cast as one of the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz. His talent for singing and dancing won Mr. Maren the plumb role of the Lollipop Munckin, who hands Dorothy Gale (played by Judy Garland) a lollipop in the film.

Over the next several years Jerry Maren played bit parts in movies that called for a little person. He appeared in such films as Maisie Was a Lady (1941), Flesh and Fantasy (1943), Duffy's Tavern (1945), and Superman and the Mole Men (1951). In the late Forties he appeared as Buster Brown in advertisements for the popular brand of children's shoes. In the Fifties he played Little Oscar, the spokesman for Oscar Mayer, and travelled around the country in that company's Wienermobile.

He made his television debut in 1954 in an episode of Smilin' Ed's Gang. He also guest starred on the show Producer's Showcase and continued to play Buster Brown in television commercials. In the Sixties he guest starred on The Beverly Hillbillies, Bewitched, The Wild Wild West, The Bob Hope Show, Julia, Get Smart, and Here's Lucy.

The Seventies saw Mr. Maren playing the regular roles of Boris and Rah-Rah on the Saturday morning show Lidsville. He also had a recurring role on the comedy Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. On the game show The Gong Show he was also a regular, rushing out to throw confetti everywhere before the show's big finish. He also guest starred on the shows The Odd Couple, When Things Were Rotten, and Switch. He played Mayor McCheese in commercials for McDonald's.

In the Eighties Jerry Maren had a regular role on the show No Soap Radio. He guest starred on the shows Lou Grant, Wizards and Warriors, The Twilight Zone, and Short Ribbs. He appeared in the TV movies Side Show, High School U.S.A., Petronella, and The Dreamer of Oz. In the Nineties he guest starred on Seinfeld.

In 1957 with fellow little person Billy Barty, Jerry Maren founded Little People of America, an advocacy group for little people.

Jerry Maren had a knack for bringing joy to people. Those who met him always described how nice he was. He was well known for his generosity, particularly with regards to his fellow little people. He was also known for his patience with fans, even when they sometimes asked insensitive questions about his height. Of course, Jerry Maren was talented. He could sing and he had a gift for comedy that came in useful in his various guest appearances and as a spokesman for Buster Brown and Oscar Mayer. Of all the Munchkins to appear in The Wizard of Oz, some believe that he might well have been the most beloved of all.

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