December 25, 2007, - 2:19 pm
By Debbie Schlussel
These days, it’s so politically incorrect to cast “little people” and dwarves as Santa’s helpers, that moviemakers in “Fred Claus” used computer-generated imaging to make rapper Ludacris and another full-sized actor into elves. Other elves were flown in from Russia. But recently, the little people who played Munchkins in “The Wizard of Oz” held a reunion, and they say they’re proud to have played Santa’s elves:
The holiday season is traditionally a busy time for little-people actors. Many find work as Santa’s helpers for pageants and mall appearances.
Exploitative? Not according to some of the last surviving Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz.
Seven of the diminutive actors from the 1939 classic recently came together in Hollywood, where they were awarded a star of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They reunited at the Culver Hotel, where many stayed while shooting Oz, and talked about old times and timely issues.
Every one of them is proud of playing Santa’s elves throughout the years.
“I played elves all my life,” boasts Jerry Maren, 87, who was one of Munchkin Land’s Lollipop Guild kids before playing a space alien on The Beverly Hillbillies, a Halloween gremlin on Bewitched and an elf in the 1984 Mickey Rooney holiday TV movie It Came Upon a Midnight Clear. “I played elves in numerous commercials ‚Äî and also St. Patrick’s Day leprechauns.”
“And I worked in malls,” beams Margaret Pellegrini, 84, who played an Oz Flower Pot Lady and a bird’s-nest Sleepyhead. “I would do the picture-taking with Santa Claus. I’d put the kids on Santa’s lap and try to calm them down. Playing elves is great.”
“Oh, yes,” agrees Ruth Duccini, 89, who was one of the Munchkin villagers. She recently saw the recent release Fred Claus and was disappointed not to see any of her pals in roles. “They brought some of those little people in from Europe.”
Russia, actually. Thirty-one of them, says Lidia Lukes, a London-based executive assistant on the film. They all enjoyed comfortable accommodations during the three-month shoot. . . .
On the Fred Claus set, the word “midget” was forbidden. . . .
Today, the dated term causes many to recoil. But not the Munchkins.
“I don’t mind being called a midget,” Duccini says.
“Midget or little person is fine,” Pellegrini echoes.
Only Vaudeville vet Mickey Carroll, 88, who provided many of the Munchkin voices, objects to the term. If anyone were to call him “midget,” he says, “I’d kick ‘em in the shins.”
Now, let’s hear from Willy Wonka’s Oompa Loompas. I’d bet the sentiments are the same.
Tags: computer-generated imaging, Culver Hotel, Debbie Schlussel These, Europe, executive assistant, Fred Claus, full-sized actor, Halloween, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, Jerry Maren, Lidia Lukes, London, Ludacris, Margaret Pellegrini, Mickey Carroll, Mickey Rooney, Munchkin Land's Lollipop Guild, Oz, rapper, Russia, Ruth Duccini, St. Patrick's Day, The Wizard of Oz, Vaudeville, Walk of Fame, Wizard of Oz