Over the Rainbow

Munchkin Margaret Pellegrini.

Munchkin Margaret Pellegrini.

Beloved Munchkin, Margaret Pellegrini (September 23, 1923 to August 7, 2013) has headed back home, via the Yellow Brick Road on her return to Munchkin Land, somewhere over the rainbow, after passing away at a Phoenix, Arizona, hospital.

Born Margaret Williams in Tuscumbia, Alabama, she was an American actress from 1939 to 1971 and was best known for playing multiple Munchkin roles in the film The Wizard of Oz, which opened at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on August 15, 1939. She was 15 years of age when she played the roles of ‘Sleepy Head,’ ‘Flower Pot,’ where she wore a flower pot on her head as a hat, and a ‘Munchkin Villager’ in the MGM classic musical adventure film. In 1943, she married boxer Willie Pellegrini, and the couple had a son and daughter.

Margaret was first discovered while she was helping relatives in a potato chip booth at the Tennessee State Fair, when a bunch of little people asked her if she would like to join their show called Henry Kramer’s Midgets. Pellegrini, who stood about three-and-a-half feet high at the time, said, “I didn’t think I was a midget.”

She delighted in public speaking at any chance she could (always in her Munchkin costume), telling wonderful tales of how the Munchkins ascended on Culver City and the Metro-Goldwyn- Mayer Studio, causing havoc and fun. She adored working with Judy Garland and the entire cast of the film and delighted in the storytelling, especially to children. She was always clear to remind us the many messages of The Wizard of Oz, especially the two roads traveled in life and the one you wish to choose that in the end will return you to your roots and family. There truly is “no place like home.”

True to the movie; in real life she was just as robust and unstoppable. Always going, going, going and living life to the fullest. Fortunately we have her upcoming book to look forward to as a further remembrance, Forever a Munchkin: My Life from Tennessee to Tinseltown.

I remember her telling us how the Munchkin’s voices were created and once again it proves the magic of movie making. I as well as probably just about every one who has adored the movie for over 70 decades will be surprised to discover the Munchkins’ voices were not created of their own design, but that of the staff of professional studio singers. “They would record their own voices in song and then speed up the recordings to accomplish the unusual high pitch. We were all dubbed.” Still the melodies of The Wizard of Oz, including those of the Munchkins, melt our hearts.

Another interesting story Pellegrini revealed in an interview was that she was paid less than “Toto” the dog, who received a barking $125 per week as opposed to her $50 per week salary. Arff, Arff.

In 2007, Hollywood’s Walk of Fame dedicated a star to the Munchkins, and of course in attendance was Margaret. Their star has become the focus for many flowers and tributes since her passing.

There were 124 Munchkins in all, and with her passing she leaves behind two remaining Munchkins, Ruth Duccini, 95, a Munchkin Villager living in Phoenix, Arizona, and Jerry Maren, 93, one of the ‘Lollipop Guild’ who resides in Los Angeles, California.

The Wizard of Oz will forever live in our hearts and has been digitally re-mastered into the image, sound quality, and technology of “An IMAX 3D Experience.” Crystal clear images, customized theater geometry, and powerful digital audio, will create a unique IMAX environment for movie goers to be drawn directly into Munchkin Land and the entire movie.

Coming next month to the place where it first premiered in 1939, will be the premiere of the new IMAX Wizard of OZ at the Chinese Theatres in Hollywood. How I wish Margaret could be with us to be transported right back into her memory of Munchkin Land. Somehow I think she is already back. There’s no place like home.

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