I went in search to find a direct New Jersey connection to the iconic 1939 movie, “The Wizard of Oz.”

Many believe that it’s the greatest movie ever made and that’s very hard to argue with.

During my search for an actor who either was born, lived in, or, died in New Jersey … I found Victor Wetter.

Wetter was one of the 124 “Munchkins.” Wetter, along with his wife Edna were born in New Jersey. In 1936, they both worked for what now is considered to be the very politically incorrect “Singer's Midgets.”

This was a popular vaudeville group that existed during the first half of the 20th Century.

This group was basically a feeder system that helped to cast many of The Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz.

Victor Wetter died on December 8, 1990 in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

I had found my direct New Jersey in The Wetter’s. However, this search wound up taking me in a totally different direction.

It jogged my memory about how The Munchkins have been maligned for the past 85 years with allegations of debauchery, orgies and heavy drunken behavior during the filming of The Wizard of Oz.

In my lifetime, I have met and had discussions on a few occasions with about 6 original Wizard of Oz Munchkins … including quality time spent with the most famous Munchkin of them all … Jerry Maren.

Maren portrayed one of the iconic “Lollypop Kids” members.

Maren also played one of the “Mole Men” in the original Superman television series with George Reeves.

Don P. Hurley photo.
Don P. Hurley photo.

Maren is widely reported to be the last surviving Munchkin until the time of his death on May 24, 2018.

However, I looked further into this and it appears that a Wizard of Oz Munchkin named Betty Ann Cain Bruno is the actual last living Munchkin from the film “The Wizard of Oz,” when she died on September 17, 2019.

Maren wrote his biography titled "Short and Sweet," which was published in 2006. It is a raw, recount of a childhood of tragic isolation.

From his book, Maren wrote, “Until I boarded an M-G-M chartered bus bound for Culver City in November, 1938, I had never seen another little person. "My eyes lit up. I wondered if they walked like me. Did they have a high-pitched voice like me? Do they eat the same things as me?" wrote Maren.

I found each of “The Munchkins” that I personally met and talked with to be lovely and very kind.

Perhaps the most damage to The Munchkins reputation came in 1967 during a television interview when Judy Garland told Jack Paar that "They were drunks ... They got smashed every night, and they'd pick'em up in butterfly nets."

Chevy Chase did a comedy in 1981 called “Under The Rainbow” where this same perception was firmly adapted.

Munchkins had to deal with this misleading characterization of them for the rest of their lives and couldn’t shake it away.

The New Yorker magazine wrote a very interesting article about this, saying:

“It's almost entirely untrue. Aljean Harmetz, a longtime Hollywood correspondent for the Times, debunked the rumors in her authoritative book,”

The Making of The Wizard of Oz, though she admitted that there were among them a few promiscuous women, a few sexually aggressive men. The only contemporary evidence of Munchkin misbehavior is a December 30, 1938, memo from the production manager Keith Weeks concerning the potential dismissal of two bad eggs: Charley Kelley, who had assaulted his wife, and another dwarf (either Gus Wayne or Leon Polinsky), who had tried to knife [an] assistant, Mr. Torelli, in an altercation. But the legends of widespread Munchkin debauchery were too seedy and captivating to disregard; they came up in every interview that Jerry Maren did. "That's a lot of hooey," he told the Times, in 1997.

My belief is that when you examine the total record, The Munchkins got a bad rap that they would spend the rest of their lives trying to shake … but, sadly, never did.

SOURCES: The New Yorker & http://cfairyland.blogspot.com

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