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Tall Tales and Munchkin Memories

Film * Specials will air before and after a commercial-free airing of 'The Wizard of Oz' on Turner Classic Movies.

July 03, 2001|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After countless documentaries, books and specials on "The Wizard of Oz," it's hard to believe there are still any little-known fun facts left to reveal about the 1939 musical classic starring Judy Garland as Dorothy.

But the new Turner Classic Movies special "Memories of Oz" has managed to unearth a few juicy tidbits, such as the fact that the stream winding through Munchkinland was supposed to have a group of ducklings swimming in it. But the ducks had to be removed when they absorbed the ink that was used to dye the pond blue. The water was drained from the stream and the bottom painted blue before it was refilled. The waves that rippled throughout the pond were actually created by a crew member moving a paddle in the water off screen.

Also revealed is the scoop on an early story line involving an innocent flirtation between Dorothy and farmhand Hunk (Ray Bolger).

"Memories of Oz" premieres tonight on the cable network just before TCM's second annual commercial-free airing of "The Wizard of Oz." After the movie is the 1990 documentary "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: 50 Years of Magic."

The new 30-minute documentary features behind-the-scenes photos, film clips, stories and interviews with such Munchkins as Margaret Pellegrini, Clarence Swensen and Jerry Maren; cult film director and "Oz" fanatic John Waters; Jane Lahr, daughter of Bert Lahr, who played the Cowardly Lion; and Oz historian and filmmaker Willard Carroll.

Carroll, author of "100 Years of Oz" and the upcoming "I, Toto," has the largest collection of "Oz" memorabilia--approximately 20,000 items. He attributes the movie's enduring appeal to its fantasy, which "can tap into your subconscious right away. That is the power of it. It makes such an impression because it is all [shot] on sound stages. It is one of those rare movies that creates a fantasy world you want to go to."

Especially the candy-colored Munchkinland. "I think, particularly, the Munchkinland sequence is about the best-realized 10 minutes of joy," Carroll says. "It is overpowering, almost. It keeps you through the whole movie. That is the place people wanted to go to. It seemed like such a fun place."

Maren, 81, played one of the Lollipop Guild Munchkins and appeared in numerous other scenes. "When I first came out here, I said I am going to be in every possible scene so my mother can see me, because who knows what will be cut," he says. "They would say, 'Can we have five Munchkins over here?' And I was the first one there." (Of 127 little people who performed in "Oz," only 10 are living.)

He remembers the 10 greens men employed to take care of all the plants, trees and flowers on the set. "They had to have five on each side of the set because it was so large," Maren says. "When the cameraman saw one leaf dangling he would say, 'Tree No. 47! Greens man on the right side, straighten that out!' "

Only two of the actors playing Munchkins actually said their lines in the movie. The rest of the group, including Maren, were dubbed by other actors. The technique used to get the Munchkins' unique raised-pitch voices was to record the lines slower than normal and then play the recording back at the normal speed.

Pellegrini, 77, played two Munchkins. "I was right in the front row, and I had a hat on that looked liked a flowerpot," she recalls. "They all teased me about being the flowerpot girl. I was one of the sleepyheads in the nest. The little nests were green on the outside, and on the inside they were lined with pink satin. We had pink nightgowns on with lace on them, and then we had little hats on that looked like shower caps."

Maren and Pellegrini adored Garland, who was all of 16 when she made the movie. "Judy Garland was a typical teenager," Pellegrini recalls. "She was just as sweet as she could be and so friendly. She was as excited to be working with so many little people as we were excited about working with her."

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* "Memories of Oz" can be seen at 4:30 p.m. today, followed by "The Wizard of Oz" at 5 p.m. and "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: 50 Years of Magic" at 7 p.m. on TCM. "Memories" repeats at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday with "The Wizard of Oz" showing at 3 p.m.

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