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PASSINGS / Clarence Swensen

Munchkin actor in 'Wizard of Oz'

March 02, 2009|Times staff and wire reports

Clarence Swensen, 91, who played a Munchkin soldier in the 1939 classic "The Wizard of Oz," died Wednesday, according to a funeral home in Pflugerville, Texas, where he lived.

Swensen, who was an electronics technician, had been in poor health since suffering a stroke in 2005, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

Swensen had regularly attended Wizard of Oz festivals. He was among seven of the surviving actors who played the inhabitants of Munchkinland who were present when the Munchkins received a collective star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2007.

A native of Austin, Texas, Swensen wasn't allowed to attend public school until he was 9 years old because of his size. He eventually reached the height of 4 feet 6 inches.

In the late 1930s, he joined the Stanley R. Graham All Midget Circus troupe, which performed at the Texas State Fairgrounds in Dallas. It eventually led to an offer from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to play a Munchkin, earning a salary of $700.

"And we worked hard -- 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. -- but it was fun," Swensen said.

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