Certainly much of the mayhem ascribed to Munchkins off the set, much of which does not bear mentioning here, is the result of gross exaggeration. In the decades following the fiftieth anniversary of the movie, many of the surviving Munchkins worked to restore the reputations of the troupe as a whole. Jerry Maren, Margaret Pellegrini, Meinhardt Raabe, Clarence Swensen, and many others, as long as they lived, made personal appearances at Oz conventions and special showings of the MGM Wizard, often in costume. By their mere presence, they caused a lot of the scandalous rumors to shatter.
Only Maren, who is 94, survives now, and his memories are of being enthralled to be in the company of so many Little People; he had never known there were so many like him. At the age of eighteen, he was the youngest of the Munchkins, and like many of the little men on the set, he had a crush on Judy Garland. The star’s regard for the Munchkins was just as great. She saw no difference between them and any other fellow performers on the picture, and was especially friendly to those in her age range.
(It is possible that her own diminutive size– the tallest Munchkin was only a little more than a foot shorter than her– made her more sympathetic to them and the difficulties they had living in a world made for taller people.)
Boston-born Maren, who hadn’t ever read– or even heard of– The Wonderful Wizard of Oz— had cut his film acting teeth in two productions when he got the job which he is still astonished people remember so well. He added his own flourish; during one rehearsal, he handed Garland the giant lollipop and then clasped his hands over his head and shook them like a winning prizefighter. Victor Fleming loved the ad lib and told Maren to keep it in.
In response to the rumors of wild parties and boozing, Maren has said that there was some off-set imbibing, citing the German and Irish heritage of some of the men, but the stories of the little performers whooping it up every night are nonsense. The rigorous filming schedule made such activity impossible, in any case.
Another fact Maren revealed in a 2011 interview was that to a Munchkin, everyone on the set was in terror of Margaret Hamilton. She was evidently in character as the Wicked Witch of the West from the moment the cameras rolled, and the fear and screaming of the inhabitants of Munchkinland was not all acting. Apparently, the more superstitious members of the Singer Midgets believed her to be a real witch!
Like Ray Bolger, who was to reprise his Scarecrow role later in life, Maren once more played a Munchkin in the 1990 telefilm The Dreamer of Oz, which starred John Ritter as L. Frank Baum and featured fantasy sequences set in Oz. He and his late, beloved wife Elizabeth Barrington played “Mr. and Mrs. Munchkin.”