Aug 7, 2015
[From left: Karl Slover, Margaret Pellegrini, Lewis Croft, and Myrna and Clarence Swensen hover over John Fricke at the Chesterton, Indiana, Oz Festival, circa 1992. All but Myrna (and Fricke!) appeared in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s THE WIZARD OF OZ in 1939. Lewis’ original soldier jacket – and the type of duplicate costumes worn here by Margaret and Clarence – are part of a new treasure trove of additions to The OZ Museum in Wamego; information below! And Myrna herself will be on hand to participate in the unveiling and “premiere” of the new pieces during OZtoberFest Weekend, September 25th-27th.]
Greetings, once again, from The Wonderful World of Oz!
As was intimated when my part in this series of blogs came to a conclusion in June, there already existed a lurking possibility that I'd be back. And with all due gratitude and respect to The OZ Museum of Wamego, we're now once more off to see (and read and discuss) Dorothy, The Wizard & Co. -- in many of their diverse permutations!
Things will be a bit different this go-round, as the current schedule here doesn't permit the sheer volume I personally tossed at any readers across the initial fifty-two weeks in 2014-2015. However, for the next year, I'll be posting on the first Friday of every month to offer Ozzy current events and/or Oz history -- and then again on the fourth Friday of every month to participate in some Oz trivia. (Details to come!) Representatives of The OZ Museum and their guest columnists will “write here” on the other Fridays, thus insuring a regular flow of communication and joy-oz-ness.
Meanwhile, there could be no more exciting way for me to launch this second journalistic sequence than by sharing the remarkable “breaking news” in the press release below. Just keep reading, and I think you’ll both see what I mean – and agree. (Then, as soon as you’re finished, make those travel plans to join in a way-beyond-magical OZtoberFest in Wamego on September 26th and 27th!)
With, as ever, my appreciation to all who here partake of the general Ozziness!
For Immediate Release (August 7, 2015):
TWO RARE, ORIGINAL “MUNCHKIN COSTUMES” FROM THE WIZARD OF OZ MOTION PICTURE ADDED TO THE HOLDINGS OF WAMEGO’S OZ MUSEUM
“LITTLE FIDDLER” AND “SOLDIER” JACKETS WORN IN THE JUDY GARLAND MOVIE CLASSIC TO BE UNVEILED AND EXHIBITED DURING THE ANNUAL OZTOBERFEST WEEKEND, SEPTEMBER 25th-27th
(Wamego, KS) Some extraordinary pieces of motion picture history have found their way over the rainbow and back to Kansas.
Two colorful felt jackets worn in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, are being added to the thousands of items held and displayed by The OZ Museum in Wamego. The rare wardrobe pieces were purchased last December during the “TCM (Turner Classic Movies) Presents… There’s No Place Like Hollywood” auction at New York’s Bonhams galleries and will be unveiled and exhibited for the first time as the highlight of Wamego’s annual OZtoberFest weekend, September 25-27th.
Designed in 1938 by legendary couturier/costumer Gilbert Adrian, the orange and cream “little fiddler” coat and the green, yellow, and beige “soldier” jacket were created for Munchkin cast members to wear during the sequence in which Judy Garland (as “Dorothy Gale from Kansas”) is first welcomed to The Land of Oz. Approximately 124 “little people” – as they liked to be termed – worked as Munchkins in the Oz movie. A couple of dozen appeared as soldiers, escorting Garland to an audience with their city officials; five others “played” as violinists who musically accompanied the girl to their border with a rendition of “You’re Off to See the Wizard.”
The two Munchkin costumes will debut during an invitational reception and “reveal gala” in The Columbian Theatre Gallery on Friday, September 25th. At that time, Myrna Swensen (widow of Oz “Munchkin Soldier” Clarence Swensen) will unveil the two pieces, assisted by preeminent Oz/Garland historian John Fricke. Fricke also will emcee OZtoberFest events from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, September 26th and 27th at The OZ Museum, where the classic outfits go on display to the public for the first time.
During the Friday evening festivities, Swensen and Fricke will unveil two additional costumes, as well, respectively worn in recent years by Swensen’s husband and Munchkin “flowerpot hat” dancer Margaret Pellegrini. These replicas of their original Munchkin wardrobe were prepared for them for appearances at nationwide Oz festivals in the 1990s and 2000s; both were popular OZtoberFest attendees across some of those years. (Pellegrini died in 2013, Swensen in 2009. His costume is a gift to The OZ Museum from his wife and their family; Pellegrini’s is drawn from the holdings of Johnpaul Cafiero, whose family’s 25,000-item Oz collection rotates through The OZ Museum as the core of its ongoing exhibition.)
Another presentation will precede the Swensen/Fricke Friday ceremonies, as Columbian Theatre Foundation board member Corey Reeves shares the rendering of the new façade for The OZ Museum itself. The $150,000 building project is now in its fund-raising stages, and the September 25th event is planned as a promotional effort to encourage and enlist financial interest and support from local businesses, contributors, and entrepreneurs. The Columbian Theatre Foundation is the umbrella organization for both the theatre and The OZ Museum.
Given the intervening seventy-six years and the ongoing fame and mystique of Oz, surviving costumes from the movie are both extremely difficult to find and rabidly collected. News of Wamego’s acquisitions was kept under wraps until this week, and both pieces already have undergone restoration and preservation precautions at the hands of a professional conservator.
Each of the original Munchkin costumes won at the Bonhams auction bears a sewn-in name tag. The “fiddler” cloak was designed for “Eugine [sic] David,” the soldier jacket for “Lewis Croft.” Both men long since have been confirmed as active participants in the Oz film; Eugene’s brother, Eulie, was also a little person and appeared as a Munchkin solider. It is thought that both of the Davids died sometime in the 1970s; Croft passed away in 2008.
[NOTE: Both 1939 Oz costumes will be on exhibition for OZtoberFest weekend. Thereafter, they will alternate on a six-month basis and only one at a time will be displayed in The OZ Museum.]
Admittance to The OZ Museum is $10 per person for adults; $8 per person for children (12 and under), and for students and military personnel with I.D. In addition to visiting the museum’s ongoing, extensive archive of some 2500 ever-changing items, attendees of OZtoberFest on Saturday, September 26 and Sunday, September 27th, are welcome to enjoy Oz-related presentations by Swensen, Cafiero, and Fricke, featuring unique Oz video clips and photographs.
The Wizard of Oz first premiered in August 1939 and has since become a cornerstone of American popular culture. As early as 1970, it was estimated that more people had seen Oz in theatres and on television than any other entertainment in history. Now, thanks to home video and additional network and cable telecasts, The Wizard of Oz is more familiar to more people than any other motion picture.
Only one of the little people who appeared as Munchkins in the film is still alive: Jerry Maren, the “Lollipop Guild” member who presented Dorothy with a giant sucker, lives in retirement in Southern California at age 95. (A half-dozen of the women who, as professional child dancers, “filled in” the Munchkinland Plaza in the movie also are alive, although they now are normally-sized adults.)
For further information about The OZ Museum and OZtoberFest, please call or write Clint Stueve, Executive Director, The Columbian Theatre Foundation, Inc.:
Article by John Fricke