[Above: This classic, behind-the-scenes shot was taken in Oz at the border of Munchkinland. Or -- if you’re a stickler for reality (that vastly overrated concept) – it was taken in December 1938 on Stage 27 of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios in Culver City, CA. The full-size people are THE WIZARD OF OZ producer Mervyn LeRoy, director Victor Fleming (holding Terry-as-Toto), and star Judy Garland. The Munchkins clustered around them here include such stalwarts as (left front foreground) “fiddler” Mickey Carroll, “Lollipop Guild” rep Jerry Maren, diminutive Olga Nardone; Hazel Resmondo (in the background, between Judy and Fleming); and Fern Formica and Nita Krebs (second and fourth from the right; Fern mostly obscured but for her face, and Nita, full-length, to Fern’s right). In addition to their townswomen roles, the Misses Nardone and Krebs also appeared as two of the “Lullaby League” toe-shoe trio. For our purposes, however, the most interesting person in this photo can be seen at the top right; please keep reading!]
This month’s blog has a duo purpose – and offers a double celebration! On behalf of Wamego, we examine one of their brand-new (but vintage!) “Treasures from the OZ Museum,” AND we herald its debut exhibition as one of many special features at the 2021 OZtoberFest, Saturday, October 2nd!
“Little person” Prince Dennis, proudly wearing his Munchkin sergeant-at-arms coat, can be seen at several moments in MGM’s THE WIZARD OF OZ film. On foot, he precedes Dorothy’s honor carriage and the parade of soldiers when the Kansas girl is escorted to meet the Munchkinland Mayor and City Fathers. At the end of the Mayor’s speech, he can be seen in long-shot, mounting the stairs leading to town hall and doing a military turn to face the soldiers and populace from the platform. A few moments later, he stands to Judy’s right during the greetings she receives from “The Lullaby League” and “The Lollipop Guild” -- and then is one of the honor guard, escorting the girl back to Glinda. (At the appearance of the Wicked Witch of the West, Denis scampers down screen and off-camera, in the general director of the Munchkinland border!) Finally, as the sequence concludes, he’s positioned in the watchtower (top right, as in the photo above) and – in return to Judy’s wave and brightening smile -- brandishes his saber in salutation of the Munchkins’ “national heroine” as she departs “to see the Wizard.”
In case you haven’t already guessed, it’s the Adrian-designed, MGM sergeant-at-arms jacket worn by Prince Denis that the OZ Museum now delightfully claims as its latest Treasure! Executive Director Clint Stueve represented the Museum during the “Icons & Legends of Hollywood” auction held on September 25th-26th, 2019, by Profiles in History, and he made the winning bid of $22,500 for the sergeant-at-arms coat. While awaiting its delivery to Kansas, Clint then made arrangements with Melanie Sanford of Conserving Threads in Texas to clean, repair as possible, and create the body form that would best display, protect, and preserve the costume for the OZ Museum.
[Above: The Munchkin sergeant-at-arms jacket was made of orange and white felt, with beige fringe accents along the shoulder pad/boards. Eighty-three years have passed since its creation and first-use, which accounts for some deterioration in the line of fabric holes, loose stitching, and fading color (particularly the orange dyes). The jacket boasts long sleeves, tails, a high collar, and an open front; for its display at the OZ Museum, it now also includes a presentation body form, a white undervest, and a black adjustable stand. The glimpses of the jacket here are – admittedly – designed to tantalize readers into attending OZtoberFest on October 2nd to see the whole thing! Or to plan an Ozzy jaunt to Wamego when they can. 😊 ]
The costume was hand-delivered by Clint to Texas at the end of 2019, but the expected turnaround time to achieve the necessary work was much delayed by the pandemic. However, in May 2021, Clint drove down to Texas to retrieve it, and according to OZ Museum curator, Chris Glasgow, the jacket was “received and inspected at the OZ Museum on May 22.” She enthusiastically notes that Melanie Sanford “has been doing a fantastic job on [the restoration of] our pieces.”
Finally, Chris adds that -- as with the other original MGM Munchkin costumes in the collection of the OZ Museum -- the sergeant-at-arms jacket retains its “original MGM bias tape tag . . . but the handwritten name is so badly faded, it is illegible.” (Please see photo below.)
And the man who wore it? Prince Denis was born in Bidache, France (as Denis Bernatets) on January 26, 1892. He and his two sisters – also “little people” – began performing in sideshows and circuses as preteens and emigrated to the United States as young adults. Eventually, he, his sister Marie Winters, and his wife Ethel all appeared as Munchkins in THE WIZARD OF OZ; “Little Denny,” as he was nicknamed was then three feet, eleven inches tall, and weighed eighty pounds. After years of touring, the Denises retired to Phoenix, where Ethel passed away in 1968. Prince died there, as well, on June 21, 1984, and came in for an apparently premeditated bit of late-life fame. He had, for a number of years, claimed to have played the Munchkin Mayor in the OZ film, and that bit of misinformation was carried in his obituaries – even that in THE NEW YORK TIMES. The TIMES also took other elements of the Denis revised bio as fact; for some time, he had been giving his birth year as 1900, when it was really 1892. Here’s their actual headline from page twenty-four on June 24, 1984:
Denis’s brash statement was pretty much everywhere accepted as fact – except by other surviving Munchkins, who knew better! Then Steve Cox researched and wrote THE MUNCHKINS REMEMBER . . . THE WIZARD OF OZ AND BEYOND (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1989). Thanks to Steve, the Denis subterfuge was finally revealed, and Charlie Becker received his rightful due as the Munchkinland Mayor. Cox’s work has since been much expanded and augmented; in its most recent edition as THE MUNCHKINS OF OZ (Nashville: Cumberland House, 2002), the investigative journalist reveals the names of several other gentlemen who made similar assertions about portraying the Mayor: Billy Curtis and Tommy Cottonaro -- who did appear as other Munchkins -- and Dennis Binion, who was not even in the film! Meanwhile, across the years, Munchkin “fiddler” and “townsman” Mickey Carroll also made several outrageous self-proclamations; pending which picture he was asked to autograph, Carroll at times claimed to have played either the Mayor or the Coroner.
[Above: Prince and Ethel Denis, circa 1950.]
The bottom line, however, is that Prince Denis’s sergeant-at-arms Munchkin jacket will make its restored debut as one of the newest Treasures from the OZ Museum at OZtoberFest! on Saturday, October 2nd. At the same time, the prop “OZ key” from Disney’s RETURN TO OZ will also be unveiled. Please visit and watch the OZ Museum Facebook page for specifics and further information -- as well as the Museum’s hours of operation (and ongoing pandemic stipulations and suggestions) for the weekend of October 1st-3rd.
Meanwhile, for those planning to attend – or who might be inspired to attend -- here’s some additional information about the Ozziest activities of Saturday, which have now been confirmed:
SPECIAL GUEST EVENTS SCHEDULE:
10:00 a.m. (in front of The Columbian Theater) -- Emcee John Fricke introduces the special guests and discusses the day’s activities to come.
10:30 a.m. (location to be announced) -- John Fricke unveils and provides brief back-stories about some new and magical Treasures from the OZ Museum!
11:00 a.m. (Columbian Theatre) -- MEET GABRIEL (AGES OF OZ) GALE! Hear about his lifelong Oz enthusiasms and excitement, his books about (and amazing drawings of) the characters, and watch him create and illustrate a brand new mythical beast of Oz in front of your eyes!
12:30 p.m. (Columbian Theatre) -- KEYNOTE EVENT! THE ART OF OZ: PREMIERE PREVIEW PRESENTATION! Be the FIRST to hear GABRIEL GALE & JOHN FRICKE -- in person! -- discuss their deluxe new coffee table book, in which the Gale artwork is accompanied by Fricke's interviews with famous Oz characters. ADVANCE ORDERS FOR “THE ART OF OZ” WILL BE TAKEN ON OCT. 2; RECEIVE A PERSONALLY SIGNED AUTHORS' BOOKPLATE ON THAT DAY TO TAKE WITH YOU. (Books will be shipped in late October.)
1:00 p.m. (The OZ Museum) – JOHNPAUL CAFIERO’S PERSONAL TOUR! The man whose collection (along with that of his family) makes up much of the extraordinary holdings of the OZ Museum.
1:30 p.m. (Columbian Theatre) -- BOOK SIGNING WITH GABRIEL GALE & JOHN FRICKE.
2:30 p.m. (Columbian Theatre) – JOHNPAUL CAFIERO PRESENTS “THE SPIRITUAL JOURNEY – REFLECTIONS FROM THE WIZARD OF OZ.” The highly-respected Franciscan Priest is the perfect guide for a specialized and informed view of L. Frank Baum’s wonderful world and characters.
3:30 p.m. (Columbian Theatre) -- MGM'S THE WIZARD OF OZ: THE SCENES THEY DIDN'T FILM -- AND WHY WE'RE GLAD! The world's foremost OZ movie and Judy Garland historian, JOHN FRICKE, talks about all the weird (but NOT wonderful) ideas for scenes, songs, and Ozians that ALMOST made it to the screen.
4:30 p.m. (Columbian Theatre) -- THE WONDERFUL PANEL OF OZ! Enjoy time with all of our special guests -- JOHNPAUL CAFIERO, JOHN FRICKE, and GABRIEL GALE -- and ask questions about Oz books, Oz entertainments, Oz collecting, Oz publishing . . . anything OZZY!
There’s not a lot of space left here in which to tell you more about the virtually countless and actual city-wide, outdoor and indoor events that are scheduled for OZtoberFest Saturday. Of course, all Wamego will be decked out with glorious activities that day and evening, so please go to Google and investigate OZtoberFest 2021 for information about contests, competitions, live music, food, exhibitions, and all the rest! It’ll be – as ever – a glorious day for all ages, all culinary tastes, all collectors and “craft-ers” . . . and any and all children.
Or any and all people who used to be children! 😊
P.S. My heartfelt (and alphabetical!) thanks to all who contributed information, research, and art to this month’s blog: Steve Cox, Chris Glasgow, Emma Hayes, Katlyn Stubbeman, and Clint Stueve!
Article by John Fricke