[Above: In December 1938, Munchkin townswoman Olga Nardone posed on the Yellow Brick Road in front of one of the huts on THE WIZARD OF OZ set. Her companion for posterity? That first-class, first rank MGM star, Myrna Loy – among countless Metro employees who found their way to an adjacent soundstage to visit more than one-hundred-twenty “little people” of OZ. It’s safe to say that no one among the participants in that production had any idea it would become the most widely-seen and most beloved motion picture in history.]
She was the tiniest of all the Munchkins in MGM’s THE WIZARD OF OZ – less than three feet tall. Because of her extreme diminutive stature, undeniable beauty and charm, and (at age seventeen) her already-veteran standing as a theatrical entertainer, she was cast in three different roles in the film. As a townswoman (wearing the garb she sports in the photo above), she was the first Munchkin to creep from the foliage when Glinda (Billie Burke) beckoned, “Come out, come out, wherever you are . . . .” She was the first “Sleepyhead” to be roused from egg and nest by her singing and cavorting cohorts; finally (and principally!) she was the “Lullaby League” ballerina in the middle.
And yet . . . Olga Nida Carmona Nardone did not want to participate in THE WIZARD OF OZ. Post-filming, she retreated to and pretty much remained in the New England area and her family’s house. In 1985 (and continuing until 2013), Oz festivals and Oz conventions all over the United States began welcoming and heralding the surviving Munchkins as special guests. But the quiet and almost reclusive Olga stayed home with those she loved and those who loved her.
[Above: Olga in a close-up portrait.]
Now, thanks to the generosity of her niece, Karen Nardone Lemons, visitors to the OZ Museum in Wamego, KS, can learn more about Olga than perhaps anyone else – outside her family -- ever before has. A number of definitive treasures, provided by Ms. Lemons, trace much of the miniature maiden’s theatrical history, with a special nod to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s fabled production 1060.
A bit of background, though, before the actual annotation of these Treasures from the OZ Museum. Olga was born in Newton, MA, on June 8, 1921 -- making her exactly one year and two days older than Judy Garland herself. Her parents, Louise and Leonardo B. Nardone, had other children, providing Olga with an extended family: both an older and younger sister and a younger brother, all of whom grew to normal sizes.
It was not only Olga’s lack of stature that marked her for an early stage career. The little girl definitely possessed multi-talents, easily recognized and encouraged by her mother, father, and siblings. She could act, dance (ballet and tap), and play the harmonica; her stage names eventually included “Little Olga,” “Princess Olga,” and “Tiny Olga.” Yet when the teenager’s agent learned of MGM’s interest in her for OZ, Olga – by her own admission -- had to be “talked into it. I did not want to go. My sister, Olinda, came with me, because I told my family I wouldn’t go unless [she did].” Also along for the cross-country journey to Culver City, CA, was Olga’s dancing teacher, Mildred Sacco, who additionally accompanied the girl to the OZ set and wound up as an occasional coach for the entire Munchkin troupe.
[Above: Fresh from the egg! Sleepyhead Olga, at left, rubs her eyes and gets out of bed at the sung imploration of her friends.]
Fortunately for fans, Olga would be frequently visible in the movie, as well as in production stills and in the behind-the-scenes publicity pictures that were taken during filming. She returned to her home in Massachusetts immediately thereafter, however, and resumed her stage and vaudeville career. In the process, she happily added a new routine to her act: a brief ballet sequence that presented Olga as a coryphée, dressed in a WIZARD OF OZ pink dress and shoes. She later wrote to the MGM Studios Chief of Police -- with whom she’d made friends during the seven weeks of OZ work -- that the new number was very popular with her audiences.
[Above: The Lullaby League curtseys its gratitude to Dorothy Gale; from left, Nita Krebs, Olga Nardone, and Yvonne Moray.]
Olga passed away at her home in Nonantum, MA, on September 24, 2010; she was eighty-nine. As noted above, the theatrical effects in her estate were left to her niece Karen, and as explained by Clint Stueve, Executive Director of the OZ Museum, “I was the one who originally communicated with [Olga’s] family. Her niece, Karen, had already visited the OZ Museum, so she knew about us. At that time, I wanted to put together a display to highlight the fact that many of the Munchkin actors worked in entertainment both prior to and after the MGM film.
“When Karen first looked into the career items Olga left her, they were in boxes in a closet. Knowing her aunt was involved in THE WIZARD OF OZ, Karen had a strong desire to share these things with the public, and she sought us out to see if we would be interested in any of [them] . . . feeling it would be the best place to reach those who loved OZ and Olga. The items included not only [Olga’s stage and vaudeville] costumes, hats, and shoes, but family photos, letters, early work documents, a makeup case, travel chair, suitcases, etc. So I politely requested Olga's travel suitcase, postcards, costumes, and any other items that related to her time on stage. This all took place in the fall of 2015, and the family visited shortly after the boxes arrived. I set up the current display so that Karen could see it for their visit that November.”
[Above: This snapshot was taken during Olga’s last official duty for MGM before retreating to her Massachusetts home and family. She, several of the other Munchkin actors, and the doubles for the four stars all proudly rode together on the promotional WIZARD OF OZ float in the fiftieth annual Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, CA, on January 2, 1939. The three Munchkin women wave from the “back door”; Olga is shown center, and the tallest of the Lullaby League trio, Nita Krebs – also dressed here in her townswoman wardrobe – is at left.]
The saga of Olga’s memorabilia is continued by superlative OZ Museum curator and onsite historian, Chris Glasgow: “It’s common knowledge in the [extended Nardone] family that Olga’s mother, Louise, a noted seamstress, made all of her daughter’s performance costumes, due to her diminutive size. Included among Olga’s costumes is a pink ballet dress and toe shoes, which -- according to the family history – were the costume and shoes worn in the 1939 film. However, there is nothing I have found in writing to substantiate that this costume was the one used by MGM. The inside of the costume neckline could have had a tag on it in the past, but it is not there now.”
[Above: Olga’s “Lullaby League” ballerina wardrobe at the OZ Museum in Wamego. Whether this was done by Adrian and MGM for the film -- or expertly copied a few months later by Olga’s extraordinary seamstress mother – remains a happy mystery. There’s no question, however, that the delicate and awe-inspiring costume is some eighty years old and was worn by the originator of the role.]
When I asked further specific questions about the costume, Clint responded, “I would have no problem with you representing the dress as a replica made by Olga's mom for her stage show, since there is no definitive proof it IS the MGM dress. However, you might want to include the family story of the dress and leave it as a currently unsolved mystery?”
(Note to Clint and Chris: As you can see, I did -- and gleefully so! Oz mysteries are rampant and always among the very best! 😊 )
Regardless, he gratefully concludes, “I can strongly and proudly tout the Nardone’s family's connection to -- and pride, faith, and trust in -- the OZ Museum!”
Chris adds some final facts about the Museum’s access to the delightful Nardone collection: “The dress and some other items are on permanent loan to the Museum. However, over half of what Karen brought us was given as a direct donation, so it now belongs to us outright. She very graciously gave much of this -- including wardrobe, travel accessories, and correspondence from Olga’s career -- to the OZ Museum.”
However, it’s very important to depart from all of this Treasure touting and broach both a serious and time-sensitive issue. The OZ Museum has a present challenge, specifically attendant to the pink Nardone ballerina costume. At its age, and in its use as stage wear over who-knows-how-many-years, it is in serious want of reclamation, restoration, and preservation. “It needs repairs,” states Clint bluntly, “and we are endeavoring to raise matching funds to see to this process as soon as is possible. Of course, our intention is to restore the costume either way. If it is not the costume from the film, it is like the other Munchkin ‘traveling festival costumes’ we have in the collection – except for the extremely important fact that those date from the 1990s and into the 2000s. The ballerina outfit is much, much older.
“Whether it’s from the film or from Olga’s immediately subsequent continuation of her stage work, it sheds light on her life and gives a visual to her size at the time of the filming – for ‘scale purposes’ for our visitors. We have hopes that our efforts to sustain it will be both grant-supported and result in matching funds.”
Meanwhile, my thanks to OZ Museum curator Chris Glasgow, whose independent research contributed much to this account; to Clint Stueve; to Museum honcho Katlyn Stubbeman; and to Marketing whiz Emma Hays – all of whom made immeasurable contributions to the November blog.
[Above: Olga’s chair – as befitting the trouper she was and the legend she became and remains.]
But let’s give Olga – by all means – the last word.
In a rare interview in 2007, she reiterated the fact that she had no desire to trundle cross-country to appear in OZ. “But,” she added, “now I am glad I went!” 😊
So are countless billions of OZ fans all over the globe.
Article by John Fricke