The Culver Hotel and “The Wizard of Oz”

By Keldine Hull

August 25, 2019 will marked 80 years since Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s (MGM) classic “The Wizard of Oz”, starring Judy Garland, was released in theaters. The film resonated, garnering 19 award nominations and 9 wins including the Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song for “Over the Rainbow.” Audiences all over the world were taken from a land of black and white to full Technicolor as Dorothy followed the yellow brick road to Emerald City alongside unlikely companions- the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow (and of course Toto too).

While “The Wizard of Oz” took place somewhere over the rainbow (you may have heard of it once in a lullaby), filming occurred a lot closer to home at MGM’s Culver City Studio. In the 80 years since the world was introduced to the Lollipop Guild and Munchkinland on screen, rumors of complete mayhem and debauchery circulated about the 124 actors who played the Munchkins and their stay at the Culver Hotel.

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In a 1997 interview with the L.A. Times, Munchkin specialist and author of “The Munchkins of Oz” Stephen Cox said, “The rumors started years ago, that they just trashed the hotel and were swinging from the chandeliers. There were some parties, but nothing like Hollywood legend. I interviewed more than 30 of them, and they said that there wasn’t time for partying when they were making ‘The Wizard of Oz’.”

Nearly 60 years after filming, seven of the surviving Munchkin actors returned to the Culver Hotel for a three-day reunion. In May of last year, Jerry Maren, the last surviving Munchkin and member of the Lollipop Guild, passed away at the age of 99. In a 2011 interview for North Hollywood Patch, Maren said, “I’ve done so many things in show business but people say, ‘You were in the ‘Wizard of Oz’?’ It takes people’s breath away. But then I realized geez, it must have been a hell of a picture, because everyone remembers it everywhere I go.”

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