On Wednesday, 89-year-old Margaret Pellegrini died. One of the three last remaining living Munchkins, Pellegrini had started making The Wizard Of Oz-related appearances in 1985, always enjoying her ongoing association with the movie. “It’s a living now, and I make more now than I did in the movie,” she told The Arizona Republic in 2009. “I made $50 a week. Toto made $125.”
Alabama native Pellegrini was born on September 23, 1923. At the age of 13, she went to Memphis to visit her sister. While handing out samples of her sister’s husband’s potato chips at the Tennessee State Fair, Pellegrini met Harry Kramer’s Midget Starlets, a touring company whose little people offered the young girl a job. She declined, but they passed her name around Hollywood, leading to MGM casting her two years later for The Wizard Of Oz. During eight weeks of rehearsal and filming, Pellegrini earned the nickname “Little Alabama” while playing the part known by Oz cultists as the “Flowerpot Hat Lady.” (She was also one of the “Sleepy Heads.”) Of her wages, Pellegrini told the Times Daily in 2001 that “I kept $5, I paid my agent $5, and I sent the rest of it home to my father. My father only made $5 a week working at the hotel, so we thought we were millionaires.”
Steve Chawkins’ obit at The Los Angeles Times offers a thorough round-up of Pellegrini’s post-Oz life, which included years of service as a department-store Santa’s helper in Chicago. Enthusiastic about her association with Oz, Pellegrini once estimated she made about five related appearances a year for a film she’d only thought of as a job while making it. Pellegrini’s two surviving Munchkin castmates, Ruth Duccini and Jerry Maren, now both in their 90s, most recently made the news earlier this year for condemning an effort following the death of Margaret Thatcher to have “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” rise to the top of the British singles charts in celebration.
Here’s an interview with Pellegrini, recorded earlier this year. “The Wizard Of Oz has been my life.” she says in it. “I had dreamed of going here, going there. I wanted this, I wanted that. Well, with all of this… I have seen the country, I have met friends, I have met people all over. If it hadn’t have been for The Wizard Of Oz, I don't know where I'd have been today.”