The Munchkins Return to the Culver Hotel

             by Elaine Willingham

            Click on image for larger view.
Over Halloween weekend 1997, the Munchkins returned to Culver City, California and reopened the Culver Hotel; it was their first time back there in fifty-nine years. The event was sponsored by Beyond the Rainbow. Six of the original Munchkins received a warm welcome from Culver City officials as they entered the grand lobby. This hotel was home to many of the Munchkins in 1938 as they filmed The Wizard of Oz at MGM Studios less than two blocks away. Here the new owners Rudy Lu and Abraham Hu welcome them to the hotel.
Munchkin Mickey Carroll greets Robert, Clare, and Florence Baum at one of the evening festivities. Florence a granddaughter and Robert a great-grandson of L. Frank Baum. Both Mickey and the Baum's were thrilled to finally meet in person at long last. Robert Baum had phoned and thanked Mickey on behalf of his family during the Dorothy Gage memorial project.
Ozma Baum Mantele, the granddaughter of L. Frank Baum accompanied Robert, Clare and Florence, here we were photographed with Wendy Thomas, a reporter from the Culver City Chronicle who was instrumental in making this event go on as scheduled.
While the Munchkins were in Culver City they were asked to share their remembrances with representatives of the Culver City Historical Society. Separate videotaped interviews were conducted with each of them. The Historical Society representatives arranged a special tour for the Munchkins, myself, and my team -- Tina and Andy Cassimatis, Steve Cox and Kurt Raymond at Sony Studios, formerly MGM Studios. We were taken to the door of Stage 27, where The Wizard of Oz was filmed in 1938.
Cameras rolled as the Munchkins reminisced about the costumes, makeup, lights - and what is was like working with Judy Garland, Margaret Hamilton and Billie Burke. Here the five -- Mickey Carroll, Jerry Maren, Margaret Pellegrini, Clarence Swensen and Karl Slover stood at the door of Stage 27, Ruth Duccini stayed back at the hotel that day to nurse a bad cold. What an experience that must have been for them to go back to the place where their Oz adventure began, so many years ago.
Actress Lois January made her reunion debut at Oz Rendezvous. Lois was in the Emerald City sequences of the film. Here she is holding a still from the scene and is pointing to where she is visible in the shot. Lois, like the munchkins offers autographed photos and was signing droves of them throughout the weekend. Actress and dance coach Dona Massin was invited as well, but due to an illness was unable to attend.
At times the event was a roller coaster ride for us, as the hotel changed ownership three times after the original reservations and arrangements were made. The hotel experienced some unexpected setbacks, but thanks to some wonderful and supportive individuals in Culver City--Wendy Thomas, Randy Joseph, and Jay Handal--everything fell into place. We had to make some changes in our original plans, but with the wonderful Oz volunteers who stepped in and helped and the great Oz fans who traveled from all points to come, we had a great time. Due to the historic importance of this reunion we received incredible media coverage, but the most thrilling moments came when we heard we were on the front page of the National News section of the New York Times, on the New York Times Web site, and in the Best of 1997 issue of Entertainment Weekly.
The complete story of this historic reunion is documented in the winter 1997 issue of Beyond the Rainbow Collector's Exchange. Back issues are still available--check it out in our Archives section.

E! Online “Munchkins Gather for Mini-Reunion”




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