Margaret Pellegrini, a "Wizard of Oz" munchkin, died Wednesday at her Glendale, Ariz., home. She was 89.
Pellegrini, who was just 4 feet tall, was one of the last of the 124 little people who played the enduring Munchkins in the 1939 iconic film "The Wizard of Oz," the Los Angeles Times reported
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Pellegrini had been in declining health since suffering a stroke in March, according to Colleen Zimmer, an organizer of the annual Oz-Stravaganza festival in Chittenango, N.Y., the birthplace of author L. Frank Baum, who wrote the book "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" that inspired the film.
Pellegrini's worsening health prevented the 89-year-old from being this year's grand marshal at the annual event, Zimmer added. In her place, six Girl Scouts marched in the parade, with three dressing as "flowerpot" Munchkins and three as "sleepyhead" Munchkins, both roles Pellegrini played in the film, the Los Angeles Times notes.
The Alabama-born Pellegrini grew up in Tuscumbia, a small town 225 miles northwest of Atlanta that is also the birth place of Helen Keller.
Pellegrini was discovered when she was 13 years old, while handing out potato chips at the Tennessee State Fair. Members of Henry Kramer's Midgets, a circus troupe, approached her and asked her if she ever considered a career in show business, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Within two years, Pellegrini had an agent and was working in the MGM film that made her famous.
She worked on "The Wizard of Oz" set for just two months but cherished the experience well into her 80s.
In a 2009 interview with the Arizona Republic, Pellegrini said she never got tired of being referred to as a munchkin
and would often wear her blue flowerpot, which she said became her "trademark."
In the interview, Pellegrini said that children would often come up to her and say, "'Look at the little grandma' or 'look at the little munchkin.'"
"Mothers will tell the kid to not say that but I say, 'That's OK.' I tell them I was a munchkin in the "Wizard of Oz." I have made lots of friends and meet lots of people at events. I enjoy meeting everyone," she said.
According to Pellegrini, she was paid $50 a week for her work in the movie, while Dorothy's dog Toto made $125 per week.
Pellegrini also debunked the urban legend that a Munchkin died on the set during filming.
"A maintenance man was up on a stepladder and something fell behind the curtain," Pellegrini told the Arizona Republic. "He was up there with his hand, trying to get it out and they snagged it. It looked like someone had hung themselves."
And contrary to popular belief, the munchkins didn't sing in the movie.
''They were adults, dubbed in,'' she said. ''They just played the record faster so their voices would sound high.''
According to Oz-Stravaganza festival organizer Colleen Zimmer, only two other actors who portrayed Munchkins in the film are still alive.
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