03 March 2009

Passing of a Generation

Clarence Swensen, who played one of the Munchkin soldiers in the MGM Wizard of Oz, died on 25 February at the age of 91. This picture of flowers in his memory on the Munchkins' star in Hollywood's Walk of Fame comes from Karen Owen of Storyland Collectables.

I wrote about Swensen back here:

Those surviving Munchkin performers tend to have been in their late teens in 1938, when they shot their scene. That means they were about twenty years old when the Japanese military attacked Pearl Harbor, bringing the US into World War 2. The young men therefore faced the question of how to serve their country. But because of their height, they were all classified as 4-F, ineligible for military service.

If there's a Q&A session at a convention [about Oz], I ask the men about their experiences of the war, and the answers are usually quite interesting. . . .

Texan Clarence Swenson worked on repairing the radar equipment in planes at airbases in the US. He found that his small size gave him an advantage in reaching inside the nosecones, letting his crew avoid the delay of having another team come out to remove those cowlings and thus to cut the planes' time out of service.
Swensen was the last of the men who played Munchkin soldiers, I believe--certainly the last making public appearances.

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