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Painting by Lindsay Cunningham

Did you know some 7 million people sailed on a cruise in 2001? But, not all cruises are gigantic floating-resort types of trips, where you run laps and hit golf balls off the A deck, swim and sunbathe on the B deck, and eat and cha-cha-cha on the C deck. There are specialty theme cruises for people interested in astronomy or cooking classes or ballroom dancing -- or, as Alix Spiegel discovered, one that seems pretty eccentric, but actually touches a chord in Americans across many generations.

Munchkins of Oz Cruise

By Alix Spiegel, 7/19/2002

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Meinhardt Raabe

While they were just $50-a-week film extras 63 years ago, now, the diminutive actors of the "Munchkin Cruise" are, literally, heroes, the last living links to a very particular American legend -- the legend of Oz. This is the Second Annual Munchkins Cruise -- 7 nights and 8 days aboard the Costa Atlantica with 4 of the 10 remaining Munchkins of Oz. There are daily public appearances, photo ops, and nightly dinners with the wrinkled celebrity Munchkin of your choice: Karl Slover the first trumpter; Clarence Swenson, the soldier; Margaret Pellegrini, the "sleepy head"; and, Meinhardt Raabe, the Munchkin Cornoner.

So, beyond, the remarkable kitsch value of the cruise -- and understandable opportunity for obsessed fans to hobnob with Oz famosos -- why would you go on the Munchkins Cruise?

Contributor Alix Spiegel, who went on the cruise, made friends with people in curling elfin shoes and Munchkin ties, and reported back to us, explains it this way:

"The 50 odd passengers who've signed up for this tour -- all of them white, most of them over the age of 40 -- are here because they believe in what has been described to me repeatedly as the message of Oz: that the qualities we most desire -- courage, wisdom, love -- can be found within us, and more importantly, that the best place in the world is our own back yard. It's a message, they say, they don't hear frequently enough in the modern media: loud movies with filthy language, and a dark pessimism that frightens them. And, so, they've paid a fair amount -- a couple thousand dollars -- for a vacation from the cynicism of the 21 century for a chance to brush elbows with Karl and Clarence, Margaret and Meinhardt -- artifacts, they believe, of a much better time."

OK, that makes sense. The Munchkins travel around the country, from Oz event to Oz event, dressed in reproductions of the costumes they wore in "The Wizard of Oz," meeting, greeting and signing autographs for adoring fans of all ages and ethnicities -- and, when the surviving Munchkins go on a cruise, devotees flock.

Margaret Pellegrini

So, beyond endless buffets of rack of lamb, games of shuffleboard and on-deck gambling, what is there to do on the cruise? Well, you can hear true tales about the making of the "Wizard of Oz: "the graciousness of Judy Garland" stories and the "catastrophes on set" stories; "the big-time stars I saw in the cafeteria" stories;" and then, of course, all the Munchkins talk about their personal histories, before rising from their chairs to perform Oz-related tidbits.

Clarence Swenson

But besides learning behind-the-scenes facts about the film, and information about where the Munchkins came from, contributor Alix spent some time with the actors themselves and got a peek into who the people who played the Munchkins really are -- a privilege usually reserved solely for their friends, family and the Munchkinites who love them (the fans who transcend "fandom" and become almost like family).

Savvy Resources:


Writer Chip Rowe's review of The Munchkins of Oz by Stephen Cox

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