Margaret Pellegrini, one of last remaining Munchkins, dies in Arizona
Margaret Pellegrini, one of the last remaining Munchkins of the 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz” died Wednesday. She was 89.
Pellegrini, considered the youngest Munchkin, played both a Munchkin villager in a blue flowerpot hat and a sleepyhead, a pink-costumed character who awakened in a nest. She was a regular at the Oz Festival in Chesterton during its more than three-decade history.
Pellegrini died in a Phoenix, Ariz. nursing home, The Beautitudes Campus, following a series of strokes over the past several years.
Born Margaret Williams in Tuscumbia, Ala., Pellegrini had two children with her (now late) husband Willie Pellegrini. She resided in Chicago for several decades starting in the 1940s.
“The Flower Pot Girl is what they call me,” said Pellegrini with a laugh when she was interviewed from Arizona in 2010 for a Northbrook Star article. She was 15 years old and 3-feet-5-inches tall when she was cast in the film.
“Everybody asks, ‘Are you a movie star? You’re a legend!’ ” Pellegrini said. “But I say to people, ‘I’m no different than you. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.’
Pellegrini inspired memorabilia such as figurines, salt and pepper shakers and collectible gilded plates.
“She was discovered at a food fair (in Tennessee, 1930s) which featured my father and uncle’s potato chip company, Whitehead Potato Chips,” said Pellegrini’s niece Katherine Whitehead Angell of west suburban St. Charles. “She was helping at the booth.”
“I remember her bringing paper dolls to me in her upright travel trunk after her trip to Hollywood for Oz,” said Angell, who said her aunt took a train home to Memphis, then a bus to the Whitehead home with her gift from Hollywood.
At age 13, when Pellegrini was discovered, a movie scout asked for her address so the studios could contact her. Two years later, she received a letter inviting her on a train trip to Hollywood. Pellegrini was paid $50 per week for her movie role.
She often spoke of actress Judy Garland’s humility and kindness. She also joked to family members, that Toto the dog made more money starring in the movie than she did.
Pellegrini was interviewed on talk shows (Larry King Live) and was photographed in Las Vegas with CNN founder Ted Turner.
She often returned appearances in Chicago and Indiana. During those trips, her favorite meal request was a White Castle hamburger, which she kidded was a perfect size for her stature.
In addition to appearances on a Wheaton cable television show and the Muvico movie complex in Rosemont, she also appeared in Naperville at a toy shop to sign Madame Alexander collectible dolls. The “Oz Flower Munchkin” doll, introduced in 2000, does not carry Pellegrini’s name but is crafted in her likeness with a flowerpot hat and emerald fabric similar to her 1939 costume.
Pellegrini overcame two strokes before taking a 2007 road trip with her grandson when the Munchkins received their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
“I have to pinch myself to see if it’s true that I really am famous,” she said in 2010.
Funeral services are pending.
Correspondent Karie Angell Luc is the niece of Margaret Pellegrini.