How many little people were used in The Wizard of Oz?

The Wizard of Oz is one of the most iconic and beloved films in cinema history. Released in 1939, it was one of the first major Technicolor films and became an instant classic. But behind the magic and wonder of the Land of Oz lies some fascinating facts about how the film was made. One of the most intriguing aspects is the use of little people, also known as dwarfs or midgets, to play the Munchkins and other characters.

Why Were Little People Cast?

In L. Frank Baum’s original 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, it is mentioned that the Munchkins are “about as tall as Dorothy, who was a well-grown child for her age, although they were, so far as looks go, many years older.” This implies that the Munchkins were meant to be dwarf-like adults, not children. When MGM began planning its technicolor musical adaptation in the late 1930s, it was decided to stay true to Baum’s description and cast little people to play the Munchkins and other Ozians.

At the time, employing little people for entertainment was common. They were often featured in circuses, sideshows, and Vaudeville acts. Hollywood also regularly cast dwarfs in “fantasy” roles such as elves or leprechauns. So when MGM was creating the whimsical world of Oz, using little people just seemed natural to them.

In addition, the film’s producers were looking for talented singers and dancers for the musical numbers. Many little people performers of the era were skilled singers, dancers, and actors. Casting them allowed MGM to include impressive musical sequences like the Munchkinland song “Ding Dong The Witch is Dead.”

How Many Little People Were in The Wizard of Oz?

Estimates vary, but most sources agree that over 120 little people were hired to play Munchkins or other Oz roles. This was one of the largest gatherings of little people specifically for one film production.

The vast majority were cast as Munchkins, the inhabitants of Munchkinland in Oz. There were likely over 100 Munchkin actors. A handful of others played key roles like the Coroner, Mayor, and Lollipop Guild characters.

Only two dwarf actors were uncreditedextras. Every little person who had a speaking role or distinct character was included in the official cast list. Payroll records confirm at least 124 little people were paid fortheir work on the film.

Breakdown of Roles

Here is an overview of the various little people roles and approximate numbers:

  • Munchkins citizens – Over 100
  • Munchkin Coroner – 1
  • Munchkin Mayor – 1
  • Munchkin Lullaby League – 10
  • Munchkin Lollipop Guild – 8
  • Munchkin soldiers/guards – 8
  • Munchkin ballerinas – 12
  • Munchkin singers – 18
  • Sleepyhead – 1
  • Nikko the Flying Monkey – 1
  • Uncredited extras – 2

So the total count was approximately 124 little people in credited, named roles.

The Munchkin Actors

Finding over 100 little people capable of acting, singing, and dancing was no small feat. Casting director Bill Grady and his team scoured the country searching at schools, performing arts groups, and little people communities. No experienced little person performer was overlooked.

As a result, the assemblage represented the most talented group of little entertainers around. Many were veterans of circuses, vaudeville, and films. For example, Charlie Becker, Harry Doll, Frank Delfino, Olga Nardone, and Meinhardt Raabe had decades of performing experience.

Other seasoned actors included Jerry Maren, Karl Slover, Margaret Pellegrini, Mickey Carroll, Ruth Duccini, and Clarence Swensen, who between them performed with the most famous circuses and shows. Decades later, several would reprise their roles as Munchkins in fan conventions and sequel projects.

The Wizard of Oz marked the first film role for some Munchkin actors like Elizabeth Ward and Jennie Lemont, launching their careers. But every little performer brought an impressive resume.

The Female Munchkins

Unusually, female little people outnumbered the males among the Munchkin cast. Roughly two-thirds were women. Many explanations have been suggested.

The most plausible reason involves vaudeville and circus shows. Troupes typically traveled with more ladies-in-waiting than male dwarfs. The pool of experienced female little performers was simply larger.

Plus, producers felt an all-female dance team would be more fanciful. Dainty ballerinas and singing maidens evoked the desired fairy tale ethos for Munchkinland.

Behind the Scenes

The Munchkin actors arrived on the MGM lot in mid-October 1938. For the next five weeks, they filmed their elaborate musical scenes under the direction of Victor Fleming and King Vidor.

By all accounts, the little people were treated exceptionally well. MGM provided a full support staff including a nurse, tailor, shoemaker, and security guards. Even schooling was arranged for the few child actors.

The largely amicable cast did earn a reputation as enthusiastic partiers. Chaperones attempted to rein in the late night revelry, but tales of drunken antics persisted.

Pay ranged from $50 to $100 per week for most, a sizable sum in 1938. The Munchkins took great pride in being part of such a major production. And moviegoers were enchanted by the charismatic characters they brought to life.

Other Little People Roles

In addition to the large cast of Munchkins, The Wizard of Oz featured other significant dwarf roles:

The Coroner

Played by Meinhardt Raabe, the Coroner famously proclaimed the Wicked Witch “not merely dead, but really most sincerely dead.” The 4-foot actor nailed the scene’s comic timing. Raabe was paid $150 per week, higher than other little performers due his prominent speaking part.

The Mayor

Frank Morgan (Wizard) also took on the role of Munchkin Mayor. But for the welcomed ceremony scene, Morgan acted opposite little person Charles E. Becker. The Mayor speeches were dubbed by voice actor Billy Bletcher.


The menacing winged monkey Nikko was played by Pat Walshe, a dwarf comedian known for his vaudeville act. Even with clever makeup, the 1’11” Walshe brought an impish charm to the villainous henchman.

The Sleepyhead

In the famous “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” number, a lone sleepy Munchkin emerges in pajamas and nightcap to see what the commotion is about. Played by Margaret Williams Pellegrini, the bit role made her one of the most memorable Munchkins.

Lasting Legacy

Both loved and feared in the Land of Oz, the Munchkins left an indelible mark in cinema. Their musical numbers are considered highlights of the film.

And the massive scale of little people cast was unprecedented. Never before or since have so many been gathered for one major movie production.

The Wizard of Oz launched many careers and showcased immense talents. But questions remain about the ethics of casting dwarfs in “fantasy” roles versus more grounded parts. Both progress and controversy stem from the Munchkins’ legacy.

What is undisputed is the enormous publicity and goodwill generated by the beloved Munchkin characters. They exemplify how even brief appearances can make a lasting cultural impact.


Research indicates at least 124 little people took credited, named roles in The Wizard of Oz. The vast majority played Munchkin characters of various types, with over 100 cast as Munchkin citizens of Munchkinland.

Key dwarf roles included the Coroner, Mayor, and winged monkey Nikko. Each brought humor and personality to their brief screen time.

By scouring circuses, vaudeville shows, and Hollywood’s pool of little actors, MGM assembled the most talented cast of dwarfs ever for one film. Their lively musical numbers became iconic.

While some controversies remain around casting practices, the Munchkins’ legacy is one of great charm, whimsy, and enduring popularity. They exemplify how even minor roles can achieve major impact.

1 thought on “How many little people were used in The Wizard of Oz?”

  1. Several of the primate parts were played by real people: Nikko, the head monkey, was played by actor Pat Walshe, while vaudevillian actor Harry Monty was both a Munchkin and a monkey. But in the creepy scene where thousands of monkeys descend upon our heroes in the Haunted Forest, the monkeys were all tiny rubber figures no more than a few inches tall.


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