(Editor's Note: This story first ran November 10, 2005)
Only nine of the 124 Munchkins from "The Wizard of Oz" are still alive, and four are camping out in DuPage County for the next few days.
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The movie's more than 65 years old, but the longtime friends and costars are still mesmerized by the classic film - especially with the roles the played.
"It was the Munchkinland that made the scene," said Clarence Swenson, who was a soldier in the 1939 classic and is now 87. "It was a fantastic movie. Color was just in its infancy."
Children and adults of many generations have been fans of the film, but the Munchkins think "Wicked," the new Broadway hit musical about the witches' lives before Dorothy showed up, has renewed interest in the land of Oz.
"I heard so much about it," said Margaret Pellegrini, 83, who played a Munchkin townsperson in the 1939 film but hasn't seen "Wicked." "People are raving and raving. I hope it don't out-do the 'Oz.'"
Swenson isn't concerned.
"I think the 'Oz' will go on many, many years," he said.
Swenson, Pellegrini and two other Munchkin actors - Karl Slover, 87, who played the trumpeter and a sleepyhead, and 91-year-old Meinhardt Raabe, who played the coroner - will greet fans at screenings of the film Friday through Sunday at the Hollywood Boulevard theaters in Woodridge.
Raabe also recently published a book, "Memories of a Munchkin: An Illustrated Walk Down the Yellow Brick Road," and will sign copies at Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville tonight.
The four are protective of the legacy of "Oz" and say it's particularly gratifying to see its enduring appeal when contemporary movies and TV are rife with filth.
The actors said they worry about what their grandchildren are seeing. Over time, they've developed a distaste for the movie industry's recent works.
The "Oz" buddies discussed an increase in sexual content, vulgar language and violence.
"Years ago, they wouldn't let Elvis do the twist," Pellegrini said. "Nowadays, people are half undressed."
Swenson said there's too much cursing in day-to-day language and blamed it on movies.
"That's why there's so much rape and everything going on today," he said. "It should be wiped out."
Before coming to Illinois this week, the four were in New York and Los Angeles. It's a hectic schedule for the octo- and nonagenarians, some of whom have been touring and making public appearances since the 1980s. After this weekend, they'll get a break and return to their respective homes.
Pellegrini said she loves to travel, but it drains her from time to time. "There's no place like home," she said.