Jerry Maren, actor, born January 24 1920, died May 24 2018

Jerry Maren, who has died aged 98, was the last surviving member of the cast of The Wizard of Oz (1939) with a speaking or singing role, and the last of the adult Munchkins who greeted Dorothy on her arrival in Oz.

Maren played the leader of the Lollipop Guild. Flanked by Jackie Gerlich and Harry Doll and clad in a green plaid shirt and tattered shorts, he tapdanced towards Judy Garland and assured her in song that “we wish to welcome you to Munchkin Land”, then presented her with a large lollipop. Though in every sense a small part (Maren, 18 when the scene was filmed, was then three feet four inches tall), it proved one of the many memorable moments in the film.

The studio, MGM, had been determined to cast dwarfs and midgets, rather than children, and assembled more than 100 of them to sing the numbers “Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead” and “We’re Off to See the Wizard”. Many of them were assembled by Baron Leopold Van Singer, a German-born agent who specialised in vaudeville acts (the eugenics policies of the Nazis led to many dwarfs leaving Germany in the 1930s).

There were later lurid accounts of the behaviour of the Munchkin actors which portrayed many of them as sex-crazed drunks; there were allegations of orgies at the Culver Hotel, where they were put up during filming, with the producer Mervyn Le Roy claiming police had to be posted on every floor.

Bert Lahr, who played the Cowardly Lion, later remembered Munchkins brandishing knives, while Judy Garland maintained in one interview that “They got smashed every night, and the police used to scoop them up in butterfly nets.”

Maren took exception to this characterisation, claiming in his memoir Short and Sweet: The Life and Times of the Lollipop Munchkin (2006) that Garland’s own difficulties with alcohol and drugs meant that she “was telling it according to her booze and pills that day. She left behind a legacy of untruths about us.”

Maren himself was certainly a hard-working and professional performer. Unlike the majority of the Munchkins, who had no theatre or circus background and many of whom went on to other walks of life, he secured a prominent role because of his experience as a singer and dancer. He had been dancing professionally since the age of 13, as part of an act called Three Steps and a Half, and later enjoyed a steady career, featuring in films such as the Our Gang shorts, The Marx Brothers at the Circus, Planet of the Apes and Frankenstein Rising, and appearing on television in commercials and with a long-standing role on The Gong Show.

Gerard Marenghi was born into a large Italian-American family on January 24 1920 in Boston, where his father Emilio worked in a shoe factory. After his pituitary dwarfism was diagnosed in his early teens (his four brothers and five sisters were all rather taller than average height), he began seriously to consider show business as a career. The success of his dance act in touring shows around New England led to the approach from MGM, and he got the bus to Los Angeles.

Like the other Munchkins, he was paid $100 a week for the duration of the filming (Dorothy’s dog Toto got $125). But the film’s enormous success led, in later life, to regular appearances at conventions and festivals, something he kept up until 2011. In 2007 he and three of the other surviving Munchkins attended the ceremony unveiling a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and in 2013 he turned out for a handprint outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard.

In the 1950s, he worked in promotional campaigns for the Oscar Mayer company, which made hot dogs and cooked meats, and also played Mayor McCheese in commercials for McDonald’s. On The Gong Show in the 1970s, he showered the stage with confetti at the climax of each programme. He made regular appearances on the excessively zany sitcom, No Soap, Radio (1982), which folded after five episodes, and also had parts in The Odd Couple and Seinfeld.

A dapper, cigar-chomping figure, Maren was the co-founder of Little People of America, which campaigned for the interests of those affected by dwarfism. His own height eventually increased to four feet six after he began to receive hormonal growth treatments in adulthood.

He married, in 1975, Elizabeth Barrington, also a dwarf; she died in 2011. In 2016, it was wrongly announced that he had died of pancreatic cancer (from which he did not suffer), though he was in poor health and latterly suffered from dementia. He died at a nursing home in La Jolla, southern California on May 24 2018.