When Donna Stewart-Hardway
was merely six years old, she spent eight weeks of her career playing a tiny Munchkin for MGM's classic 1939 extravaganza,
The Wizard of OZ.
Donna Hardway (at
the time Donna Jean Johnson) was the youngest Munchkin on the Hollywood set. When talent scouts couldn't find enough adults
of small stature, she was selected - with another eleven children - to complete the colorful and lively population of Munchkinland.
The 124 Little People
who were munchkins had already grown to their full heights. Some had, and would continue to, perform in vaudeville acts, others
in midget circus performances, while still others had a wide variety of professional full time careers.
But all of them were
much older than Donna. And, like most children growing up in the 1930's, she was expected to be seen and not heard. 'At the
time of filming, children Munchkins and adult Munchkins were all the same size,' explains Donna, 'but nothing else matched.
The Little People could smoke. They could drink. They could use adult language. It was kind of confusing,' she admits.
Child Munchkin roles
in the movie were not as prominent as those of the true Little People. For even though Donna had been prepared to - she was
not allowed to - sing, dance or speak as were the 124 adults because of restrictions between the Little People's contractual
agent and MGM.
'We were the ones
who stood behind bushes and held up trees. We were also hidden in the little houses on the set,' she laughs. 'so, as you watch
the movie, sometimes you can see our little hands waving, or our heads popping out of windows.'
She credits her mother
with 'pushing her into show business.' After winning the Best Baby Contest in Los Angeles, her mother insisted she be enlisted
into Meglin Kiddies, a popular workshop for aspiring performers. The pressure was on. 'My mother, perhaps one of the most
beautiful women I'd ever seen,' she explains, 'was a look-alike for Jean Harlow, but with more refined features. She aspired
to have a glitzy Hollywood career that never came to be. So I became her ticket into the studios. She was always trying to
cook up a deal.'
By the fragile age
of three, her mother had already seen to it that she'd learned to swim, horseback ride, do acrobatics and model. While the
youngster was performing dramatic parts in plays and mastering dance routines, the Shirley Temple look-alike also sang song
lyrics and recited poetry to sharpen her memorization techniques.
Even though she hated
every minute of it, Hardway even played in several early episodes of Our Gang. 'Most of the kids in that gang weren't very
nice to me. I played the part of a little rich girl. Robert Blake used to knock me down on purpose,' she says, 'and Alfalfa
was no better.'
OZ remains the highlight
of her career and Donna remains ever grateful to - and friends with - many author experts on the subject of all that is OZ.
'And Jean Nelson, founder of the Oz Festival in Chesterton, and nick-named Mother of the Munchkins, has really kept the magic
going. That's why the Chesterton, Indiana Festival is so important to OZ fans.' By capturing the attention and affection of
no less than four generations, The Wizard of OZ is probably the best film production ever to come out of Hollywood. 'My life
has been a lesson in conversion and inspiration, ' says the mother of seven children. 'It embraces all that OZ has come to
mean for those who seek its magic.'
The child Munchkin's
dream is that the Wizard of OZ lives on into perpetuity and in helping that happen Hardway created her own website www.kansasoz.com/donna.htm
with photographs, autographs, collecting biographical feature stories and Oz memorabilia.
Each September, Hardway
travels from her West Virginia home to Chesterton, Indiana to congregate with other original MGM munchkins at the world's
largest family-oriented Wizard of OZ Festival.
DEEDUN Public Relations
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