Welcome to the new year! And welcome to my annual “They Made it to ____” post on LatinoLikeMe!
This is my annual post to recognize the careers of three entertainers who are still with us but, because of advanced age, no longer in the public spotlight. Think of it as a chance to think “I didn’t know s/he was still alive” before you read their obituary.
Carol Channing (1921-)
Carol Channing is a legend of the stage, best known as the titular star of Hello Dolly! Throughout my childhood she was also a star of the small screen, known for being a celebrity fixture on talk shows and game shows alike. She earned that celebrity through her amazing talent and equally stellar personality. She’s also an icon within gay culture although, as in the mainstream, she’s largely unknown by the younger generation. She’ll be 94 years old on January 31.
Little Richard (1932-)
Richard Wayne Penniman is the self-proclaimed “architect of rock ‘n roll” and it’s a deserved title. Popular music has evolved so far and in so many ways that we might forget there is a credible history that can locate the origins of specific elements of it to individual people. Little Richard’s individual contributions are as numerous as anybody’s. They are joined by a host of other contributions of which he was one of a region, a style, and tradition. Add them up and he is a living legend of music. Arguably, the last of the first. He just turned 82 last December 5.
Jerry Maren (1920-)
Jerry Maren has never been a household name, and he never had much of a career in entertainment. But the diminutive actor has worked for most of the century, in both films and television. At under four-feet tall, Maren’s career has often involved playing particular roles, like Mayor McCheese in McDonald’s commercials or as a well-dressed midget throwing confetti at the end of The Gong Show. (Incidentally, The Gong Show host Chuck Berris is still alive. He’s 85.) Maren’s main claim to fame is his role in the legendary film The Wizard of Oz. Maren played a “Munchkin,” one of the Lollipop Guild, the one that hands Dorothy a lollipop as the welcome her to Munchkin Land. Mr. Maren is the last surviving Munchkin, and the last surviving cast member of this most cherished of movies. He turns 95 this January 24.
I’m glad to celebrate these three entertainers for their contributions to the millions of moments of laughter, wonder, and other emotions that have marked my life as a consumer of the culture of which they are all a part. I’m equally glad to think about those contributions while each is still living.