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'Wizard of Oz' Munchkin soldier Lewis Croft dead at age 88
TIMES FILE PHOTO A BIG LOSS --- Lewis A. Croft, who played a Munchkin soldier in the 1939 MGM film classic "The Wizard of Oz" opposite Judy Garland, has died, according to funeral director Craig Geary of Nalder Funeral Home in Shelley, Idaho. According to Geary, who announced news of the death Friday, Croft, 88, shown in this 2003 file photo wearing a recreation of the soldier costume he wore in the film, died of natural causes just outside Shelley on April 29, just three days shy of his 89th birthday May 2.

Yellow Brick good-bye

Lewis A. Croft, who played a Munchkin soldier in the 1939 MGM film classic "The Wizard of Oz" opposite Judy Garland, has died, according to funeral director Craig Geary of Nalder Funeral Home in Shelley, Idaho.

According to Geary, who announced news of the death Friday, Croft, 88, died of natural causes just outside Shelley on April 29, just three days shy of his 89th birthday May 2.

He was one of the final dozen little people who still survive from the more than 124 tiny actresses and actors billed in the film as "The Singer Midgets."

Despite his plans, Croft was too ill to make the trip to Los Angeles last November to attend the ceremony when the Munchkins were given their own star of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Of the more than 100 little people who helped send Dorothy on her way down the Yellow Brick Road and into classic film history, only seven were there to join Garland's son Joey Luft to reveal the new star.

"Lewis Croft loved both 'The Wizard of Oz' and the fans who remain so dedicated this movie and story," said Jean Nelson, the founder of the annual Wizard of Oz Festival in Chesterton, Ind., which she began in 1982.

Nelson said Croft, who stood at just 4 feet, 6 inches, and was wheelchair bound in recent years, last attended the Wizard of Oz Festival in Chesterton in 2006.

"He loved to point himself out during the Munchkinland scene with Judy Garland in the film, specifying that he was 'the second Munchkin soldier marching right there in the second row,' " Nelson said.

Croft was born in Shelley, Idaho, to Samuel and Roseland Crofts on May 2, 1919. He was the fourth of 14 children.

At age 8, Lewis' parents noticed their son was not growing and after extensive examinations, it was decided by his doctors that he was destined to remain small. When he finally achieved the height of 3-1/2 feet at age 16, he left home to find work to help support himself and his many siblings. He worked for side shows and circuses, while studying the other performers around him to become an accomplished singer and musician. Using the stage name "Idaho Lewis," when he was 18 years old, he heard from other little people in the circus circuit that midgets were being sought for parts in a new big movie production in Hollywood.

He used his own savings to travel to the West Coast and was excited to be cast as a Munchkin soldier in "Wizard of Oz."

After completing his scenes in the movie, Croft went back on the road, eventually settling in Chicago and working at what he called "a midget bar."

It was there that he met The Del Rio Family, a midget family of performers and in 1948, he married Delores Del Rio and the couple had two sons, Alan and Robert.

After five years in Chicago, Croft moved his family back to Shelley and worked for Bellville Manufacturing and other industry businesses in the small town.

He retired from the R.T. French Co. and after Delores' death in 1978, he married Eva Arwin, in 1984.

It was in the late 1980s that Croft rediscovered his footnote fame in film history after meeting Nelson through other surviving little people from "The Wizard of Oz" and accepting her invitation to attend her annual Wizard of Oz festival in Chesterton as a celebrity guest for the first time 1990.

Croft is survived by one son, Robert of Boise; four grandsons, Nicholas, Jeremy, Cory, Christopher' seven great grandchildren; three brothers, James of Shelley, Roy and Verlyn of Idaho Falls; and one sister, Ada of Shelley; and daughter-in-law Kyoung Hee Croft of Washington.

He was preceded in death by his two wives, one son, his parents and nine of his brothers and sisters.

His funeral services were held May 3 at Nalder Funeral Home in Shelley, Idaho, with burial following in the Shelley Hillcrest Cemetery.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at ppotempa@nwitimes.com or 219.852.4327.

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