by Jeff P. Jones

Tilly Syreeta Bancroft (1920-2005)

The first time I met Tilly it was all about the eyes. She had the biggest prettiest eyes in the world. They were like two flecks of compressed ice, blue-marbled and cool, deep as the sky. I was the third man back in the line of stunt doubles for Ray Bolger, and she was a Munchkin Villager in Yellow Sun Dress. It was the morning they were shooting Dorothy's arrival in the village, and Chuck Waller, who played the Munchkinland Mayor, was strutting around the set as usual, telling people where to go and how to get there, so I opted for a quieter spot around back by the surplus extras' trailer. On Ray's recommendation I had spent the day before at the zoo's gibbon exhibit, getting a feel for the awkward grace of those lopey buggers. No better teacher than Nature, Ray liked to say. So there I was, in a deserted corner of the MGM lot, hooking the back of my overalls onto a jury-rigged cruciform, when the nail snapped and sent me tumbling ass-over-ears to the ground. Very ungibbon-like.

Fade to black and all that. Next thing I knew a metallic buzzing flooded my head and I could see again. There in front of me was a vision of two patches of Nebraska sky trying to resolve themselves into the most tender pair of pale blue eyes I'd ever seen.

"Are you okay, Mr. Scarecrow?"

The voice was as delicate as fishing line, and I was sure I'd died and was being escorted into the blue yonder by the holiest angel in God's heaven. Her hair brushed my forehead like a tassel of golden corn silk, whisking me back to a time when all us kids would hide from each other amidst rows of towering stalks. Tilly told me that I bore an uncanny resemblance to Ray, but I never could get her to admit that she had mistaken me for the real Scarecrow.

After a day of shooting, Tilly and a group of Munchkin actors often unwound at a juke joint on Ventura. I started dropping by, and that's how we grew close. Oz intoxicated all of us. The whole cast—but especially those of us who hadn't found much work until then—sensed that we were part of something bigger. Tilly and I just connected on the idea that anything seemed possible. Both of us were from small towns; she was from Ferndale, California, and I was from Red Cloud, Nebraska. Oz