I Married a Munchkin | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

I Married a Munchkin 

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For three decades local filmmaker Tom Palazzolo has shown a remarkable knack for placing the rituals and personages of working-class America into startlingly revelatory and quirky perspective. The subject of his latest documentary portrait is Mary Ellen St. Alban, a midget actress with a glamorous past. She started out in vaudeville as a toddler and ended up in Hollywood, appearing in movies that called for fairies or small-size ingenues; her last role was as "Princess of the Elves" in the 1946 Three Wise Fools, starring child actress Margaret O'Brien. A year later she abruptly quit the scene and moved to Chicago to marry Pernell St. Alban, well-known for his role as one of the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz, and until his death in the early 80s they ran a celebrated tavern on the south side called the Midget Club. In I Married a Munchkin, Palazzolo uses an Oz parade in Chesterton, Indiana, to frame the now-72-year-old St. Alban's candid remembrances. Intercut with this narrative are footage from Three Wise Fools and excerpts from a TV reporter's condescending interview with the St. Albans in their club--all of which rather clumsily boldface Palazzolo's self-conscious social commentary. What does shine through is St. Alban's dignity, her fondness for her husband, and her gracious acceptance of an uncommon life. The first screening shares a bill with Palazzolo's short Vatican World, the second with his short Thinking of Her, a droll vignette about postmodern love written by Jack Helbig, and a performance by the Wicker Park band Math, which did the sound track for I Married a Munchkin. Palazzolo will be present for discussion after each screening. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, May 7, 6:00 and 8:00, 443-3733.

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