With a long and colorful life, Mary Ellen St. Aubin had no shortage of good memories. --Supplied photo

With a long and colorful life, Mary Ellen St. Aubin had no shortage of good memories. --Supplied photo

She was a ‘Munchkin by marriage’

Mary Ellen St. Aubin dies at age 101

By Joan Hadac

Mary Ellen St. Aubin once said that if her life could be summed up in a movie title, it might be It’s a Wonderful Life.

That life came to a conclusion late last month. Mrs. St. Aubin was 101 years old.

“I’ve enjoyed my life,” she said in an August 2020 interview. “It’s been a wonderful life. My family was wonderful. They helped me prove that I could do what I want. I still have a great family. They’ve always treated me like I was a big person, not a little person.

Mrs. St. Aubin had been a Clearing resident since 1969, after moving from Chicago Lawn.

Born Mary Ellen Burbach, this native Chicagoan never let her stature (3-foot-8) get in the way of her dreams. At the age of 14, she lied about her age because “we all lied about our age because we wanted to work,” and began work in the entertainment industry. She took the stage with other little people in the second year of the Chicago World’s Fair, in 1934.

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With a long and colorful life, Mary Ellen St. Aubin had no shortage of good memories. –Supplied photo

Her husband, the late Pernell, had experienced the World’s Fair in 1933, but this was before she met him.

The entertainment industry was one of the few places little people could find work. One of the most coveted roles was being in The Wizard of Oz as a munchkin. Pernell earned a role as a soldier. He appears in the movie several times.

She couldn’t audition for the movie because she was under contract to someone else and was dancing on a stage in Detroit. Dancing was her talent and she could perform tap, ballet and acrobatic dancing. She had already had experience as a vaudeville entertainer and eventually experienced movie life when she was tapped to play a leprechaun with other little people in Three Wise Fools, a 1946 film starring Lionel Barrymore and Margaret O’Brien.

After 13 years in the entertainment world, she decided to head back home to Chicago. Pernell was already back in Chicago. He had headed home and worked in a factory as a riveter. Many little people had done the same.

She found work in a large department store downtown and during Christmastime, Pernell had ventured into the store. They met and on April 3, 1948 they married.

In August they opened The Midget Club, which over the years would carve out its place in the quirky history of the Southwest Side.

It was a cocktail lounge built so she and Pernell, 43 inches tall, could serve drinks behind the bar without having to step up onto anything.

“Everyone was welcome-as long as they were of age,” Mrs. St. Aubin laughed.

The unique club attracted a lot of attention from the news media, being featured in TV news stories and newspapers. The Midget Club was located at 64th and Kedzie from 1948 to 1954 and then moved to 63rd and Pulaski until the St. Aubins retired in 1982.

That bar no longer exists. The building was razed to make way for the new West Lawn Branch Library in the mid-1980s.

After Pernell’s death in 1987 at age 64, a couple months short of their 40th wedding anniversary, she kept up this tradition. Billed as the last living “munchkin by marriage,” has been to festivals in Michigan, Missouri, and made special mention of The Indiana Wizard of Oz Festival, which closed after 32 years. She also visited festivals closer to home in Tinley Park and at the Woodridge Theater.

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For years, Mrs. St. Aubin was a popular celebrity guest at Oz festivals in Michigan, Indiana and Illinois. –Supplied photo

Mrs. St. Aubin decided to keep working after her husband died. She became an employee at St. Coletta’s, a Tinley Park social service agency that aids intellectually and developmentally disabled adults and children.

She was sister of the late Mae (the late Faust) Oliver and Betty (the late Al) Burian; aunt of Shirley (Bill) Sinclair, Marty (Linda) Burian and the late Scott (Elda) Burian; great aunt of Billy, Brian, Cindy, Marty, Kevin, Mike, Susan, Lisa, Karen, Rick and Gina; great-great aunt of many; and best friend of Chris.

Funeral services were private. Arrangements were by Lawn Funeral Home, Burbank.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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