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And when they arrived in Hollywood in 1938, to be cast in one of the most prestigious films ever, it marked a distinct improvement in their fortunes. Stars such as Jean Harlow and Katharine Hepburn had a huge following, while the love lives of the swashbuckling Errol Flynn and Charlie Chaplin were already legendary.
This was the height of Hollywood as Babylon, as the new play’s title reflects.
Most were old enough to have learned how to survive in New York or in Europe during the years of the Great Depression.
"You had to watch them all the time," observed Jack Dawn, the make-up artist on the film.
The women would proposition studio electricians, while one who called himself The Count was never sober. Then we heard a whining sound coming from the men’s room.
The dwarves of the movie are being played by full-sized actors, who only appear small because the scenery is so huge - provoking protests from disability groups that the play is insulting and exploitative.
In the original film, of course, the Munchkins were played by genuine circus midgets, whose colourful contribution to Hollywood history has never been forgotten.