Meinhardt Raabe: One of the last of the surviving Munchkins from ‘The Wizard of Oz’

One of the last surviving Munchkins from the enduring fantasy film The Wizard of Oz (1939), Meinhardt Raabe has a place in film history as the flamboyant coroner who gives official notice that the Wicked Witch of the East is dead, killed by the farmhouse that landed on her in a tornado that has also brought young Dorothy from Kansas to Munchkinland.

Costumed in a high-collared indigo cloak and enormous hat with a curled brim, Raabe had his brief moment in the limelight as he proclaimed the Harold Arlen/E. Y. Harburg chorus, "As coroner, I must aver, I thoroughly examined her. And she's not only merely dead, She's really most sincerely dead." In fact, it was not Raabe's voice heard singing on screen, for he was dubbed by the MGM contract player Harry Stanton, but he was to perform the words himself countless times when making public appearances, giving lectures to children or attending Oz conventions.

There were 124 Munchkins in the film (some played by children), but only nine had speaking parts, including Raabe who, at four feet tall, was one of the tallest little people who acted in the film. Raabe (pronounced Robby) was born in 1915 in Watertown, Wisconsin, and he continued to grow until he was in his thirties, though he reached only 4ft 7in.

In his Memories of a Munchkin (2005) he stated that he never heard the words "dwarf" or "midget" while growing up, and it was only when he attended the 1933 Chicago World's Fair, where a midget village was one of the attractions, that he realised that there were others like him. The following summer he worked as a barker for the show.

In 1937 Raabe graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a bachelor's degree in accounting, but he consistently failed interviews; one personnel manager told him that he belonged in a carnival. He was working as a meat salesman in 1938 when he heard that MGM was hiring midgets, so he obtained leave and took a train to California. The impresario Leo Singer provided many small people for the film from his vaudeville company of hypopituitary performers, but many more were needed to populate MGM's vast set. Raabe credited his fine diction, honed from his experience as a barker and a salesman, for getting him the part of the coroner.

MGM had originally planned that the Munchkins would sing for themselves, but after tests the studio decided to get professional vocalists to sing the numbers to a piano "click track". These recordings were then played back at a faster speed, and the orchestra was added to these takes. Raabe's lines as the coroner were sung by Harry Stanton, best remembered as the voice of the stevedore (Bern Hoffman) who sings the aubade "I Feel Like I'm Not Out of Bed Yet" at the opening of On the Town (1949). In The Wizard of Oz, Stanton was also heard as one of the three members of The Lollipop Guild. Later, he was one of the male voices accompanying Judy Garland as she sang "Embraceable You" in Girl Crazy (1943).

In the Second World War, Raabe served in the Civil Air Patrol and was reputed to be the smallest pilot in uniform. After the war he paid his way through further education, earning a Masters degree in business administration from the Drexel University in Philadelphia in 1970.

The Oscar Mayer meat company, famous for their hot dogs, made him their mascot, Little Oscar, "The World's Smallest Chef", and for nearly 30 years he toured the US in the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, promoting the company's products. In later years, he was in demand as a motivational speaker for young people, and he was feted at Oz conventions and film fairs.

His wife, Marie, a former vaudeville performer, was the same height as Raabe, and they were married from 1947 until 1997, when Marie was killed in a car crash as Raabe was driving them back to their retirement home from an outing. Ten years later, Raabe attended the ceremony when a star honouring the Munchkins was unveiled on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He spent his last years in a retirement home in Florida, his memory still sharp.

Tom Vallance



Meinhardt Raabe, actor and motivational speaker: born Watertown, Wisconsin 2 September 1915; married 1947 Marie (died 1997); died Florida 10 April 2010.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk