April 13, 2010, - 2:03 am
Meinhardt Raabe–the Munchkin coroner who pronounces “The Wizard of Oz’s” Wicked Witch dead–died on Friday at age 94. He didn’t let his physical challenges get in the way and made the best of them. In fact, three years ago, he predicted to a New York Times reporter how his obituary would read and embraced it. But he was so much more than the Munchkin coroner, including a patriot who served his country during World War II.
Watch this video of Raabe recounting his life and experiences from a Wisconsin farm to a Chicago hawker of Japanese trinkets to Oscar Meyer and then to the “Oz” set. It’s an interesting slice of a uniquely American life.
I give Raabe a lot of credit for the way he handled his situation. Back in those days, it was much tougher to be faced with his physical condition and stature. After earning an accounting degree and working for several summers as an intern, no company would hire him because of his height and employers dismissed Raabe as “a circus act.”
And, yet, what’s great about America is that he managed to use his problems not as an impediment, but an opportunity. He was a pitchman for Oscar Meyer for many years. While it’s considered politically incorrect, today, for them to be called “midgets,” the Munchkin actors actually preferred that description. Compared to their existence, the dwarves and little people of today have it much easier. But Raabe didn’t complain, he embraced his appearance.
During World War II, Raabe was a pilot with the Civil Air Patrol, and in 1970, he earned an MBA degree from Drexel University in Philadelphia.
He went on to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he graduated with an accounting degree in 1937.
Raabe finished college and began looking for jobs. In his book he wrote that at many job interviews they told him, “You belong in a circus.” Finally, with his ability to speak German he found a job at Oscar Mayer. Only a month into working there he heard MGM Studios was making a movie starring Judy Garland and was looking for lots of little people to play roles in the film. His sister recalls him saying he knew it was something he had to do.
In his autobiography, Raabe describes the shooting of the film and how he felt during his role as the coroner.
In one section of the book he describes how the actors weren’t allowed to wear personal jewelry during the screening. He wrote that for some reason he was never told that and in the movie he is wearing his UW-Madison ring on his left hand. Raabe even writes in the book, “Go Badgers!” and says the ring is quite visible in all of his scenes and in the still shots taken of his character.
After the movie Raabe came back to Wisconsin and for more than 30 years worked as Little Oscar the World’s Smallest Chef, a marketing representative for Oscar Mayer. He traveled the country in the Weinermobile selling Oscar Mayer products and during one of his travels he met his wife Marie, another little person.
In another chapter of his life Raabe became a member of the Civil Air Patrol. After many trials and tribulations he received his pilot’s license and worked as a ground instructor during the war teaching navigation and meteorology to young students. During that time he said he flew every kind of single-engine airplane made.
I really admire this man and what he achieved, despite pronounced obstacles and extremely bad treatment at the hands of some.
Meinhardt Raabe, Rest In Peace.
Tags: actor, coroner, Meinhardt Raabe, midget, munchkin, Oscar Meyer, patriot, The Wizard of Oz, Wizard of Oz