Meinhardt Raabe (1915-2010) is an interesting outlier amongst the Little People who played Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz (1939). Unlike Singer’s Midgets, the Doll Family or Jerry Maren, Raabe wasn’t strictly speaking in “show business” (though his wife Marie Hartline was a member of Rose’s Royal Midgets). On the other hand, he sort of was:
Raabe worked for 30 years as a rep for Oscar Mayer weiners. He was what we today might call a “brand ambassador”, part salesman, part mascot, a concept not terribly far removed from what guys who worked medicine shows did, although with a modern corporate overlord. He hawked products but with so much flair, it overlapped into theatre. Prior to The Wizard of Oz, his most show bizzy engagement had been as a member of the Midget City Troupe in the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair (he was originally from Wisconsin).
As you recognize from the photo at the top of this post, Raabe played the Coroner, one of nine speaking Munchkin roles, although his part was overdubbed by another performer. The character songs the priceless Yip Harburg lyrics: “As Coroner/ I Must Aver/ I thoroughly examined her/ And she’s not only merely dead/ She’s really most sincerely dead!”
So is Meinhart Raabe. He passed away in 2010, the last Wizard of Oz cast member with a solo “speaking part” to cross the Shifting Sands. My fellow Oz obsessive Nina L. Diamond had the thrill of interviewing Raabe back in 2002. Her article is here.
For more on performing little people please check out Rose’s Royal Midgets and Other Little People in Vaudeville.