Feature

Meinhardt Raabe, 1915–2010

The ‘Munchkin’ who declared the witch dead

Meinhardt Raabe made his mark on American film history in just 13 seconds. In his only film appearance, Raabe played the Munchkin coroner in The Wizard of Oz, pronouncing the Wicked Witch dead after Dorothy’s farmhouse has landed on her: “As coroner I must aver, I thoroughly examined her, and she’s not only merely dead, she’s really most sincerely dead.”

Only 23 when the film was made, Raabe was working in the public-relations department of Oscar Mayer when he heard about the Wizard of Oz casting, said the Los Angeles Times. “Every little person who walked through the front gate got a job with MGM,” he later recalled. The 3-foot-6 Raabe was one of only nine Munchkins with speaking roles, though the studio dubbed their lines.

Born in Watertown, Wis., as a child Raabe assumed he was the only dwarf in the world, said The New York Times. But that changed in 1933, when he visited the “Midget Village” at the Chicago World’s Fair. “There before his eyes was a world of men and women just like him.” After earning his bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Wisconsin, he served stateside in World War II in the Civil Air Patrol, “by all accounts the smallest pilot in uniform.”

Raabe toured the country for 30 years promoting hot dogs for Oscar Mayer as “Little Oscar, the World’s Smallest Chef.” He married Marie Hartline, an actor from Rose’s Royal Midget Troupe, in 1946. After retiring to Florida, Raabe periodically attended Munchkin-related public events, at which he repeated his film lines for eager audiences.

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