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25 March 2017 23:34 (South Africa)
Media

The Munchkin coroner’s last trip to the Emerald City

  • Branko Brkic
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    Branko Brkic

    Brkic is the founder and editor of The Daily Maverick.

    He has edited magazines on business and politics, technology, and wildlife. He has also published fiction and non-fiction books, most of them in Serbian. Though he has never pretended to be a reporter, his wide knowledge of politics (especially in America), combined with his experiences in a disintegrating Yugoslavia, gives him an unusual outlook on events in South Africa.

    Despite the vowel-poor surname, he tells anyone who asks that he hails from Hyde Park, Johannesburg, having spent most of his adult life in South Africa.

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Meinhardt Raabe

Meinhardt Raabe, the man who, as the Munchkin coroner, proclaimed that the Wicked Witch of the East was “really most sincerely dead”, has also died at the age of 94.

He was one of a handful of surviving actors and actresses who played all those Munchkins in the legendary film “The Wizard of Oz” released in 1939 - and he was the last surviving Munchkin who had had any dialogue in the film.

The caregiver at his assisted-living home, Cindy Bosnyak, said of Raabe that, even at 94, “he had a headful of hair… he remembered everything every day. To me he was a walking history book, very alert”.

Watch: CBS News: "Wizard of Oz" Munchkin Actor Dies

Back in 1938, Raabe joined 124 other very short actors and actresses to play the Munchkins and was one of only nine of his “tribe” with speaking parts. When he was cast, Raabe was only 22 years old, but he was already an entertainment veteran, working as a “midget” performer, as they were called then, to earn his university tuition.

In his memorable supporting role, Raabe played the Munchkin coroner who solemnly pronounced – and will, to the film’s fans, pronounce forever – that the witch was dead because Dorothy's farmhouse has landed on top of her. Or, as Raabe intoned: “As coroner I must aver, I thoroughly examined her, and she's not only merely dead, she's really most sincerely dead.” Those were his only lines, but generations of children still memorise them  – and chant them repeatedly to the agony of their parents. Raabe played his part with great dignity, wearing a costume that included a handlebar moustache and flowing beard constructed from dyed yak hair. Itchy!

Watch: The Wicked Witch Is Dead

Raabe was only 1.3m tall when the movie was made, though he grew to 1.5 metres in later years. After dedicated Munchkin public service, Raabe toured the US for 30 years touting hot dogs as “Little Oscar, the World’s Smallest Chef” in his custom-built, once-off car shaped like – what else - a giant hot dog.

Watch: Celeb Watch: 'Wizard of Oz' Munchkin Land

Barbara Evans, an Oz nostalgia club organiser, recalled that after Raabe had learned about their Oz nostalgia fan meeting, “Meinhardt wrote us a letter and said, 'You know I'm a Munchkin. I was in this movie. Would you ever be interested in having me come?' Of course, after we stopped screaming… Things didn't start to get really big until Meinhardt first came and we started getting the Munchkins to come.” We can only imagine the after-party.

Raabe has now left and gone off to meet the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz.

By J Brooks Spector

For more on Raabe, read the AP and Wikipedia. For more general information on The Wizard of Oz, the film, see Wikipedia, Rottentomatoes and imbd

Main photo: Reuters.

  • Branko Brkic
    branko3048 a ray
    Branko Brkic

    Brkic is the founder and editor of The Daily Maverick.

    He has edited magazines on business and politics, technology, and wildlife. He has also published fiction and non-fiction books, most of them in Serbian. Though he has never pretended to be a reporter, his wide knowledge of politics (especially in America), combined with his experiences in a disintegrating Yugoslavia, gives him an unusual outlook on events in South Africa.

    Despite the vowel-poor surname, he tells anyone who asks that he hails from Hyde Park, Johannesburg, having spent most of his adult life in South Africa.

    Recent columns:

  • Media

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