by Meinhardt Raabe



250pp/$39.95.95/May 2005

Memories of a Munchkin
Cover by Al Hirschfeld 

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

While few people may know the name Meinhardt Raabe, chances are everyone is familiar with this actor's most famous role as the quivering-voiced coroner of Munchkin City who declared the Wicked Witch of the East dead at the beginning of "The Wizard of Oz" in 1939.  Raabe, now one of the last surviving Munchkins, tells his story, amidst copious photographs in Memories of a Munchkin:  An Illustrated Walk Down the Yellow Brick Road.

Fittingly enough, Raabe's story starts at the beginning of a brick road (albeit it brown brick) at his family's farm in Wisconsin.  In fact, throughout the book, Raabe makes pointed comparisons between his own life and the film, The Wizard of Oz, usually strained and thoroughly unnecessary, but sweet in their own way.  While it may seem as if he has hitched his entire life to the film he worked on in the 1930s, it is clear from the book that his life was a success with or without the movie.

In fact, although much of the book is focused on the filming of the Munchkinland sequence, the more interesting parts of the book are when Raabe talks about his own life.  His experiences growing up in Wisconsin not realizing that he was a midget until he got to high school and had to start dealing with prejudice show just how well adjusted he is.  His ability to get a job at the Century of Progress in Chicago, despite the difficulties thrown up by his college, indicate how early he gained self-confidence, as did his job for Oscar-Meyer and the manner in which he insisted on a leave of absence to make The Wizard of Oz.

Much of what Raabe has to say about the filming of The Wizard of Oz has been covered in other books, although not from the same first person point of view.  Many of his memories are distanced by the years since the film was made, but he also notes more recent discoveries he made, such as the fact that nearly all the Munchkin voices, including his, were dubbed rather than just altered.  He also points out minor errors, such as the backwards moving hands on the mayor's watch or the presence of his own alma mater ring whenever Raabe is on screen.

Raabe's reminiscences are liberally sprinkled with illustrations and photographs, not all of which are from The Wizard of Oz.  Many pictures and relics from the Chicago World's Fair are included, as well as personal photographs.  These images are reproduced well and almost form a second narrative to Raabe’s life history, allowing the reader to get a better image of Raabe in his life away from the brief period when he actually worked on the film.

Frequently, Raabe repeats statements that he has made, such as his discussion of the poor voice selection used in the lines by the city fathers in Munchkinland.  Mostly this repetition isn’t a problem, and often Raabe repeats these statements in clever ways, filling the pages of the autobiography with puns.

While the majority of readers will pick up Memories of a Munchkin because of its tie to “The Wizard of Oz,” and in fact the majority of the book is about “The Wizard of Oz,” Raabe’s own story, both before and after that period in his life is by far more interesting, including his own relatively late return to the Wizard of Oz fandom which seems to be as much because of the demand of fans as because of his own desire, based on the fond memories he had of his one film.

Purchase this book in hardcover from Amazon Books.

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