We’d like to welcome you to the big Munchkinland in the sky…
Old habits die hard.
I grew up reading the obituaries (a.k.a, the Irish sports pages), and I still generally give them a glance. Especially the “biggies” that make the front page of the online NY Times.
Thus, I read with interest the write-up of Meinhardt Rabbe, who played the Munchkinland coroner – one of the few speaking Munchkin roles - in The Wizard of Oz.
The coroner was the one who declared the Wicked Witch of the East dead.
As coroner, I must aver
I thoroughly examined her.
And she’s not only merely dead,
She’s really most sincerely dead
Setting off a rousing chorus of “Ding, dong. The witch is dead…”
Now, in the course of an average day, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about Munchkins, or about the lives of those in our society who are of short stature. (Although, I will confess that, as a child, I was fascinated with P.T. Barnum’s General “Tom Thumb” Warren and his wife Lavinia.)
If I do think about “little people,” which I generally do only when I pass one of them in the street, it is always with a good measure of sympathy for how difficult their lives must be in so many ways.
First, there is the “stare” factor. People whose height is well below the norm are something of a rarity, and, thus, an oddity. People stare, people point, and – let’s face it – the more odious among us make fun of those who are more than two standard deviations (or even one) removed from whatever they choose to consider the norm.
I’m quite sure that even people who aren’t odious may be inclined to patronize those who are really short. After all, when we’re speaking with them, we’re likely looking down. So, I’m sure that short people are often spoken to as if they were children, and, thus, have lesser understanding of some of the nuances of real, adult life.
Then there are the inconveniences: ATM machines, cereal on high shelves, trying to see above the crowd.
Not to mention some fairly serious health impacts.
No, it can’t be a picnic to be really short.
But the Little People seem to fare pretty well in advocating for themselves.
Meinhardt Raabe’s death, of course, got me thinking about the plight of the small in stature, but in reading about his life, it was interesting to see how he a) seemed to have made the most of it; b) didn’t let his height get in the way of leading a full life – which ended at age 94, thank you.
Remarkably, growing up in small-town Wisconsin:
…he did not hear the word “dwarf,” or even “midget,” until he was a young adult. No one in his community had seen a person with dwarfism before. Growing up, he later said, he assumed there was no one else in the world like him.
He graduated from the University of Wisconsin, with a degree in accounting. Upon graduating, he had a hard time finding work. Surely, the Depression didn’t help. But being 4-foot-something didn’t either. In turning him down for a professional job, some (well-meaning?) prospective hirers suggested he join a carnival. And, off and on, he did work as a barker.
Oscar Mayer took him on as a meat salesman. So he sold meat for a while – possibly, I imagine, even calling on my grandfather, Jake Wolf, who was a butcher with a grocery store in Chicago - before becoming a spokesman for the company. For years, he toured the country in the Weinermobile. (A topic I have blogged on – the Weinermobile, not Mr. Raabe as a spokesman.)
He was also a motivational speaker, guest speaker at Oz conventions, and, during World War II, a pilot with the Civil Air Patrol.
After the war, and his stint goin’ Hollywood, it was back to Oscar Mayer.
In 2007, Mr. Raabe was on hand when a star collectively honoring the Munchkins was unveiled on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
A full, rich life.
Well, played, Mr. Raabe.
And now, you’re out of the woods. You’re out of the dark. You’re out of the night.
May winged monkeys guide your way to the Emerald City in the great beyond.