by Edwin L. Carpenter - Editor, The Dove
The Munchkins from the classic film “The Wizard of Oz” have gone from the yellow
brick road to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, thanks to a lot of determined people.
The list includes Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Ted Turner, Roger Ebert (who
wrote a letter of support from his hospital bed) and many others. Roger Baum,
the grandson of Oz creator and author L. Frank Baum, wrote a letter himself to
the nominating committee. The official ceremony will take place in October or November this fall. The remaining Munchkins, ranging in age from 86
to 92, will receive stars.
This list includes Margaret Pellegrini, Karl Slover, Meinhardt Raabe, Mickey
Carroll, Jerry Maren, Clarence Swensen, Ruth Duccini, and Olga Nardone.
Slover, besides playing the trumpeter in Oz, also appeared in the films
“Block-Heads” (1938) with Laurel and Hardy, “They Gave Him a Gun” (1937) with
Spencer Tracy, as well as a few others. He is the last surviving member of the
famous Singer Midgets. He was three feet tall when he appeared in Oz, but he
wasn’t finished growing. Today he is four foot four. His father was six foot
We began our interview with Mr. Slover by congratulating him on his upcoming
honor of receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. “You have to be pretty
proud,” I said to him. “Yeah, I am” he chuckled. “I think they took long enough
to decide to put us in there,” he said. “There are things in the movie which you
never hear,” he said. “You don’t hear any foul language or swearing, and that’s
why the picture keeps going.”
We thanked him for his view on this issue, and we suggested there is a need
for more films today in that category. “That would be nice,” he agreed.
We asked how he landed his role in Oz. “I used to be with the largest midget
show in the world,” he said. “Leo Singer was the owner of the midget show. It
was called the Singer Midgets. And through him is how I got the job in ‘The
Wizard of Oz’. In fact, I had been in other pictures besides. ‘The Terror of
Tiny Town,’ an all-midget cast cowboy picture, with Laurel and Hardy in
‘Block-Heads,’ and another one was with Spencer Tracy in ‘They Gave Him a Gun.’
And the next one was ‘The Lost Weekend’ with Ray Milland. There was a midget
lady and I who played the children in the baby carriage!”
Mr. Slover mentioned “Magic Trio,” another picture he was in. He also worked
in New York in “Bringing Up Baby”.
“It made me kind of happy when they need you so much in different places,” he
said. “It keeps you busy.” He added he is most proud of his work in Oz. “I’ve
been going to all of the Judy Garland festivals,” he said. As a matter of fact,
he just attended one recently in Syracuse.
We asked what it was like working with Judy Garland. “She was really nice,”
he replied. “She was only sixteen years old. She wanted to sit down and talk
with us. The director told her, ‘Judy, we need you. You can sit with the little
people maybe in a half an hour or so.’ He chuckled about it. “She was really
Mr. Slover said he owns a copy of the book, “The Munchkins of Oz,” written by
Stephen Cox, which gives a history of his beginnings in Hungary and his
migration to the United States. He is proud that he is an American citizen and
that, “I was the first trumpeter coming out” in “The Wizard of Oz.”
Raabe is another one of the surviving Munchkins who is proud of his star on the
Hollywood Walk of Fame. When we first called Mr. Raabe to set up a phone
interview, his sense of humor shone through immediately. “I’m available anytime
except when I’m sleeping!” He added, “I’m awake right now.” We ended up doing
the phone interview right on the spot.
In our first question we asked what he felt about receiving this great honor.
“Well, let’s put it this way,” he said. “I have been in Hollywood and have seen
the Hollywood Walk of Fame and it is, shall we say, an illustrious situation,
along with the theater district there. And everybody who goes there—it is the
primary thing they came out to see. Having a chance to be commemorated there is
an honor, and the little people who worked in the picture—I think it is
deserved, and all of us appreciate it.”
We next asked Mr. Raabe about a few of his favorite scenes from “The Wizard
of Oz”. “Well, naturally the opening (in Munchkinland) when the good witch
appears and Dorothy asks ‘What are Munchkins?’ That of course introduces the
word ‘Munchkin’ to the public. It was a word that was coined by the author Frank
Baum. That word ‘Munchkin’ became standardized. Everybody on the street,
everybody you talk to uses that term. That to me is one of the high points. And
of course, personally I have to refer to my own scene standing alongside Judy
Garland, presenting the death certificate which, of course, is the one thing
people from all over the country remember, including the lines—children and
elderly people ask me to repeat the lines to verify that I’m still it!”
The lines Mr. Raabe refers to, of course, are these: “As coroner, I must
aver, I thoroughly examined her, and she’s not only merely dead, she’s really
most sincerely dead!”
Dove asked Mr. Raabe what Judy Garland was like to work with. “Naturally we
all looked up to her for her singing ability. For a number of little people who
were there, individually, we didn’t all have a lot of interaction with her. So
the final scene at the Mayor’s office was the one scene that everybody
Judy Garland signed a picture for all the individual Munchkins, and she wrote
the following to Mr. Raabe: “To Meinhardt, a perfect coroner and a perfect
person too. Love from Judy.”
addition to his role as the Oz coroner, Mr. Raabe also worked for Oscar Meyer
for thirty years as the company mascot “Little Oscar, World’s Smallest Chef”.
We asked about his memories of working for Oscar Meyer. “Well obviously, over
that period of years we had many different situations and the object was to
familiarize the public with the Oscar Meyer product. Also, I had many
opportunities, putting on cooking schools or food shows to let the public know
proper methods of preparing food.”
“Was it fun sometimes?” we asked. “Oh yes,” he replied. We asked about his
education, as we had read he was well educated. “I earned my bachelor of arts
degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1937,” he replied. “After that I
traveled for years but I received my master’s degree from Drexel University in
Philadelphia, Master of Science in Business Administration in 1953.”
Mr. Raabe has authored a book, “Memories of a Munchkin,” which was published
two years ago by Back Stage Books. It is filled with his recollections of
working on Oz at age twenty three, and it includes many rare photos from behind
the scenes of the making of the film.
Mr. Raabe still attends Oz conventions as he can. He had just returned from
one, a three day event, near Buffalo, New York at the time we spoke with him.
There is an annual “Wizard of Oz” weekend in Chesterton, Indiana, every
September and we asked if he would be attending it. “Let’s say I hope so,” he
replied. “In other words, when you’re nearing 92 years of age, you can’t
guarantee anything!” We chuckled at his response on that one.
In concluding our interview with Mr. Raabe, we asked him what he was most
proud of regarding his career. It might surprise some people, but it wasn’t “The
Wizard of Oz.”
“Well, I think one of the major points was during the Second World War--I was
too short to be eligible to fly in a military aircraft, but I was the smallest
licensed pilot in uniform. I didn’t fly the big military planes--I was a ground
instructor, teaching the big boys meteorology and navigation.” He also became a
coast watcher, looking for enemy submarines along the Eastern seaboard.
We finished the interview by telling him we enjoyed watching him every year
in “The Wizard of Oz.” “Thank you,” he kindly replied.
This concludes part 1 of this 2 part interview.
Read Dove's Review of "The
Wizard of Oz"
Munchkins of Oz: Exclusive Interviews (Part 2)"