The Wizard of Oz celebrates 80th anniversary

MADISON, WI (July 28, 2019) — On August 25, 1939, The Wizard of Oz, opened in theaters across the country. Starring Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, and Bert Lahr, the film was MGM’s most expensive production at that time. It was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and would become a classic.

Early in the film, Dorothy (played by Garland) and her house are caught in a tornado. The house flies out of a Kansas sky and lands in Munchkinland, killing the Wicked Witch of the East. Dorothy discovers a land full of little people known as Munchkins. More than 120 little people were hired to play these Munchkins, including 1937 University of Wisconsin graduate Meinhardt Raabe. Raabe played the coroner Munchkin, famously singing the lines, “As coroner, I must aver, I thoroughly examined her. And she’s not only merely dead. She’s really, most sincerely dead.”

Meinhardt Raabe the munchkin.

But that wasn’t Raabe’s only claim to fame. For 30 years, he was a salesman and spokesperson for the Oscar Mayer company. He played the role of “Little Oscar, the world’s smallest chef,” traveling around the country in the first Wienermobile.

During World War II, he joined the Civil Air Patrol in upper Michigan, flying search and rescue missions in place of the Coast Guard which was busy with coastal shore patrols.

Raabe donated millions of dollars earned from his autobiography and career to the Bethesda Lutheran Communities in Watertown, which supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He passed away in 2010 — the last surviving cast member with any dialogue in the film. He was 94.

Raabe and The Wizard of Oz are the topic of the latest Thank You, 72 podcast and radio series from the Wisconsin Alumni Association.

The podcast will be available to download at Thankyou72.org and on Apple iTunes and other podcast platforms. The story of Meinhardt Raabe will also be shared on 86 Wisconsin Radio Network stations across the state.

Media Information

Contact: Tod Pritchard, tod.pritchard@supportuw.org, 608-609-5217, @WisAlumni