Over on Mark Evanier‘s terrific News From ME blog you’ll find this post about the passing away of Mienhardt Raabe, who was one of the last surviving cast members of the Wizard of Oz, specifically of the Munchkins. He played the munchkin coroner. Mr. Raabe was 94.
I never met Mr. Raabe but I was honored to have some of my artwork included in a book about his life… a very unique book not only because it told a fascinating tale about a very fascinating man who lived a very fascinating life… of which playing a munchkin in “The Wizard of OZ” was only a brief part, but because of the tremendous collection of pieces of art that were created for it by a whole lot of names any cartoon/comic book buff will recognize.
I got involved with the project when I was contacted in 2002 by an energetic young naval officer by the name of Daniel Kinske, who wanted to commission me to do an illustration for this book he was working on. The book was “Memories of a Munchkin“, the afore mentioned autobiography Mr. Raabe, assisted by Lt. Dan (can’t resisit calling him that!). Lt. Dan met Mr. Raabe and decided here was a man who had a life story that needed to be told. Mr. Raabe apparently needed some convincing, being a very humble and unassuming man. He finally relented and Lt. Dan worked tirelessly to get the book done.
The most interesting parts of his tale are not the usual stories about the film and behind the scenes anecdotes, it is the truly amazing life of Mr. Raabe before and after the film. At four foot six inches, Mr. Raabe encountered a lot of adversity and challenges in life, yet he did and saw more than most of us will ever imagine. He worked in fairs and exhibitions in “midget villages”, which were somewhat like sideshow attractions. Yet he paid his way through college, graduating from the University of Wisconsin. He achieved a pilot’s license and flew planes in the Civil Air Patrol in World War II. He spent thirty years as “little Oscar”, spokesman for the Oscar Mayer Company (he drove the Wienermobile). He also married, taught and traveled the country as an educator. This little synopsis does not do proper credit to his story.
Mr. Raabe’s tales is worth the price of the book alone, but thanks to Lt. Dan there is another facet to this book that makes it of interest to cartoon buffs, and MAD Magazine fans in particular. Lt. Dan is a longtime MAD and caricature art fan, and one of the concepts of his book was to enlist some past and present MAD artists to do illustrations for inclusion. This began small, as finding many of these artists was a task in itself. I was contacted by Lt. Dan early as my website made me easier to get in touch with, and I was so taken with his enthusiasm I helped him contact a number of other MAD artists. This aspect of the project began to take on a life of it’s own, I suspect.
The end result is that this book quietly contains one of the most incredible collections of caricature and humorous illustration you will ever see. The cover has done by Al Hirschfeld, and is one of the last (if not THE last) pieces he did before he passed away. Inside are original commissions by MAD artists Jack Davis, Mort Drucker, Sergio Aragones, Al Jaffee, Paul Coker Jr., Angelo Torres, Al Feldstein, Bob Clark, Sam Viviano, Rick Tulka, Tom Bunk, Duck Edwing, Peter Kuper, Frank Kelly Freas, Herman Mejia, Monte Wolverton, Bill Wray, Drew Friedman, Liz Lomax and Ray Alma. Also featured are comic and illustration greats like Sebastian Kr?¬?ger, Frank Frazetta, Greg Hildebrandt, Drew Struzan, Anita Kunz, Bernie Wrightson, Don Perlin and several others. The artwork is really a one of a kind collection. Do yourself a favor and check out this book.
I was sorry to hear of the passing of Mr. Raabe, but I think most would count themselves lucky to have lived such a life as he did.
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