Saturday, April 10, 2010

Munchkin Coroner Meinhardt Raabe & Jiminy Cricket Voice Eddie Carroll R.I.P.

Meinhardt Raabe

Meinhardt Raabe, who played the Munchkin's coroner who pronounced the Wicked Witch of the East "really, most sincerely dead" in The Wizard of Oz, passed Thursday at the age of 94. He was one of the last surviving actors to play one of the Munchkins.

Meinhardt Raabe was born on September 2, 1915 in Watertown, Wisconsin. Growing up he in rural Wisconsin, he assumed that he was unique, as there were no other little people in the area. It was in 1933 that he went to the Chicago World's Fair and visited the Midget Village there. He so enjoyed the experience that he took a job as a barker there the next summer. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison where he received a bachelor's degree in accounting in 1937. He graduated from Drexel University in 1970 with an M.B.A.

Mr. Raabe experienced a good deal of discrimination because of his height, with one recruiter even telling him he belonged in a carnival. He eventually took a job with Oscar Mayer as a salesman. The company appointed him their mascot, Little Oscar "the World's Smallest Chef," and he spent nearly thirty years travelling with the Wienermobile to promote the company. He would be one of the first to drive the Wienermobile, the original having been designed in 1936.

It was in 1938 that he found out MGM was hiring little people for a film. Meinhardt Raabe took a leave from his job and went to Hollywood. MGM was impressed with Mr. Raabe, and cast him in the role of the coroner in The Wizard of Oz. Like the other actors who played Munchkins in the film, it is believed his lines were later dubbed. Despite this, Mr. Raabe always remained a fan of the film. It would be his only feature film role. For the rest of his life he would appear before schools and clubs to talk about his experiences in making the film.  He was frequently seen at fan conventions dedicated to the film.

During World War II he served in the Civil Air Patrol. It is believed he was the smallest pilot in uniform. Mr. Raabe later worked as a horticulturist and a teacher.

Meinhardt Raabe had only one role in a feature film, and it was a role that lasted only a few seconds. Despite this, he made an impression that actors who work for years in their profession would not. For years later he would continue to promote The Wizard of Oz, becoming one of its best loved supporters. He also worked for years in public relations for Oscar Mayer, many of them as "Little Oscar." In this position he again made a memorable impression on many. It was perhaps a photograph autographed by Judy Garland, which Mr. Raabe kept his whole life, that may have best summed up the man, "For Meinhardt, A perfect coroner, and person, too."

Eddie Carroll

Eddie Carroll, only one of two men to voice Disney's Jiminy Cricket (the other was the legendary Cliff Edwards), passed on April 6 at the age of 76. The cause was a brain tumour.

Eddie Carroll was born Edward Eniak in Edmonton, Alberta on September 5, 1933. In high school he acted alongside another student who would one day be famous, Robert Goulet. It was in the Fifties that he moved to the United States as part of a NBC talent programme. He served in the United States Army, where he wrote and produced shows for Armed Forces Radio and Television. It was his mother who suggested he choose a simpler name for use in show business. He chose Carroll for a favourite aunt.

Eddie Carroll made his debut on television in a guest appearance on The Lieutenant in 1963. He also guest starred on Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C., Mission: Impossible, and The Andy Griffith Show. He appeared in the film The Last of the Secret Agents in 1966. In 1970 he was a regular on The Don Knotts Show. It was in 1971 that Mr. Carroll would receive the role for which he was best known. Following the death of Cliff Edwards, Disney needed to find a new voice for Jiminy Cricket. Prior to the audition, Mr. Carroll studied Mr. Edwards' rendition of "When You Wish Upon a Star." He also realised that he would have to adopt a Missouri to get the part. In the end, Eddie Carroll was cast as the new voice of  Jiminy Cricket. He first voiced the character in the animated short "Bongo" in 1971. In the end, Mr. Carroll would be the voice of Jiminy Cricket nearly until his death. He would become the man to voice a Disney character the longest.

In 1983 Eddie Carroll performed in a one man show, A Small Eternity with Jack Benny, in which he impersonated the legendary comedian. He continued to appear in the role of the comedian until last year. To play the role, Mr. Carroll had to teach himself violin.

Eddie Carroll did an admirable job as Jiminy Cricket, to the point that is difficult to notice any differences between his voice and that of Cliff Edwards. Indeed, he mastered Mr. Edwards' Hannibal, Missouri accent, no mean feat. He also did an admirable job impersonating Jack Benny. He was one of the few men who could capture the great comedian's character and personality nearly perfectly. Mr. Carroll's success as both Jiminy Cricket and as a Jack Benny impersonator was largely due to his ability to engulf himself in a character. It was an ability which he put to good use throughout his career.

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