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Nolan's Pop Culture Review, 2007!
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Munchkin Mall Mayhem!  by Ed Tucker
"TMNT"  by Mike Smith
John Waters Goes to Court  by Andy Lalino
The Shark Is Still Working....The Rondo Controversy Update  by Matt Drinnenberg
Me And The Munchkins....Passing On....Happy Birthday....Words and Music....Whatever Happened To...? Chapter 12: John Savage  by Mike Smith
Nolan's Pop Culture Review
Established A.D. 2000, March 19. Now in our eighth calendar year!
Number 365  (Vol. 8, No. 12). This edition is for the week of March 19--25, 2007.

Munchkin Mall Mayhem!

By ED Tucker

On Saturday, March 10, the yellow brick road took a slight detour away from its usual destination of the Emerald City and ended up instead at the Orange Park Mall! On this day, the City of Orange Park, Florida held their second annual Wizard of Oz Day and the highlight of the event was the appearance of five of the Munchkins from the 1939 film. This was an ambitious undertaking but a lack of planning was an underlying detractor for the entire festival.

In 2006, the Orange Park Chamber of Commerce was looking for a way to honor Meinhardt Raabe, the actor who played the Munchkin Coroner and a resident of the nearby Penney Farms retirement community. The event they came up with consisted mainly of a big screen showing of the film in the mall movie theater and a presentation for Mr. Raabe with a book signing that followed in the mall Books-A-Million. For 2007, the festival was expanded considerably but the end result was not what it could have been.

When I first heard about the event, I attempted to do all I could in the way of research to be as prepared as possible. This included reviewing their website and even E-mailing the promoters for information. Unfortunately the website did not offer much in the way of information other than giving the time and date of the event. There was also no information on when specific segments would take place or even what the showtimes were for the film.

Back in 2006, there was some major disappointment when Meinhardt Raabe would only sign copies of his book “Memories of a Munchkin: An Illustrated Walk Down the Yellow Brick Road” that had been purchased from the bookstore. This was not communicated well to the fans in attendance so many stood in line for almost an hour only to be told they could not get an autograph (the bookstore only had about 40 copies of the book and they sold out quickly). This year, I sent a total of three E-mails to the promoters repeatedly asking them if there were any restrictions on the signings this time and what the autograph prices were expected to be. All I got in return was the noncommittal response that each guest had their own policies. My suggestion that these policies be obtained and posted on the website went completely ignored.

When I arrived at the mall on Saturday morning around opening time, I saw no signs or any indication that the event was taking place. I parked by the movie theater thinking this was the most logical location. As I walked past the theater I saw nothing about the film or event and there were no signs inside the mall on that side. My next guess, to head for the book store, was also fruitless as their were no signs there either. Fortunately I peered down the corridor towards the J.C. Penney and finally saw indications that looked like something was actually going on.

There were only about a dozen dealers in the area and half of them didn’t even have anything related to the movie or even films in general. Moving closer I passed a table of cakes all decorated with a Wizard of Oz theme that at least helped add atmosphere. I was somewhat relieved when I reached the crowd of about 200 people gathered around a stage and saw that the five guests of honor were being introduced. After about fifteen minutes of walking through half the mall, I was finally able to verify that there was an event taking place!

The number of diminutive actors that appeared in the Wizard of Oz has been estimated at around 120 (for the crowd scenes in Munchkinland, children were used to pad out the shots) but only nine are known to survive today, close to 70 years later. For the second annual Wizard of OZ day, previously mentioned Coroner Meinhardt Raabe was joined by four of his fellow Munchkin actors - Mickey Carroll who played a Munchkin fiddler, townswoman Ruth Duccini, Sleepyhead Margaret Pellegrini, and Captain of the Munchkin Guard Karl Slover.

While they will always be inexorably identified with the 1939 theatrical masterpiece, most of the actors who played the Munchkins had very little to do with the motion picture business before or after the film. Their non-acting careers are actually far more interesting. Many assisted with war effort in World War II by performing support roles that the average person could not. Others became spokesmen for various companies and traveled the country promoting their products. I was absolutely amazed that, at close to 90 years of age, all of the guests were amazingly mobile and sharp. Getting to hear some of their life stories was the try highlight of this event.

Following the introductions came a ninety-minute autograph session that, true to my concerns, offered no indications of the prices they were charging prior to the start. Many of the people already in line for autographs were furiously speculating on what the prices would be. Fortunately it was only $5 per signature or $10 for a signed photo which is extremely reasonable. I can guarantee though that, had they informed me of this when I E-mailed, I would have spent another $25-$50 on signatures if I had brought items to be signed.

While I was waiting my turn for autographs, I found it amusing that one of the employees of the bookstore was hocking copies of Mienhardt Raabe’s book for $43 to the people in line, claiming a portion of the sale proceeds went to the American Heart Association. I couldn’t resist informing her that I had purchased my copy online from Amazon’s remainders for only $8! For those interested in a very entertaining read, “Memories of a Munchkin” retails for $39.95. Amazon currently carries it new for $26.37 (with free shipping) or you can purchase it from their Marketplace for only $6.99 and send your savings to the charity of your choice!

Even though I was only about 30-50 people back in the autograph line when it started, I was one of the last ones there to get all five guests signatures at this signing. The line moved incredibly slowly and there was no one from the event keeping it flowing. As I was nearing my final Munchkin, they announced there were only ten more minutes left until the lunch break and they would not resume signing until 2PM. Luckily I squeezed through since I had no intention of hanging around for two more hours. As I was walking away, the long line behind me appeared decidedly displeased.

I had originally intended to take in a showing of the film while I was there (after finally finding out the two show times that day were 10:55 and 2PM). Unfortunately the slow line for autographs forced me to miss the first show and I had no desire to wait two hours for the second one. I still haven’t been able to figure out how the theater thought scheduling the showings of the film opposite both autograph sessions was a good idea but that is just one of many questions I left with that day.

In all fairness to the promoters, I did discover after the fact that the event was advertised in the local Clay Today newspaper, which comes out weekly, and that did include a schedule. Why this schedule wasn’t reproduced on the website or why advertisements were not placed in the much larger Florida Times Union newspaper from Jacksonville is still a mystery. I can only hope that the promoters were satisfied with the turnout they did get and will do something again next year. If they choose not to though, they can’t blame the tastes of the public on the lack of attendees since most of the public didn’t even know it was going on!

"Munchkin Mall Mayhem" is ©2007 by ED Tucker. All photos by ED Tucker and used here with permission.

All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2007 by Nolan B. Canova.

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