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Jeane La Barbera and Robert Drake

Little Dancer - Jeane La Barbera and husband Robert Drake as the Comedy Cut-Ups

Little Dancer: Jeane La Barbera and Robert Drake
glossy photograph, 10 x 8 inches, circa 1940
photographer: Murray Korman, New York


When I first purchased this photograph, depicting the tiny coquette with her jumpsuited partner, I had no idea who these people might be. I can now say with confidence that this is a publicity photograph for the Comedy Cut-Ups, the song and dance act of "Little Jeane" La Barbera and her husband of forty-seven years, Robert Drake.

Little Jeane was born 4 August 1909 in Italy, but grew up on Long Island, New York. Although just twenty-four inches tall, Jeane was working as a concert violist (with a custom-fitted instrument) when a representative of the William Morris Agency discovered her. From that day forward, Jean La Barbera was engaged in a long vaudeville career which took her to locations as diverse as the London Palladium, the Hippodrome in New York, and the soundstage of MGM's The Wizard of Oz (1939).

In The Wizard of Oz, Little Jeane was one of the tiniest of the performers chosen to portray the citizens of Munchkinland. Because she was so small, director Victor Fleming inserted La Barbera all over the Munchkinland scenes, regardless of shot continuity. Munchkin maiden La Barbera appears one moment near a house, then seconds later appears next to Dorothy. After the close of shooting for the film, La Barbera was one of several Munchkins MGM retained for the publicity tour.

In the 1940's, Jeane and her six-foot tall husband Robert Drake toured as one of vaudeville's most unusual husband-and-wife acts, the Comedy Cut-Ups. This photograph is an early publicity shot from those days. By the 1950's, the couple retired to Tampa, Florida where they led a quiet life for the next four decades.

Jeane La Barbera died of Alzheimer's disease on 17 August 1993, just a few weeks after her 84th birthday. Robert Drake had passed away the previous year due to heart disease.

My thanks to Oz enthusiast Kevin Hoglund for identifying the Drake's as the couple depicted in this photograph.


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All Images and Text James G. Mundie 2003 - 2010