John Leal; Played Munchkin in ‘Wizard of Oz’
John “Charlie” Leal, one of the oldest living “Munchkins” from the 1939 movie classic “The Wizard of Oz,” died Saturday at the Acacias Care Convalescent Hospital in Ojai. He was 91.
Leal was born Feb. 26, 1905, in Bakersfield, the youngest of nine children. At age 6, Leal’s family moved to Ventura County, which he considered home for the next 85 years.
In 1921, the 3-foot-tall Leal got his start in show business at 16 working in a sideshow on the Long Beach Boardwalk. He also traveled around the country, performing at state fairs.
“He played Will Rogers and did rope tricks,” said his niece, Alberta Feraud Cliver of Ventura.
Leal also worked at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair as a security guard. In 1938, Leal starred in his first movie, “The Terror of Tiny Town,” in which he played a villainous cowboy among a cast of 100 other midgets.
A year later, Leal danced into fame as a Munchkin villager in “The Wizard of Oz.” As one of the 124 midgets cast in the film, Leal earned $50 per week, substantially less than the $125 weekly wages paid to Dorothy’s dog, Toto.
After finishing the movie, Leal worked as a circus stunt performer until World War II, when he got a job assembling airplane wings at Lockheed.
“He could get into the wings--normal-sized people couldn’t fit,” said Cliver’s daughter, Patty Cooke of Santa Paula.
Once the war was over, Leal returned to his longtime home, the Feraud Ranch near Lake Casitas, which was owned by one of his sisters and her husband. The ranch, since sold, is now known as Rancho del Rey.
Despite his long and varied career as an entertainer, Leal’s interests were down-to-Earth, Cliver said.
“Uncle Johnny was just a regular man,” she said. “He wasn’t a show person.”
Among Leal’s favorite pursuits were hunting, fishing and doing woodwork in his shop, she said.
Leal is survived by Cliver; a brother, Joe Leal of Antioch; a nephew, Albert Feraud of Ojai; and three great-nieces, including Cooke. He also leaves numerous relatives in Northern California, Cooke said.
A rosary for Leal will be recited today at 7 p.m. at the Joseph P. Reardon Funeral Home in Ventura. A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Sacred Heart Church in Ventura. Interment will follow at Ivy Lawn Memorial Park in Ventura.
Arrangements are under the direction of the Joseph P. Reardon Funeral Home, Ventura.