Karl Slover dies at 93; among the last of the Munchkins
A dwarf whose father sold him to circus performers, Karl Slover was performing in a vaudeville troupe called the Singer Midgets when he was cast as a Munchkin in the 1939 classic film " The Wizard of Oz.”
The 4-foot, 4-inch Slover, one of the last of the actors who portrayed Munchkins, died Tuesday in a central Georgia hospital of cardiopulmonary arrest. He was 93.
His death was confirmed by Nathan Stanley, a Laurens County, Ga., deputy coroner.
Slover was best known for playing the lead trumpeter in the Munchkins’ band but also appeared as a townsman and soldier in the film, said John Fricke, author of “100 Years of Oz” and other books on the movie and its star, Judy Garland.
Of the 124 diminutive actors who portrayed Munchkins, only three survive.
Long after Slover retired, he continued to participate in events across the country related to “The Wizard of Oz.” In 2007, he was one of seven Munchkins at the unveiling of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame dedicated to the actors as a group.
“He has a genuine immortality,” Fricke said. “Of the 124 little people, he’s one of the handful who got to enjoy this latter-day fame.”
Slover was born Karl Kosiczky in what is now the Czech Republic. He was the only child in his family to be born with dwarfism.
“In those uninformed days, his father tried witch doctor treatments to make him grow,” Fricke said. “Knowing Karl and his triumph over his early life, you can’t help but celebrate the man at a time like this.”
As a child, Slover was partially buried in sand, immersed in heated oil until his skin blistered and then attached to a stretching machine at a hospital, all in the attempt to make him become taller. Eventually his 6-foot-6 inch father sold him to a troupe of traveling midgets in Berlin. He was 9.
By the time he was a teenager, he had moved to the United States and appeared with the Singer Midgets, whose 30 performers became the nucleus of the Munchkins.
In “The Wizard of Oz,” Slover is the first of three trumpeters to herald the Munchkin mayor’s entrance. Paid about $50 a week for acting in the movie, Slover told friends that Garland’s dog in the film, Toto, earned more.
His handful of other movies include “The Terror of Tiny Town,” a 1938 western that was billed as “Little guys with big guns!”
He moved to Tampa, Fla., in 1942 and worked for a traveling carnival owned by Bert and Ada Slover. They became his surrogate family, and he legally adopted their last name.
In the late 1980s, the surviving Munchkin actors began appearing around the country and “came to realize how potent the film had become and remained,” Fricke said.
At the Walk of Fame ceremony, Slover recalled the “Oz” filming as grueling and said he had not relished it at the time.
“I had four parts, and each time I had to change clothes and do it so fast,” he told The Times in 2007. “But three years later when I saw the movie, I really enjoyed it.”
Then he offered a theory about the film’s enduring popularity: “I remember telling my roommate there are two things I don’t hear or see in it: no swearing or filthy language and no bikinis and nudity.”
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