KARL SLOVER








2008 St. Patrick's Parade - L to R - Karl Slover,
Scotty Thompson, Scott B. Thompson, Sr. ,
Photos by Dr. Grady Campbell

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Karl Slover, Dublin St. Patrick's Festival Parade, 2006 @ Scott B. Thompson, Sr.





KARL SLOVER,
MORE THAN A MUNCHKIN

Have you ever met someone that you liked to be around the first time you ever met them? If you are lucky, sit down beside him and just listen. Listen to his stories. Listen to his contagious laugh as the tales flow. He tells and retells the same stories verbatim, but everyonce in a while, he’ll add a new twist or accent his point with an obscure phrase and his infectious giggle. And, once you get up to leave, you’ll find that you have just met one of the warmest, funniest and kindest people you’ve ever met. I felt that way the first time I met Karl Slover and every time I sit down with this little man with a big heart, big ears and an even bigger grin.

Karl was born Karl Kosiczky on September 21, 1918 in Prakendorf in that portion of Hungary which later became a part of the Czech Republic and later Germany. Karl’s six-foot six-inch tall father expected that his only son out of his five children would follow in his footsteps as a local gendarme. No one knows exactly how large Karl was when he was born, but for the first few years of his life, Karl appeared to be a normal child. But then, Karl stopped growing.
Desperate to make his two-foot tall eight-year- old son grow, Karl’s father came with all sorts of "bright ideas and brainstorms" as Karl calls them. "He got a big wooden barrel and filled it with coconut leaves and boiled them, and then put me in it. I was as red as a lobster when they took me out," Karl recalled. His mother had to coat him all over with an ointment to keep his skin from blistering. Eight doctors were called in to help. "They put me on stretchers," Karl said, "but one of the doctors thought they were doing it all wrong," he said when his bones began to pop.


"They would put me in a sand pile. I would wear a pair of long underwear. We had a maid. My mother would tell the maid, who came in around 2:00 p.m. one day, to get me out around 4:00 while she went to the grocery store. The maid went inside and it began to rain. I cried out for the maid, but she didn’t hear me. I called to our dog, a Doberman Pinscher. She came over and picked me up and drug me over to the dog’s house. Our dog loved us. My mother got home and asked where I was. The maid shrieked, ‘I forgot about Karl. He’s still out in the yard.’ My mother looked at the sand pile, and I wasn’t there where I was supposed to be. My mother called to me. I told her, ‘I’m here in the dog’s house.’ My mother and my father bawled out the maid."
One day Karl and his sister were returning from a walk when they stopped by the mailbox. They handed a letter to their mother who read it to Karl. The letter said that an agent was going to be sent over to the Slover house to see if Karl would be interested in joining Singer’s Midget Show, the largest midget show in the world. Karl remembers leaving the railroad station with his father as if it was yesterday.
"Dad and I went to the train station. He told Mr. Singer that he was glad to get rid of me and that I would do him no good in following in his footsteps," Karl recalled. Though his mother reluctantly relented, Karl kept thinking to himself "maybe it is for the best." Karl missed his family, but being around people of his own size made up for it. "I was with little people more my size. It was like a new family," said Karl. The midget show owners tried to find clothes for Karl. They looked all over for underwear. Finally they found a man in a department store who gave me some underwear to try on. "They went back and told me that the underwear had been given to the world’s smallest midget. The man was so excited that he gave me and some of the other midgets all the underwear we could wear for free," Karl chuckled.
John Ringling, one of the world’s most famous circus owners, sought out Karl for his circus. After all, Karl was billed as the "World’s Smallest Midget," and Ringling had to have him in his big top shows. Karl remained with Mr. Singer and played in Billy Rose’s "Jumbo Show" in the Hippodrome Theater in New York. He appeared in "They Gave Him a Gun" with Spencer Tracy, his favorite co-star. His first speaking role came as "Sammy the barber" with an all midget cast in "Terror of Tiny Town." In another single line movie appearance, Karl uttered the classic line "Out, please!" in Blockheads, one of Laurel and Hardy’s most popular films.



Karl as "The Barber" in Terror Of Tiny Town



Karl as a singing bass player in barroom scene in Terror Of Tiny Town.







Karl in "Blockheads"

Karl’s most famous role came as one of Munchkins in the Wizard of Oz. Karl played five roles; the first trumpeter, a sleepy head, a soldier, one of those who escorted Dorothy down the Yellow Brick Road, and even a female villager to balance out the mostly male midget cast. Karl is most often asked why he thinks the Wizard of Oz remains so popular nearly seventy years after its original airing. His standard answer goes something like this, "Children love it. It’s a family movie. There’s no filthy language in it." Ironically, Karl’s parents never saw the movie, nor did any of his sisters.







Karl as the First Trumpeter (far left) in the Wizard of Oz.





Karl as a Sleepy Head (far right) in the Wizard of Oz.



Singer’s Midget Show continued to stage performances until the early days of World War II. Many of the Munchkins left Singer because he had robbed them of most of their pay. They made less than the dog Toto. The troup disbanded, and Karl was left to face the world alone. He went to work for B.A. Slover and Ada Slover in Tampa, Florida in their amusement show. Karl finally received his American citizenship and elected to adopt the new surname of Slover for the family who tried to adopt him but couldn’t under the prevailing state law.
During the war, Karl received a letter from his sister, who was confined to a concentration camp in Germany. He told her to try and contact their father to get her out and then go to the American Zone where she would be safe. Ironically, the abandonment of Karl by his father may have not only saved his sister’s life, but may have saved Karl himself from the maniacal and diabolical Nazis who wanted to experiment on non pure Arians.
It would be thirty seven years before Karl would return to his native home. He found his mother living in the American sector of Berlin. He expected to find that his mother would be gray, but he was surprised to find that she still had blonde hair. Karl discovered that she had little memories of him and his childhood, a result of the horrors she endured during the war.
After the war, Karl continued to work with the Slovers as a barker, ride operator, and ticket taker. He also kept the books. When his days in the carnival were over, Karl’s main occupation was a poodle trainer. "I first started training Daschunds and all small breeds of dogs and even some police dogs as guard dogs. Then, I mostly trained poodles. I didn’t believe in hitting dogs. Once you hit them they won’t obey you. I tried to give them a snack when they did what I told them. I also trained horses for a time. I used to train dogs and perform them at nursing homes, schools, birthday parties and even churches. But you can’t get any more jobs like that, so I gave it up," Karl recalled.
Karl never learned how to drive though he did try driving a go-cart. It scared "the heck" of out him and he gave up driving forever.
For ten years, Karl would pack up his memorabilia once a month and go an antique mall near his home in Hyde Park and set up a table covered with an emerald green cloth. For a small fee of ten to fifteen dollars, he sold autographed pictures of himself from the Wizard of Oz and other films. Slover made his last appearance in July 2004.
For nearly twenty years now, Karl has traveled all over the country for Oz festivals and autograph signing sessions. Donna Stewart Hardway, a regular sized child who portrayed one of the Munchkins, described Karl as "a baby doll." "When people find out that he was in the movie they go nuts. Children especially warm up to him," she continued Karl’s closest friend among the surviving Munchkins is Clarence Swensen, who played a soldier in the movie. "He’s a good and nice guy," Karl quipped.
After his movie career ended, Karl began to grow. He always wanted to grow to a normal height, but after being dependent on others to do the most mundane of daily tasks, his extra height allowed him to do things on his own. He never regrets being a midget. "I got to be in the Wizard of Oz and got to meet some movie stars and a lot of nice people," Karl said.
These days Karl likes to watch television, especially game shows. When the weather is warm, Karl loves to work in his garden. He loves sweets, especially chocolate, and more especially chocolate ice cream. I recently watched Karl eat the "largest hamburger he ever saw" before topping off his meal at an LA eatery with a big bowl of chocolate ice cream.
Karl Slover is more than just a Munchkin. He is one of the kindest, sweetest, gentlest and funniest people you will ever meet. After nearly ninety years of traveling all over the country, Karl firmly believes "there is no place like home," and he is right here, living in the Emerald City to prove it.


"The lines on his face are bunched together like rings on a dwarf maple. The tiny, squeaky voice in unmistakable. He was delightful, polite and witty, with a face forever locked in a smile."
Ed Grisamore, The Macon Telegraph, December 4, 2005





"I’ve got a good life. A wonderful life. I have no complaints."
Karl Slover





Advice to people in their eighties.
"Just try to get along the best you can. Enjoy what you have. Enjoy where you live. Most of all remember what Judy Garland said, ‘There’s no place like home.’"
Karl Slover








______________________________________________________________




RETURN TO OZ


For nearly seventy years, Karl Slover has been following the Yellow Brick Road to the land of Oz. Though he and his fellow midget actors were on screen for less than ten minutes in the epic film "The Wizard of Oz," the Munchkins have become icons of American cinematic history. Finally, and most fittingly, seven of the nine surviving members of the Munchkin cast returned to Hollywood, California, where their legend began in 1939. During the week of Thanksgiving, on a boulevard lined with golden stars, Karl Slover, Mickey Carroll, Ruth Duccini, Margaret Pelligrini, Meinhardt Raabe, Clarence Swensen and Jerry Maren accepted a well deserved and long overdue star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on behalf of the 124 actors, who welcomed Dorothy Gale over the rainbow.
Many people thought that the Munchkins were already honored with their own stars. Chicago restauranteur Ted Bulthaup led the effort to have the Munchkins awarded their own star. His dream was aided by such Hollywood icons as Steven Speilberg, George Lucas, Ted Turner and dozens more. Actually they are the only group of characters to be so honored for their memorable, albeit brief, appearance on the big screen.
Karl Slover, a resident of the Sheridan Place in Dublin, received the news this past summer. The 89-year- old Slover frequently travels throughout the country to Oz festivals and autograph sessions. Upon the receipt of the news, Sheridan director Gina Ensley Drown and her staff began the preparations for the trip to Hollywood during the week of Thanksgiving. A dozen Dubliners traveled to Hollywood to accompany Karl. Ten travelers stayed up all night following a Dublin football game to catch an early morning flight. The celebration began on Sunday night with a delicious meal hosted by Mayor Phil Best and his wife Cile at the L.A. Prime, some three hundred feet above downtown Los Angeles. Mayor Best presented an honorary award to Karl, who was accompanied by his niece Gay Griffit.
Scotty Thompson, Karl Slover and Scott Thompson
at L.A. Prime. (Photo by Cristol Cannon)

Karl Slover and Gina Ensley Drown

Dublin Mayor Phil Best toasts Karl.

Laura Ensley, Karl Slover and Ashley Ensley.




align="justify">The festivities began in earnest on November 19 at Graumann’s Chinese Theater. The Hollywood Preservation Society sponsored a showing of "The Wizard of Oz." It would be the last time that this legendary film, specially enhanced just for this showing, would ever be shown in its technicolor format on the big screen. The entrance to the theater, one of the country’s most historic movie houses, was lined with yellow brick road carpet, a battalion of cameramen, and a few hundred adoring fans and passers by. My son Scotty and I, along with Pam Green of WDIG-TV got our crowded guard rail spots two hours early. The official media stood in relative comfort across the aisle in their reserved places. While the rented spotlights beamed into the unusually foggy L.A. sky, the honored guests began to arrive.


Karl Slover and Jerry Maren mobbed by
photographers in front of Graumann's Theater.

As the Munchkins began to walk down the yellow carpet, a hoard of media, more voracious than the wicked witch’s monkeys, swarmed over Karl and the other midget actors. They don’t mind being called midgets, because that’s what they are. After the honorees had their pictures taken with the sponsors and in clips for the national networks, the ceremony opened with a humorous introduction by Gary Owens, of "Laugh In" and "The Gong Show" fame. Stan Taffel, a comedian and Hollywood historian interviewed the Munchkins. When it came Karl’s turn, he began to sing "We’re off to see the Wizard," a charming tune which drew a loud round of applause and quite a few tears.



Karl relaxes prior to screening of Wizard of Oz.
The feature of the night was the showing of the Wizard of Oz in the same theater it premiered in August 1939. The picture was so clear you really could see the freckles on Dorothy’s face. If you have never seen the movie on a big screen, you missed a wonderful treat. And though most of the audience had seen the movie before - some dozens of times - there was reciting of the lines, applause, laughter, and cheers throughout the showing. Some in the Dublin delegation drew the attention of several photographers and a documentary cinematographer as we were all dressed in emerald city green attire, each of us wearing specially designed "Karl Slover Fan Club" buttons. Also present that night were actresses Tippi Hedren, of Alfred Hitchcock’s "The Birds," Margaret O’Brien of "Meet Me in St. Louis" and a childhood friend of Judy Garland, and Anne Rutherford, who played a sister of Scarlett O’Hara in "Gone With the Wind." The granddaughter of Frank Morgan, who portrayed the Wizard and several other Emerald City residents, was in attendance along with the great grandson of L. Frank Baum, the writer and creator of the story. There were also several actors who portrayed Munchkins present, but because they were children and not midgets, they were inexplicably - to me anyway - not included in the festivities.

Margaret Pelligrini, Mickey Carroll, Ruth Duccini,
Mrs. Jerry Maren, Jerry Maren and Karl Slover.
Back row: Stan Taffel and Gary Owens.


The highlight of the week came on Tuesday morning with the star presentation ceremony. Hosted by Johnny Grant, the "Mayor of Hollywood," and Joe Luft, son of Judy Garland, and a squad of politicos, the ceremony began right on time. Covering the entrance to the theater was a tall arch of balloons simulating a rainbow. The Munchkins arrived from their hotel rooms in a carriage, pulled by a horse of a different color. This particular steed was a pale purple one. The crowd swelled. The Hollywood High School band played.

Munchkins Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame

Karl walks toward the unveiling ceremony.

Cameras went high into the air to catch a glimpse of the little people as they approached the podium. We had been at our station near the star site for two hours, long before any of the crowd arrived.
The Munchkins walked down a wider and much longer yellow carpet strip to the site of their star, located at the far eastern end of the theater. In front of a battery of television and still photographers and barely within our view, the star was finally unveiled. After thousands of photographs and hours of film were taken, Karl and his comrades were given another carriage ride back to the Roosevelt Hotel.
Following the presentation ceremony, a luncheon was held in honor of the Munchkins in the Blossom Room of the hotel. In the very room where the first Academy Awards were held in 1929, the tables were decorated with green table cloths and illuminated underneath to give the room a virescent glow, reminiscent of the chamber of the Wizard of Oz. Behind the dais was a striking rendition of the Emerald City. The tables were decorated with baskets filled with red poppies and a stuffed toy version of Toto.



Carriage ride to Roosevelt Hotel

The luncheon passed all too quickly before the actors were once again whisked off to face the media for one final time and much to the chagrin of autograph seekers who had politely waited until they finished eating.
Karl’s final night in Hollywood was spent with his niece and the folks from Dublin in a quiet restaurant on Sunset Boulevard. Following a long day and puny luncheon food, Karl enjoyed the largest hamburger he ever saw. Still hungry, Karl downed a big bowl of chocolate ice cream.



Karl enjoying a big bowl of chocolate ice cream.

Karl enjoyed the visit and appreciated the honor that he and his fellow Munchkins had finally received. Though he was honored to be there, he found nothing very exciting in Hollywood like he did seventy years ago. Feeling smothered by the media sticking microphones in his face and blinding his eyes with spot lights, the little man with the big smile was glad to be back in the "Emerald City" of Dublin. "Heck yeah, I am glad to be home," Karl said, "after all, there’s no place like home."



Karl with Emma, Vicki, Kathy, and Mandi Hutto.

All other photos @ Scott B. Thompson, Sr.

Comments

Gentle Ben said…
This was a very nice tribute to a man who could have lived a lonely life until he found "his home" in Dublin, Ga. Thanks for sharing Scott.
Kathryn_GA said…
This is a touching tribute to a wonderful man. My family and I are new to Dublin and are curious as to how Mr. Slover chose Dublin to be his home?
Scott Thompson said…
Kathryn,
Karl's adopted brother and his wife came her to live in the Sheridan Assisted Living Home. He came to live with them. We are all better people to have known and loved him.