Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

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.


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.


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.

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.

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. 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. 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 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."















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