Today, September 21, 2018 was supposed to be a big day in Dublin.  With the recent passing of Jerry Maren, the ubiquitous lollipop Munchkin, Karl Slover was going to turn one hundred years old.  Who is Karl Slover, you ask?  Well, let me tell you about a very special friend of mine, who I have seen on television for all of my life and was blessed to know and love for his last five years right here in the Emerald City.

Had Karl lived until today, there would national media here to cover the celebration of his monumental 100th birthday as the last surviving Munchkin.  Had Karl lived until tomorrow, we all would be much richer for the gifts of laughter and love that he gave to you and me.  For as you will see, tomorrow will still be a big day in Dublin and in Munchkin Land over the rainbow.

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 called them.

I first met Karl in 2006 when I went to get him to sign an autographed picture.  He  wasn’t exactly like I had expected, no where near as short as he was in the movie.  We talked a little.  He signed my picture in a brief, somewhat awkward encounter.

Right then and there, I knew I was coming back again.  I did just that.  Sometimes to say hello or just to listen to the stories.

Somewhere I had in mind a book.  Karl had so many stories of growing up and his years his Hollywood in other movies.  His most prominent role came in the all midget western film, “The Terror of Tiny Town.”  In that hilarious 1938 film, Karl plays a barber, a cowboy, and a saloon singer and fiddler.

Karl appeared in films with Hollywood icons, Spencer Tracy, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, and Ray Milland.  Then as a member of Singer’s Midgets, Karl was hired to play the first trumpeter, a sleepy head, and a villager in the iconic, classic film, “The Wizard of Oz.”

I knew right then there was going to be a fascinating book about his former life and his current life.  Beginning in the late 1980s with the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Wizard of Oz, Karl and the other surviving Munchkins traveled around the country to Oz festivals.   The problem with writing a book is that Karl new about 20 stories, all of which he repeated verbatim, with not a single extra tidbit.

Somewhere in the back of mind, I was planning a book similar to “Tuesdays with Morrie,” where every Thursday, I would go to eat with Karl or take him out around town to shop and see the sights and meet even more friends.  I never thought for a minute that Karl was getting old, very old.  He had infinite energy frequently traveling around the country.  When he came back home, you would find him in his favorite place, the dining room, visiting friends, and putting jigsaw puzzles together.

One Thursday, I accepted Karl’s invitation to come eat with him.  We hadn’t seen each other in a while.  I think it was right after my heart surgery.  He even signed a get well  card.  What a thrill!   Anyway, after finishing the delicious main course, we started a conservation about our favorite
kinds of pie.  I told Karl that I was not a big fan of chocolate pie which was served to us and that I preferred fruity, nutty pies - apple, peach, pecan, coconut, you know the good kinds.  He immediately chased down a server and chastised her, “He does not like this kind of pie, get him something else.” 
As soon as the server disappeared into the kitchen, Karl snatched my piece of chocolate pie, his second piece, and gobbled it down.    In my meals with Karl, I have never seen such a little man with such a big stomach.  One night in a landmark, family style Hollywood restaturant, I saw him down a one pound hamburger surrounded by a large compliment of fries.  After leaving the room for a few minutes, I returned to see him down the last bite of a large sundae, which was about one quarter of his own height.

In 2008, Karl was named Grand Marshal of the Saint Patrick’s Parade.  I, of course, volunteered to drive him.  We needed a convertible so that people could see the 42-inch tall man in the car.  I was assigned to drive an orange 1970s VW convertible.   I

 picked Karl up and we rode to our place in line.  There was a problem.  Karl would have to stand in the back seat.  That was not going to work.  So I dashed to my mother’s home and grabbed all of the sofa cushions and rushed back to the parade line.  I summoned my son Scotty to help.  It was his job to sit in the back and keep Karl from tipping over as we made quick stops and rounded turns.  It worked and we got Karl back home, just in time for a late lunch.

Those who knew Karl thought that he would live forever.  And, thanks to technology he will.  He will live forever  in the hearts and minds of hundreds of generations to come.

That fateful fall day came.  Karl had just returned from one public appearance to rest for another one that next weekend.  He had his last meal and laid down for a nap.  The big heart inside the little man gave out. When Karl died on November 15,   2011, a small crowd of relatives, friends and fans were there to see him off  along the Yellow Brick Road to see the Wizard of all creation.  Some weeks later when his adopted family and I were considering what, if any, epitaph to place on his grave in the Rentz Cemtery, just east of town.  We all agreed that there should be drawings of his Oz friends on the slab of his grave.  But, what should we put under his name? The answer was unanimous!

The Wizard of Oz proclaimed that the scarecrow didn’t need a brain, that the Cowardly lion didn’t need courage, and that the Tin Man didn’t need heart as he said to his dear friend, “A heart is not judged by how much you love, but much you are loved by others.  Karl had a smart brain, courage to overcome the tribulations in his life, and a heart as big as the sky.  But there was one thing that Karl never truly had.  He escaped the turbulent times of Nazi Germany and the bonds of an apathetic tyrannical father, to the hustle and bustle of the Golden Days of Hollywood, to training poodles and peddling his autographed pictures in Florida malls.

What he didn’t have was a true home.  A lucky thirteen years ago, he found one right here in the Emerald City of Dublin, Georgia.  He came here to live with his adopted brother James and his wife Marion in Sheridan Place.  What he found here in the land of green was legions of friends and fans and his last true home.
  So when we made that instant decision, we followed the advice of the Good Witch Glenda, who told Dorothy as she left Oz, “There is no place like home!”