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Karl Slover, one of the last Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz, dies at 93

TAMPA — With his high-pitched voice, his tiny stature and his penchant for getting the giggles, Karl Slover endeared himself to thousands without really trying.

For more than 20 years, the former actor who played a Munchkin in The Wizard of Oz commuted from his Hyde Park home to festivals commemorating the movie, where he signed autographs, played in golf tournaments and told stories.

Friends say Mr. Slover, who stood 4 feet 5, did the countless meet-and-greets more for enjoyment than for the modest sums he was paid. The movie about magic and human potential also marked a turning point in his own life, from childhood abandonment to the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Mr. Slover, the tiniest male Munchkin in The Wizard of Oz and one of the most famous, died Tuesday in Dublin, Ga. He was 93 and had moved to Georgia several years ago. His death leaves just three surviving Munchkin cast members from the original 124.

"He was the epitome of a Munchkin," said Stephen Cox, author of The Munchkins of Oz. "He was small and very cute, almost elfin-looking. He had this latent German accent."

Mr. Slover made a grand entrance in the movie as the first of three trumpeters to herald the mayor of Munchkinland. The scenes took two months to film, during which no Munchkin was paid more than $50 a week.

He counted his interactions with Judy Garland, whose dressing room he had to march by on the way to the set, among his fonder memories. Mr. Slover was in his 20s when he got the part in the 1939 movie.

A photo from the period shows Mr. Slover having a beer with other actors. "His feet didn't touch the floor," Cox said.

Mr. Slover was born Karl Kosiczky in what is now the Czech Republic. Because of a condition called pituitary dwarfism, he grew so slowly that by age 8 he stood just 2 feet tall.

His father, who stood 6 feet 6, enlisted doctors to stretch the boy's limbs on a special machine, soaked him in a barrel filled with heated coconut leaves and buried him in the back yard to his neck — all in an effort to make him grow.

When that didn't work, he sold the boy to the Singer Midgets, a traveling vaudeville show.

He missed his family, Mr. Slover said in a 2001 interview, but added, "I was with little people more my size. It was like a new family."

Blessed with a good singing voice, he performed with a ukulele and a variety of animals, at times riding a camel, a donkey — even a turkey. The Singer Midgets' most famous role was providing MGM with its Munchkins.

Mr. Slover continued performing with the group after the Wizard of Oz and acted in several movies, including Laurel and Hardy's Block-Heads and Spencer Tracy's They Gave Him a Gun. He is also one of the few midgets to appear on Broadway, in the musical Jumbo.

Another connection through the Singer Midgets would last a lifetime. In 1944, he changed his last name to Slover, after B.A. Slover, a carnival businessman who helped him become a U.S. citizen.

Mr. Slover worked as a regular employee, not a performer, with B.A. Slover's carnivals through the 1950s. B.A. and Ada Slover brought Mr. Slover into their Tampa home. Mr. Slover remained there with the family after B.A. Slover's death.

In the mid-1950s, Mr. Slover developed an interest in training dogs to play the piano and performing other tricks. Soon he was taking the act from a Palma Ceia country club to Webb's City in St. Petersburg.

"Karl was always on the party circuit for children's parties, where he would show up with his trained poodles," said Susan Slover, 63, the granddaughter of B.A. Slover.

Interest in the Wizard of Oz began a resurgence in the late 1980s, as the movie neared its 50th anniversary.

Thus began a career in the Oz business, one that continues to please children and adults coast to coast.

"They are so taken aback that they are meeting a survivor of this movie," Cox said, "because there are so few of them left."

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2248.

.BIOGRAPHY

Karl Slover

Born: Sept. 21, 1918

Died: Nov. 15, 2011

Survivors: None known.

Service: 11 a.m. Friday in Dublin, Ga. Arrangements through Townsend Funeral Home.

Karl Slover, one of the last Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz, dies at 93 11/16/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 16, 2011 11:26pm]
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