Karl Slover, one of the last surviving actors who played Munchkins in the 1939 classic film, The Wizard of Oz, has died. He was 93. The 4-foot-5 Slover died of cardiopulmonary arrest Tuesday afternoon in a central Georgia hospital, said Laurens County Deputy Coroner Nathan Stanley. According to friends, as recently as last weekend, Slover appeared at events in the suburban Chicago area.
Slover was best known for playing the lead trumpeter in the Munchkins’ band but also had roles as a townsman and soldier in the film, said John Fricke, author of 100 Years of Oz and five other books on the movie and its star, Judy Garland. Slover was one of the tiniest male Munchkins in the movie.
Long after Slover retired, he continued to appear around the country at festivals and events related to the movie. He was one of seven Munchkins at the 2007 unveiling of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame dedicated to the little people in the movie. Only three remain of the 124 diminutive actors who played the beloved Munchkins.
“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, to have people know who he was and be able to pick him out of the crowd in the movie.”
Slover is the first of the three trumpeters to herald the Munchkin mayor when he makes his entrance. Slover had been cast to play the second trumpeter but switched when another actor got stage fright during filming, said longtime friend Allen Pease, the co-founder of the former Munchkinland Market Days outside Chesterton, Ind. “Karl didn’t know what stage fright meant,” he said.
Slover was born Karl Kosiczky in what is now the Czech Republic and he was the only child in his family to be dwarf sized. “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.”
He was buried in the backyard, 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 he was sold by his father at age 9 to a traveling show in Europe, Fricke said. Slover continued to perform into his late 20s, when he moved to the United States, changed his name and appeared in circuses as part of a vaudeville group known as the Singer Midgets. The group’s 30 performers became the nucleus of the Munchkins. He was paid $50 a week for the movie and told friends that Garland’s dog in the movie, “Toto,” made more money.
The surviving Munchkin actors found new generations of fans in the late 1980s when they began making appearances around the country. “It wasn’t until the Munchkins started making their appearances in 1989 that they call came to realize how potent the film had become and remained,” Fricke said. “He was wonderfully articulate about his memories, he had anecdotes to share.”