2008 St. Patrick's Parade - L to R - Karl Slover,
Scotty Thompson, Scott B. Thompson, Sr. ,
Photos by Dr. Grady Campbell
Karl Slover, Dublin St. Patrick's Festival Parade, 2006 @ Scott B. Thompson, Sr.
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."
"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."
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.’"
RETURN TO OZ
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.
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.
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.
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 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.