Ninety-one-year-old Karl Slover is visiting Augusta for screenings of the classic film at Fort Discovery today at 2 and 7 p.m.
Released in 1939, the Academy Award-winning film has been named by the Library of Congress as "the most watched film in history."
Slover, who lives in Dublin, Ga., recalls details of the making of the movie as though it were yesterday. At 4 feet 2 inches tall, Slover is energetic and in good health, with a lively sense of humor.
He was one of 124 Munchkins in the film and the shortest of them all. Today, only five of the Munchkins are still alive, said Mike Deas, the owner of Augusta Amusements, who brought Slover to Augusta.
Then 21, Slover played four roles in the film, including the first trumpeter, a soldier and a "sleepy head." He also led the song Follow the Brick Road , he said.
He landed the first trumpeter role when the original actor kept missing his cue because he was falling asleep while standing, he said. Filming for the Munchkins' scenes lasted several weeks.
"I was glad to get out of the costume for the trumpeter because I had tights, and I hate tights," Slover said, laughing.
Today, the film has achieved acclaimed success, but when he was making it, Slover said, he didn't think it was "going to last." He didn't see the film until three years after it was released because of his rigorous traveling performance schedule.
"But then, when I did actually get to see The Wizard of Oz , I said to my roommate, 'There's two things I don't hear in that picture: swearing or filthy language.' That's the reason why the people keep watching it," Slover said.
Judy Garland, the actress who played Dorothy, was 16 at the time. She was friendly to everyone, he said, along with other members of the cast and crew.
"I met her, but she couldn't stay too long. She was glad to see us," Slover said.
Born in Hungary, Slover has been in the entertainment business since childhood. When he was 9 years old, an agent came to his home and asked his parents if he could join The Midget Show, then the largest performing troupe of its kind in the world, he said.
He grew up on the road with the troupe, singing, dancing and working with animals. The experience led to acting jobs, and Slover has appeared in several films, including Bringing Up Baby with Katharine Hepburn, Block-Heads with comedians Laurel and Hardy, They Gave Him a Gun with Spencer Tracy, The Lost Weekend and The Terror of Tiny Town .
When The Midget Show began to come to an end, Slover took a job at carnival in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he trained dogs, elephants and other animals.
Slover kept in touch with many of the Munchkins, some of whom he knew from other acting jobs.
Each year, Slover attends The Wizard of Oz convention at the home of writer L. Frank Baum in Chittenango, N.Y.
Mayor Deke Copenhaver has officially declared today "Karl Slover Day" in Augusta because of Slover's lifetime dedication to the entertainment and enrichment of others. Commissioner J.R. Hatney presented the honor at The Partridge Inn on Friday.