SPRING VALLEY — In 1938, a Spring Valley man by the name of Joseph Koziel set off from his Midwestern hometown to join the munchkin cast on the set of “The Wizard of Oz.”
Koziel was one of 120 little people cast as munchkins. While he wasn’t one of the main munchkins to appear on screen, he filled the role of one of the townspeople extras. He was also cast as one of the Wicked Witch of the West’s flying monkeys.
Stephen Cox, author of “The Munchkins of Oz,” has spent years researching the lives of each of the little people who were cast in the film. His research has traced Koziel’s roots back to Spring Valley. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot to be found about Koziel and Cox is looking for anyone in the area — whether a long-distance relative, old neighbor, former friend — who might have known him and could share a little more about Koziel’s life or even an old photo of him.
Cox has tracked down Koziel’s obituary, which ran in the 1967 edition of the Spring Valley Gazette. It’s here he discovered that Koziel is buried in the Sts. Peter and Paul Cemetery in Spring Valley. The young man died at the age of 48 in Chicago.
His obituary reveals that he was born in Spring Valley on Feb. 25, 1919. Funeral services were conducted on July 26, 1967, in the Mahan Home for Funerals and at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church where the Rev. Joseph Kapala officiated. Burial then took place at the church’s cemetery.
Pallbearers were Barney Cyrus, John Marenda, Joseph Smith, John Bokunizicz, Albert Galassi and Michael Galassi.
Surviving were a brother, Peter, and two sisters, Sally Grud and Frances Nelson, all from Berwyn. He was preceded in death by his parents (not named in the obituary) and a sister, Marie Lupa.
Cox also found an old clipping from the Bureau County Tribune from Dec. 2, 1938, with the headline “Valley midget to appear in movies.” The articles states, “Not only has Spring Valley produced statesmen, great labor leaders, champion boxers, marathon dancers, mining engineers and other celebrities, but has now entered the midget field and have one of the Liliputian clan abroad to keep the name of Spring Valley alive among the immortals.”
The articles goes on to tell about Koziel, who was 20 years old at the time, going out to Culver City studios in California to appear in the cast of “The Wizard of Oz.” The articles shares that Koziel started trouping with carnivals, but “as a rule” didn’t make much money. But with his role in the movie, was drawing down $50 a week. It also states that Koziel applied for the acting job through his theatrical agent.
“Joe is a most unpresuming personality who is quiet in public about his hometown, although it is reported that he is carefree, spontaneous and a ‘hail fellow-well-met’ away from home,” the articles states.
This obituary and article are pretty much all Cox has on Koziel’s life. He said he’d love to know what Koziel was doing in Chicago when he died and what he died from. He also would like to know about Koziel’s life in Spring Valley.
Cox is currently working on a second book about the cast of “The Wizard of Oz.” He shared that his next book will center around the Wicked Witch of the West, who was portrayed in the filmed by Margaret Hamilton, and those cast as her flying monkeys.
He said some of the taller little people who were cast as munchkins also played the flying monkeys — Koziel was one of these.
Koziel stood around 4 feet tall, and was a proportionate drawf, which means he was just smaller than average all over. These were the type of little people cast in “The Wizard of Oz.” Cox explained that they were rare to come by back then as casting directors searched the entire country looking for proportionate dwarfs to filled the rolls they needed. Today, proportionate dwarfism, for the most part don’t exist, according to Cox, as babies born and diagnosed can be given growth hormones to aid the deficiency they’re born with.
“(Proportionate dwarfs) are kind of a human dinosaur,” Cox said. “There has never been a film featuring that many proportionate dwarfs, and there never will be, it was a rare moment in history and Joe Koziel was apart of that.”
So how did Cox get into writing and researching “The Wizard of Oz?”
Cox, 55, grew up in St. Louis and while in grade school came across an article in his community newspaper about a local little person who had played one of the Oz munchkins. He became fascinated over the fact that one the munchkins lived so closed to where he was growing up.
“I just flipped,” he said.
He asked his family if he could call the guy, Mickey Carroll, on the telephone, which he did. They became fast friends, and Carroll even attended Cox’s high school and college graduations. His friendship with Carroll is what got him interested in “The Wizard of Oz.” He calls it the movie that “crosses all barriers.” Everyone, from young kids to people in their 90s, know of the film, he said. It’s a classic film that many watch at least once a year, most likely around the holidays when it’s aired on television.
Anyone with information about Joe Koziel can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 815-875-4461, ext. 6335.
Source: The Daily Chronicle