Summary

  • Infamous Wizard of Oz hanging urban legend debunked – it was just a bird in the background, not a munchkin actor.
  • Behind-the-scenes tales reveal multiple accidents, injuries, and dangers on The Wizard of Oz set.
  • Hollywood urban legends, like the Wizard of Oz hanging scene, fuel interest in cursed film theories and myths.



This article contains a discussion of suicide.


Despite being regarded as one of the greatest films of all time, Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz‘s secrets on-screen and behind the camera are numerous – but none are more infamous than The Wizard of Oz hanging scene urban legend. Based on L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s fantasy novel of the same name, The Wizard of Oz, remains the subject of controversy, and one of the most infamous tall tales surrounding the movie is that a lovelorn actor portraying a munchkin hanged himself on set during filming.

For almost as long as the movie has existed — nearly a century since The Wizard of Oz hit theaters in 1939 — rumors persist that the silhouette of a dead munchkin actor hanging from a rope is clearly visible during the Yellow Brick Road sequence. Since the dawn of the internet, the munchkin Wizard of Oz hanging story exploded, going viral on movie-focused blogs and websites like many Hollywood urban legends about cursed films.The Wizard of Oz hanging munchkin has an explanation, and it’s not that one of the actors took their own life on set.


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The Wizard Of Oz Hanging Munchkin Theory

There Appears To Be A Person Hanging In The Background

A shot of the Yellow Brick Road in The Wizard of Oz with a circle focusing on what is supposed to be a body hanging in the background of the trees

In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her friends decide to head off on their journey down the Yellow Brick Road. This happens around the 48-minute mark in the movie and Dorothy has met the Scarecrow and Tin-Man, but has yet to come across the Cowardly Lion. They turn and start walking down the Yellow Brick Road on their journey when people believe they saw what looked like someone hanging from a noose on a tree in the background.

This led many people to believe that there was a Wizard of Oz hanging, and one of the actors who played a Munchkin had taken his own life by suicide on the set.


There Isn’t A Hanging Munchkin In The Wizard Of Oz

The Remastered Version Showed There Was No Munchkin

The Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz

Despite how colorful and family-friendly The Wizard of Oz is, a myth about one of the actors dying by suicide on-set — with the evidence left in the final cut — isn’t too off-base given the behind-the-scenes context of its production. An aura of darkness and mythmaking shrouds the production history of the movie, mainly due to the on-set accidents and substance abuse rife during the early years of Hollywood, as well as the movie’s place in culture (that The Wizard of Oz is the first color film is another misconception due to the movie’s age).

There is no dead munchkin in
The Wizard of Oz,
but there is an explanation for where the myth came from…


However, The Wizard of Oz hanging myth is just that — a myth. There is no dead munchkin in The Wizard of Oz, but there is an explanation for where the myth came from, and the silhouette The Wizard of Oz hanging legend is based on does actually exist. The dead munchkin urban legend stemmed from the aforementioned scene that takes place around 45 minutes into the movie in which Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man walk off in the distance while singing “We’re Off to See the Wizard.”

As the trio is seen walking away, the left side of the screen appears to feature a human form hanging from a tree. However, The Wizard of Oz munchkin hanging from the tree isn’t a munchkin at all — the silhouette is of a bird in the studio, and it’s not hanging.

On November 20, 2007, the Munchkins were given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.


The Wizard Of Oz Hanging Munchkin Is A Bird

The Movie Borrowed Birds From The Los Angeles Zoo

The Wicked Witch holding an hourglass in The Wizard of Oz

The hanging munchkin in The Wizard of Oz is actually a large bird. Several birds of varying sizes were borrowed from the Los Angeles Zoo and allowed to roam the indoor set to grant it a more outdoorsy feel, adding to the magic that cemented Oz as a pop culture staple. Another appearance of these borrowed birds is the live peacock outside the Tin Man’s shack while Dorothy and Scarecrow attempt to revive him. The figure wrongfully interpreted as a hanging body is, in fact, an emu or a crane.

The unusual movement of the bird in the background of the scene became a subject for speculation for those viewing the film on home video, as they were able to rewind and play the scene in slow motion. This birthed wild theories of an actor driven to despair over his unrequited love for a female munchkin. Despite the confirmation that the dead munchkin in The Wizard of Oz is a large bird, the myth still exists.


Furthermore, Jerry Maren, the last surviving actor who played a Munchkin, did an interview before his death. In it, he said that the rumors about the Munchkins being drunk and disorderly throughout the entire production were all overblown. He then explained how the actors who played Munchkins were severely underpaid and only paid when needed (via Little White Lies).


I got $50 a week [on the film].” And yet Terry, the Cairn Terrier that played Toto, was paid $125. Leo Von Singer, manager of popular vaudeville group ‘Singer’s Midgets’, was paid $100 for every little person he brought in. He pocketed 50 percent.


Maren also revealed that the Munchkins actors didn’t arrive on set until after the Tin-Man sequence, which means there were no Munchkins on set during that scene. While the production team mostly said it was a bird, the two scenes don’t look the same. The positioning of the bird is not the same as the perceived Wizard of Oz hanging scene, and it almost looks like a team went in and changed it after the fact before releasing the re-mastered version.

Where The Wizard Of Oz’s Dead Munchkin Myth Came From

The Wizard Of Oz Has Developed A Bad Reputation

Dorothy and the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz

The dead munchkin myth entered public consciousness during the heavy promotion and special video re-release of The Wizard of Oz on its 50th anniversary in 1989. In conjunction with the unfortunate practical circumstances surrounding the cast, this lent an aura of perceived credibility to the theory. In the early 20th century, Health and Safety regulations basically didn’t exist, so most movies from the era have a production history that’s unsettling when revisited in a modern context.


However, even after The Wizard of Oz hanging scene myth was debunked, many continued to view the film as one with sinister undertones. This was exacerbated by the alleged presence of subliminal messaging associated with alter-programming and mind control. Several facts have emerged from the original 1939 production of The Wizard of Oz that added to its reputation as a “cursed movie.”

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The gradual, decades-long drip-feeding of Wizard of Oz secrets made the movie fodder for Internet theorists and urban legend enthusiasts, especially The Wizard of Oz hanging scene. While these instances can be chalked up to mere coincidence and a run of bad luck, the severity of the accidents and the ease with which they were covered up lends a sinister aura to the film’s legacy. Not all Oz theories are sinister — some, like Dorothy being the Wicked Witch of the East, are standard hidden-plot fan speculation.


Irrespective of whether The Wizard of Oz film set was cursed or not, the hanging munchkin urban legend is unequivocally false. However, matters of a more severe kind haunt the fringes of the classic musical fantasy, namely the alleged instance of sexual abuse and harassment that 16-year-old Judy Garland experienced while filming. Its complete lack of acknowledgment paints a more chilling picture of Hollywood at that time (and, sadly, for many years since) than any misguided munchkin theories.

It’s A Miracle Nobody Died Making The Wizard Of Oz

The Wizard Of Oz Has Other Controversies

Split Image Of Wizard Of Oz And Wicked Characters.

The fake Wizard of Oz hanging scene aside, it’s truly a miracle that no one actually died on the set. Early movies especially were a dangerous undertaking, as things like practical special effects hadn’t been perfected yet. Even today, there are stunt injury movie horror stories and tales of crazy accidents taking place on movie sets, but The Wizard of Oz is a special case.


The first scene in which Margaret Hamilton’s Wicket Witch of the West disappears in a cloud of smoke went fine for the first take, but the director wanted a second, and the special effects team set off the pyrotechnics before the actress could be dropped through the trap door. Her broom, hat, and cape all caught on fire, and she suffered second and third-degree burns on her face and hands. Her stunt double Betty Danko fared no better when, during the “Surrender Dorothy” skywriting scene, her broom was a smoking pipe that exploded and permanently injured her left leg.

Buddy Ebsen’s Tin Man was painted with a substance containing aluminum dust, which coated the actor’s lungs and sent him to the hospital.


Also, in The Wizard of Oz, Buddy Ebsen’s Tin Man was painted with a substance containing aluminum dust, which coated the actor’s lungs and sent him to the hospital, where he had to spend two weeks in an oxygen tent. Many of the piano wires holding the flying monkeys snapped while stunt workers were in midair, causing numerous on-set injuries. The famously abused actress Judy Garland was given shots of adrenaline to help her “perform better.”

In addition to the pyrotechnics accident, Margaret Hamilton’s green face paint contained a toxic copper base that could’ve killed her if it had not been properly removed. Finally, the snow that covers the poppy field where Dorothy and her friends are is made of crystallized asbestos. So, while The Wizard of Oz hanging debacle was fake, actors could’ve died on set in plenty of ways.

Other Movies With Notorious Behind-The-Scenes Myths

Three Men And A Baby, The Crow, & More


The Wizard of Oz hanging scene is far from the only urban legend from Hollywood movies. These range from fun misconceptions to false claims of deaths, to the macabre legends involving curses and using real dead murders in film.

One of the more fun urban legends comes from the 1987 movie Three Men and a Baby. The legend proposes that a ghostly boy haunted the apartment in which the film was shot. He appears in a scene in the background. The true story is that the “ghost boy” was a cardboard cutout of actor Ted Danson folded over. Not only that, but this wasn’t even an apartment. The movie was shot on a sound stage.

There are also rumors of deaths shown in films. Ben-Hur was one of the biggest movies made in the Golden Age of Hollywood, and a real chariot scene was filmed for the movie. One urban legend proposes that a stuntman died in this race, and can be seen in the film but no one died making that movie. Sadly, star Brandon Lee died while making The Crow when shot by a squib load from a prop gun. Rumors are his death was shown in The Crow but was not true, as CGI recaptured the rest of the scene.


Brandon Lee’s stunt double, Chad Stahelski, filmed his final scenes in
The Crow
, using digital face replacement to add Lee’s face to his body.

Some myths emerge after a movie’s release. In Fargo, the Coen Brothers claimed it was “based on a true story,” which is not entirely true. One legend says someone died trying to find the buried money from the movie. A woman named Takako Konishi did die in the snowy foothills, but there is no truth to her looking for fictional money.

Finally, Poltergeist has a long-held urban legend that the movie was “cursed,” thanks to the deaths of actresses Dominique Dunne and Heather O’Rourke, but blaming the movie is disrespectful to the deceased. While cases like The Wizard of Oz munchkin hanging scene turned out to be false misconceptions, other behind-the-scene myths just proved to be urban legends and stories shared around the Internet. Not every story is based in fact.


  • The Wizard of Oz

    Summary:
    Dorothy Gale is swept away from a farm in Kansas to a magical land of Oz in a tornado and embarks on a quest with her new friends to see the Wizard who can help her return home to Kansas and help her friends as well.

    Release Date:
    1939-08-25

    Budget:
    $2.8 million

    Cast:
    Margaret Hamilton, Jack Haley, Judy Garland, Bert Lahr, Ray Bolger

    Director:
    Victor Fleming

    Genres:
    Musical, Fantasy, Family, Adventure

    Rating:
    PG

    Runtime:
    102 minutes

    Writers:
    Florence Ryerson, Noel Langley, Edgar Allan Woolf

    Studio(s):
    Warner Bros. Pictures

    Distributor(s):
    Warner Bros. Pictures

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