The Myth of the Munchkin Hanging in 'The Wizard of Oz'

A still of the scene in 'The Wizard of Oz' that gave rise to the rumors of a suicide that took place on the movie set.

Ever since it became a TV staple during the late 1950s, "The Wizard of Oz" has been regarded as a classic family film, part of the fabric of American popular culture. Everyone knows the Yellow Brick Road, the Wicked Witch of the West, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. But is there something sinister hidden in this classic movie? According to an urban legend, if you watch the film closely you'll see a scene in which a Munchkin commits suicide by hanging himself.

The Myth

This urban legend has been circulating for decades, possibly coinciding with the 50th-anniversary video release of the film back in 1989. The legend holds that, unbeknownst to the film's director, cast, and crew, one of the actors who played a Munchkin in the film committed suicide by hanging himself while the camera was rolling, and that for some reason the shot was never edited out.

It can still be seen to this day (including in YouTube clips, some of which contain helpful blow-ups).

Here's an example of the urban legend as posted on the internet in 1993:

"A co-worker told me today that there is a scene in 'The Wizard of Oz' where you can see one of the midgets hanging from a rope in the background. She said set conditions were so bad, and all the midgets were treated really badly, and one decided to hang himself on a prop tree."

The scene in question is one that begins with Dorothy and the Scarecrow discovering the Tin Man and being confronted by the Wicked Witch of the West. The scene ends with Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man moving down the Yellow Brick Road, singing that they are off to see the Wizard. There is a cabin in the mid-ground and trees on both sides of the road. There is some movement at the back of the set as the three companions head away from the camera, right in the middle of the frame. A hanging Munchkin, a set worker inadvertently caught on camera, or one of the large birds gracing the set?

It's a Bird, Not a Munchkin

Amazingly, this chestnut is still in circulation despite having been debunked time and time again (by Munchkin confidante Paula Poundstone, among many others). No such suicide took place. As many have pointed out (and as can be seen in even the fuzziest video clips), the dimly-lit figure moving around in the soft-focus background of the scene is actually one of the live exotic birds distributed around the set for visual interest during filming. It's either a crane or an emu.

Furthermore, this scene of the movie was filmed before any of the Munchkinland sequences, which means it is unlikely that any of the Munchkin actors would have been present on the set, and even less likely that one would have wound up in the background of a shot.

Muddying the waters, unfortunately, is the fact that any number of edited and/or faked video clips are circulating on the internet purporting to prove that a Munchkin actor can, in fact, be seen hanging in the background. Don't believe everything you see.