Wizard of Oz’s Secret Dead Munchkin Myth Explained

Despite being regarded as one of the greatest films of all time, Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz secrets both on-screen and behind the camera are numerous - but none are more infamous than the so-called "Wizard of Oz hanging" urban legend. Based on L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s fantasy novel of the same name, The Wizard of Oz has been the subject of much controversy, especially since the strenuous filming process exacerbated Judy Garland’s use of amphetamines. It's widely believed The Wizard of Oz contributed to Judy Garland's eventual overdose in 1969. However, one of the most nefarious tall tales surrounding the movie is that a lovelorn actor portraying a munchkin hanged himself on set during filming. But is the Wizard of Oz suicide report real?

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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). However, the Wizard of Oz munchkin hanging myth is just that – a myth. The so-called “dead munchkin” urban legend stemmed from a specific scene that takes place around 45 minutes into the movie in which Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man walk off in the distance whilst 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.

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Several birds of varying sizes were borrowed from the Los Angeles Zoo and allowed to roam the indoor set in order to grant it a more outdoorsy feel, adding to the magic that cemented Oz as a staple of pop culture (Loki's Wizard of Oz references being a prime example). 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, birthing wild theories of an actor driven to despair over his unrequited love for a female munchkin. The Wizard of Oz was made in 1939 when CGI animals like the Jungle Book remake weren't a thing, but despite the confirmation of the dead munchkin in Wizard of Oz being an large bird, the myth still exists. Here's the full truth about where The Wizard of Oz hanging myth came from, and the real story behind one of the most notorious Wizard of Oz secrets.

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

Dorothy and the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz

The dead munchkin myth was folded into public consciousness during the heavy promotion and special video re-release of The Wizard of Oz on its 50th anniversary in 1989. This, in conjunction with the unfortunate practical circumstances that surrounded the cast, lent an aura of perceived credibility to the theory. Today, incidents like the tragic death of Warren Appleby on the Titans set are thankfully rare. But 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 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 (made popular by the fact that many movies do contain hidden messages, like The Lion King "sex" clouds). Several facts emerged since the original 1939 production of The Wizard Of Oz that added to its reputation as a "cursed movie." Buddy Ebsen, who was originally cast to play the Tin Man, ended up with an iron lung after using the requisite silver makeup on his skin as it contained toxic aluminum powder. Moreover, Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch, suffered from second-degree burns on her face during filming. After that, her stunt double also experienced severe burns due to an exploding prop. Today, these incidents would have made news like the fatal prop gun shooting on the set of Rust, but in the 1930s, workplace deaths and injuries were par for the course in most professions, and Hollywood was no exception.

The gradual, decades-long drip-feeding of Wizard of Oz secrets – thanks to the contemporary media not really considering them newsworthy – has made the movie juicy fodder for Internet theorists and urban legend enthusiasts, especially the hanging munchkin scene. While these instances can be chalked to up 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 serious, murkier kind haunt the fringes of the classic musical fantasy, namely the alleged instance of sexual abuse and harassment that then-16-year-old Judy Garland experienced whilst filming. This, arguably, is the nexus of unease evoked by the film, as its complete lack of acknowledgment paints a more chilling picture of Hollywood at that time (and, sadly, during many years since) than any misguided munchkin theories.

2022-08-06T11:12:57.000Z

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