Friday, November 28, 2014


One of the most endearing films of all-time was 1939's The Wizard Of Oz. For over three generations, the film has been a beloved class of children and adults alike. I wanted to do some research into one of the more interesting rumors about the movie. There is a rumor that a jilted munchkin commited suicide, and it appeared in the film print. The so-called "munchkin suicide" scene occurs at the very end of the Tin Woodsman sequence, as Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Woodsman head down the road on their way to the Emerald City.

The sequence begins with Dorothy and the Scarecrow trying to pick fruit from the talking apple trees, encompasses their discovery of the rusted tin man and their encounter with the Wicked Witch of the West (who tries to set the Scarecrow on fire), and ends with the trio heading off to Oz in search of the Wizard. To give the indoor set used in this sequence a more "outdoors" feel, several birds of various sizes were borrowed from the Los Angeles Zoo and allowed to roam the set. (A peacock, for example, can be seen wandering around just outside the Tin Woodsman's shack while Dorothy and the Scarecrow attempt to revive him with oil.) At the very end of this sequence, as the three main characters move down the road and away from the camera, one of the larger birds (often said to be an emu, but more probably a crane) standing at the back of the set moves around and spreads its wings. No munchkin, no hanging — just a big bird.

The unusual movement in the background of the scene described above was noticed years ago, and it was often attributed to a stagehand's accidentally being caught on the set after the cameras started rolling (or, more spectacularly, a stagehand's falling out of a prop tree into the scene). With the advent of home video, viewing audiences were able to rewind and replay the scene in question, view it in slow-motion, and look at individual frames in the sequence (all on screens smaller and less distinct than those of theaters), and imaginations ran wild. The change in focus of the rumor from a hapless stagehand to a suicidal munchkin (driven to despair over his unrequited love for a female munchkin) seems to have coincided with the heavy promotion and special video re-release of The Wizard of Oz in celebration of its 50th anniversary in 1989: someone made up the story of a diminutive actor who, suffering the pangs of unrequited love for a female "little person," decided to end it all right there on the set, and soon everyone was eager to share this special little film "secret" with others. Since (grossly exaggerated) tales of munchkin lechery and drunken misbehavior on the "Oz" set had been circulating for years (primarily spread by Judy Garland herself in television talk show appearances), the wild suicide story had some seeming background plausibility to it. (Other versions of the rumor combined elements from both explanations, such as the claim that the strange figure was actually a stagehand hanging himself.)

The logistics of this alleged hanging defy all credulity. First of all, the forest scenes in The Wizard of Oz were filmed before the Munchkinland scenes, and thus none of the munchkin actors would yet have been present at MGM. And whether one believes that the figure on the film is a munchkin or a stagehand, it is simply impossible that a human being could have fallen onto a set actively being used for filming, and yet none of the dozens of people present — actors, directors, cameramen, sound technicians, light operators — noticed or reacted to the occurrence. (The tragic incident would also had to have been overlooked by all the directors, editors, film cutters, musicians, and others who worked on the film in post-production as well.) That anyone could believe a scene featuring a real suicide would have been left intact in a classic film for over seventy years is simply incredible...

1 comment:

  1. I don't know about any Munchkin debauchery, but my father, Jim Barton, knew many of the former Munchkins who were circus performers. Dad got to know them when he was a little boy and lived with his parents on the grounds of his uncle Terrell's Winter Circus Headquarters in Peru, Indiana. Terrell Jacobs was a world renowned lion trainer known as "The Lion King" and many of the former Munchkins were circus performers.

    My father told me that the Munchkins made sure to have a good time during the filming because they knew they would be hard to replace. One story that my father told was that during the musical scene where the Munchkins sang "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead", they substituted the word bitch for witch and it was not caught until the daily rushes were reviewed. Based up the stories that my father heard, there many be more truth to what Judy Garland had to say about those performers than you think.