A look at the classic urban legend which holds that a “munchkin” actor from the Wizard of Oz committed suicide on the set, and the body can be seen in the film.
The Wizard of Oz Munchkin Suicide
Continuing on from our Dark Side of the Rainbow piece, here we cover another urban legend in relation to the Wizard of Oz. Often termed the ‘munchkin suicide,’ one of the 124 dwarf actors involved in making the film supposedly committed suicide by hanging, and the corpse can be seen swinging from a tree in the movie. According to a 2013 article from CBS affiliate 94.5 KoolFM out of Arizona, this bit of hearsay has been going around since the Wizard of Oz was first released in 1939, yet a 1996 Orlando Sentinel interview with Meinhardt Raabe, a dwarf featured in the film, claims that this sensational mythology did not emerge until the early 1990s.
The 2014 book Listverse.com’s Epic Book of Mind-Boggling Top 10 Lists: Unbelievable Facts suggests that the legend became popular in the 1980s after VHS tapes allowed viewers to examine the sequence in question more slowly. The book points out that the clarity of DVD’s have allowed viewers to see the sequence more clearly.
Debunking the Hanging Munchkin
An explanation for the anomaly seen in the film is simple. The above-mentioned Meinhardt Raabe, who played the munchkin coroner in the film, asserts that what some people see as a hanging munchkin was actually a large bird brought on the set to add an open air ambiance. “They put an Australian emu in the background for atmosphere,” he said while marveling on the concept of perception. “It’s crazy – like watching clouds in the sky… People see all sorts of things in Oz.”
The 1930s were a relatively conservative time in regards to what was considered decent when it came to mainstream films. It is unlikely that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) would have allowed a real corpse to be shown in a commercialized production. It’s also unlikely that the filmmakers were not aware of the alleged body, as these were professionals who aware of exactly what was portrayed in every frame of the film. It also stands to reason that a suicide on the set would not have gone unnoticed by the actors, crew, and post-production personnel.
Another point to note is that the munchkin scenes were filmed at a different time than the forest scenes, thus those actors were not likely to have been present during the filming of this scene.
Dick Kleiner, in a column dated January 16, 1996 responded to a reader asking about the rumor. He wrote, “No. that rumor has been around for years, but nobody hung himself. It was just a bird, flapping in the trees.”
VHS vs. DVD Hoax
At some point, rumors began to circulate that the hanging munchkin could be seen in the VHS version of the Wizard of Oz, but had been edited out for the version released on DVD. A faked adaptation of the supposed VHS version was posted which had been altered from the original. We have watched both the VHS version and the DVD versions, and can confidently say that both are the same.
Below is a brief video of the original footage. As the group walks down the road, something appears to swing out from behind a tree in the center of the screen. This is what is claimed to be the hanging munchkin. It is not hard to believe that it was actually a large bird stretching its wings.
Now let’s look at a brief video of the fake version which allegedly depicts the VHS footage showing a hanging munchkin.
Youtube user fallentwig has posted an excellent analysis of the two pieces above. The enlarged original footage clearly shows what appears to be a large bird stretching it’s wings.
“It’s a persistent myth – the point about myths is they don’t have to be true, they don’t have to be facts, but people need to believe in them. We’ve taken that as a starting point, that that myth is actually true and the Munchkin has actually hung himself.” – Irvin Welsh
The “anomaly” present in the Wizard of Oz footage is a large bird stretching its wings, and not a munchkin who committed suicide. Those who worked on the film have confirmed that birds were brought on set to enhance the environment. To compliment the urban legend, a fake version of the scene “proving” the munchkin hoax has been circulating online for several years. That clip is known to have been digitally manipulated.
The munchkin suicide myth is not just untrue, it is really most sincerely untrue.
Updated January 17, 2016
Originally published June 2014