“The Wizard of Oz” is a cinematic masterpiece that has been shrouded in mystery and controversy since its release in 1939. Among its many legends, the most infamous is the “hanging munchkin” urban legend. This tale suggests that a despondent actor, playing a munchkin, committed suicide on set, with the alleged evidence visible in the film’s Yellow Brick Road sequence.
For decades, this rumor has persisted, fueled by the internet and movie-focused blogs, adding to the lore of “cursed films” in Hollywood. Around the 48-minute mark, as Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man embark on their journey, a shadowy figure appears in the background, resembling a person hanging from a tree. This sparked widespread belief in a tragic on-set incident.
Despite the film’s colorful and family-friendly nature, the myth seemed plausible given the tumultuous behind-the-scenes environment of early Hollywood, marked by accidents and substance abuse. However, this dark legend is just that—a myth. There was no tragic incident involving a munchkin actor.
The origin of this myth lies in a specific scene where Dorothy and her companions are seen walking away, with a silhouette in the background. Initially thought to be a hanging munchkin, it was actually a large bird from the Los Angeles Zoo, used to enhance the set’s outdoor feel. The bird, possibly an emu or a crane, was misinterpreted due to its unusual movement, leading to wild theories.
Jerry Maren, the last surviving munchkin actor, debunked rumors about the munchkins’ behavior on set, highlighting their underpayment and late arrival during production, which means no munchkins were present during the alleged hanging scene. The production team has consistently maintained that the figure was a bird, although discrepancies in the scene’s appearance in the remastered version have fueled further speculation.
The hanging munchkin myth gained traction during the film’s 50th-anniversary promotion in 1989. The Wizard of Oz’s production history, marred by incidents like Buddy Ebsen’s severe reaction to makeup and Margaret Hamilton’s burns, contributed to its “cursed” reputation. These incidents, commonplace in the less regulated early 20th-century Hollywood, have fed into the film’s legacy of mystery and speculation.
Despite the debunking of the hanging munchkin myth, “The Wizard of Oz” continues to be viewed with a sense of unease, partly due to allegations of sexual abuse and harassment faced by Judy Garland during filming. These serious issues, overshadowing any urban legends, paint a more disturbing picture of Hollywood’s past and the dark undercurrents beneath the surface of this beloved classic.