Gaining new traction recently is the notorious pop culture urban legend about a munchkin actor who committed suicide on the set of 1939’s The Wizard of Oz. Long regarded as a myth, a number of enlightening videos have surfaced on the web in the last few years, triggering a fervent quest for the truth by YouTube users…
The reason this story is so famous is that the munchkin actor’s suicide is allegedly captured on screen in the finished film. The rumour began in the 1980s, when The Wizard of Oz started appearing on home video. At the end of the Tin Man scene, as Dorothy, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man are heading off up the yellow brick road singing “We’re off to see the wizard”, eagle-eyed viewers believed they could see a munchkin hanging from a rope in the background. The story goes that he was driven to despair over his unrequited love for a fellow munchkin actress and decided to end it all right there on set.
The official line at MGM – who made the film – is that the hanging munchkin was actually a large bird from the Los Angeles Zoo, brought onto the set to give it an outdoorsy feel. Everyone involved in making the film has unwaveringly denied that anyone committed suicide on set.
Take a look at this scene….
As the video suggests, yes, this is clearly a bird. There is no sign whatsoever of a hanging munchkin in the background. But if that’s the case, where did the rumour come from?
The 2011 YouTube video from ‘Suicidal Munchkin’
Take a look at this YouTube video, posted by a user aptly called ‘Suicidal Munchkin’ in 2011. The bird is gone. In its place is something that really does look like a little person hanging by his neck from a rope…
[Since writing this article, Suicidal Munchkin’s YouTube account and videos appear to have mysteriously disappeared. However, clips from the his videos appear in the last video featured in this article.]
Suicidal Munchkin says in the video’s description that the clip is from a 1980s VHS tape. This has led many to believe that the VHS clip of the hanging munchkin is the original scene, and that it was edited for later releases as part of a cover-up, i.e. the hanging munchkin was removed and replaced with the bird.
However, others have claimed to have an 80s VHS tape of the film, but argue that it shows the bird, not the hanging munchkin. This has led some people to argue that Suicidal Munchkin edited the film himself and inserted the munchkin over the top of the bird – rather than the other way around.
Wait a minute. If Suicidal Munchkin engineered this fake himself in 2011, that means the bird version was the only version anyone had seen before 2011. So where on Earth did the rumour of a hanging munchkin come from? I can’t see how anyone could see the bird version of the scene and think, “Shit! A munchkin’s gone and hanged himself on set!” Because, urm, it’s clearly a bird.
The plot thickens…
Conclusive proof? Suicidal Munchkin’s video was from 1986
The following video shows ‘Suicidal Munchkin’ opening his original VHS tape – dated 1986 – and playing it. There he is – the hanging munchkin.
This is proof that Suicidal Munchkin did not just create the fake in 2011 and post it to YouTube. The hanging munchkin clearly appears on a 1986 version of the film, and explains how the rumours started.
That means that the bird version is edited, right? That the bird was superimposed over the top of the munchkin in order to cover up his death?
What’s this? Another video… from 1985
Take a look at this video from a user called ‘Radioactive Since 1990’. You might want to fast forward past the cheesy guy who gets a bit over-excited about cutting cellophane. Basically he opens his original VHS of The Wizard of Oz – this one dated 1985 – and plays it. Skip ahead to 15:38 for the pertinent scene.
It’s the bird, not the dead munchkin. On a 1985 tape. Likewise, the following video proves conclusively that the hanging munchkin was NOT in the original version of the scene. You can still see the wings of the bird poking out from behind the trees in the hanging munchkin version, even though the rest of the bird has been edited out. The hanging munchkin scene is the altered one.
It’s a hoax. Pure and simple. These videos prove it, and that’s without mentioning some of the quite logical things that others have pointed out. Like the fact that the tree the munchkin was allegedly hanging from was a painted background, not a real tree. Or that the three actors playing Dorothy, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow (Judy Garland, Jack Haley and Ray Bolger) jovially walk straight past the dead munchkin singing “We’re off to see the wizard”. I think the sight of one of their fellow actors hanging dead from the set might’ve prompted a bit of a reaction!
The question is, who’s responsible for this hoax?
The origin of the hoax
It’s not just Suicidal Munchkin who has a 1980s VHS tape of the hoaxed scene. While some people have claimed to have an 80s VHS tape of the bird version, others have claimed to have an 80s VHS tape with the munchkin version.
This means there were two versions of The Wizard of Oz floating about on video in the 80s, and one was the hoax version. Someone fiddled with the movie way back in the 80s, and managed to get the hoax print into distribution. But who? And perhaps a more interesting question – why?
The animators who inserted a photo of a topless woman into two frames of The Rescuers were clearly just being cheeky and having a laugh. But why would someone think to insert a hanging munchkin into the background of The Wizard of Oz?
Alas, until someone comes forward and admits their part in creating the hanging munchkin scene (you know who you are), we’ll never know.
Next week: Was the Lindbergh kidnapping a hoax?