There’s a reason I’ve titled the article this way, and it’s not what you think.
This isn’t about who broke the heart of a madly-in-love dwarf actor playing a munchkin in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz, leading said actor to dramatically hang himself on set. Because that never happened. No munchkin actor committed suicide while filming, nor was his suicide captured on film.
Hang on, you say. But what about the photo at the top of this article? And the video below? Clearly that’s a hanging munchkin!
Yes. Yes, it is. Because the hanging munchkin in this footage is a HOAX.
So when I say “who’s to blame for the munchkin suicide”, I’m asking, who is responsible for this hoax. Whether or not a munchkin hanged himself is not the question. He didn’t. But someone is responsible for creating the footage you see in the clip above, and that’s the real mystery here. And it’s not just who, either, but when.
Two versions of the scene, but which is the original?
Basically, there are two versions of the scene where Dorothy, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man are heading off up the yellow brick road singing “We’re off to see the wizard”. One has the silhouette of a little person hanging by his neck from a rope between the trees. The other has a large bird, either an emu or a crane, moving around at the back of the set and spreading its wings, as seen in the photo and clip below.
Now, the legend goes that the hanging munchkin is the original sequence, and that MGM, who made the movie, later edited the munchkin out and replaced it with a bird. Countless folks still believe to this day that MGM are behind a conspiracy to cover up what happened to this munchkin actor on the set of The Wizard of Oz.
And of course, as we all know, most conspiracy theorists, once they’ve got an idea about something, won’t be convinced otherwise even if you bash them over the head with the evidence. In this case, it’s been proven (many times) that the scene with the bird is the original.
MGM have said that in order to give the indoor set a more “outdoors” feel, birds of various sizes were borrowed from the Los Angeles Zoo and allowed to roam the set. There’s really no reason to believe this isn’t true thanks to the very obvious peacock seen wandering about outside the Tin Woodsman’s shack while Dorothy and the Scarecrow attempt to revive him with oil, as shown in the clip above.
In addition, everyone involved in making the film has unwaveringly denied that anyone committed suicide on set. Sure, people lie, but everyone? For 82 years?
Really, the most damning evidence against any actual on-set hanging is the logistics of the thing. According to Snopes’ David Mikkelson, writing in 1997, the forest scenes in The Wizard of Oz were filmed before the Munchkinland scenes, so none of the munchkin actors would’ve been present at MGM. There’s also the fact that the tree the munchkin was allegedly hanging from was a painted background, not a real tree. It’s also impossible that an actor could’ve hanged himself on a set with dozens of people present – actors, directors, cameramen, sound and light technicians – and nobody goddamn noticed. I mean, the three actors playing Dorothy, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow jovially walk straight past the dead munchkin and apparently don’t see him. Come on now.
One more thing. As shown below, there’s still a faint remnant of the bird in the hanging munchkin version of the scene. This demonstrates that the bird version came first, the hanging munchkin superimposed over the top.
The origin of the hanging munchkin version
So, now that we’ve established that the bird scene is the original, the hanging munchkin clip a fake, the real mystery is the origin of the fake.
In 2011, a YouTube user called SuicidalMunchkin posted the clip with the very obvious little person hanging. He said in his video’s description that the clip was from a 1980s VHS tape, which is what led so many to believe that it was the original scene.
Others have claimed to have an 80s VHS tape of the film that shows the bird, not the hanging munchkin. This led people to argue that SuicidalMunchkin was the hoaxer.
SuicidalMunchkin then posted a video of him opening his original VHS tape – dated 1986 – and playing it, revealing the hanging munchkin. When I first wrote about this urban legend in 2015, this user’s accounts and videos were still live. They’ve since all disappeared from the internet.
Was SuicidalMunchkin bullshitting us all?
This article is interesting. It’s a Metro news article from 2009, so before SuicidalMunchkin’s video. It shows photos and a video clip of the bird version of the scene, and yet speculates about whether you can see a tiny figure swinging from a rope in the background.
What we know is that the strange movement you see just as Dorothy et al are going past is the emu or crane spreading its wings. However, back in the 80s, this would’ve looked pretty darn weird on a grainy VHS, and even now, it’s not especially clear.
We also know that the rumour of a munchkin actor committing suicide on set can be traced back to at least sometime before that 1997 Snopes article. It’s not clear where the story came from, but there have been countless allegations about the drunken misbehaviour of the munchkin actors while on set (including Judy Garland saying they groped her). There’s also the fact that a whole bunch of nasty accidents happened, including a broomstick exploding and landing the Wicked Witch’s stunt double in hospital with severe burns. So, perhaps someone came up with the story by conflating these events and allegations with the glimpse of the bird spreading its wings looking a bit like someone hanging.
Although we don’t know the origin of the rumour, a lot of people assume that the SuicidalMunchkin YouTuber was at least responsible for the hoax version of the scene. They argue that he edited the bird footage and then copied it onto a VHS tape to make it look legit. What’s weird is that some people have claimed to have an 80s VHS tape of the bird version, while others have claimed to have an 80s VHS tape with the hanging munchkin version.
But that would mean there were two versions of The Wizard of Oz floating about on video in the 80s, one of which was the hoax version. That someone fiddled with the movie way back in the 80s, and managed to get the hoax print into distribution.
Frankly, I’m not sure I buy the claims of anyone who says they have a VHS tape from the 80s with the hoax version of the scene. I don’t think that version existed before 2011, particularly now I’ve found that 2009 Metro article. Clearly people thought the bird looked like a person hanging before 2011. SuicidalMunchkin then fabricated his clip to “prove” it, which reignited the legend and now has scores of dummies (you know, the ones who don’t do any research before they believe something) convinced that his video is the real deal.
That’s certainly more likely that someone in the 80s or earlier creating the hoax version and somehow getting it distributed on home video.
Unless somebody can prove otherwise…