The Legend of 'The Wizard of Oz' Suicide

Does Something Sinister Lurk Along the Yellow Brick Road?

A still of the scene in 'The Wizard of Oz' that gave rise to the rumors of a suicide that took place on the movie set.

Is there a tragic, horrible incident lurking on screen in the classic movie, "The Wizard of Oz?" Although it's now thought of as a classic family film, "The Wizard of Oz" wasn't all that highly regarded until it became a TV staple during the late 1950s. But now it is part of the fabric of popular culture, with everyone knowing the Yellow Brick Road, Wicked Witch of the West, and that we're not in Kansas anymore. If you look closely in one scene, will you see a Munchkin who has committed suicide?

The Munchkin Suicide Urban Legend

An urban legend about it has been circulating for decades, possibly coinciding with the 50th-anniversary video release of the film way back in 1989. The legend holds that, unbeknownst to the director, cast, and crew, one of the actors who played a Munchkin in the film committed suicide by hanging himself while the camera was rolling, and for some reason, the shot was never edited out.

It can still be seen to this day (including in YouTube clips, some of which contain helpful blow-ups).

Here's an example of the factoid as posted on the Internet in 1993:

A co-worker told me today that there is a scene in the Wizard of Oz where you can see one of the midgets hanging from a rope in the background. She said set conditions were so bad, and all the midgets were treated really badly, and one decided to hang himself on a prop tree.

The scene in question is one that begins with Dorothy and the Scarecrow discovering the Tin Man and being confronted by the Wicked Witch of the West. The scene ends with Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man moving down the Yellow Brick road, singing that they are off to see the Wizard. There is a cabin in the mid-ground and trees on both sides of the road. There is movement at the back of the set as the three companions head away from the camera, right in the middle of the frame. A hanging munchkin, a set worker inadvertently in the frame, or one of the large birds gracing the set?

It's a Bird, Not a Munchkin Suicide

Amazingly, this chestnut is still in circulation despite having been debunked ad infinitum (by munchkin confidante Paula Poundstone, among many others). No such suicide took place. As many have pointed out (and as can be clearly enough seen even in the fuzziest video clips), the dimly-lit figure moving around in the soft-focus background of the scene is actually one of the live exotic birds distributed around the set for visual interest during filming. It's a crane or an emu.

Muddying the waters, unfortunately, is the fact that any number of edited and/or faked video clips are circulating on the Internet purporting to prove that a Munchkin actor can, in fact, be seen hanging in the background of the shot. Don't believe everything you see.