We may earn a commission when you buy through links in our articles. Learn more.

The myth of The Wizard of Oz’s ‘dead munchkin’ explained

The most infamous scene in The Wizard of Oz relates to the urban legend of the hanging munchkin. Here we unpack and explain the rumors and myth surrounding it.

The Wizard of Oz Munchkin hanging myth Judy Garland

Content Warning: this story contains references to suicide.

The Wizard of Oz holds a legendary status in Hollywood history. Recognized for its revolutionary production, The Wizard of Oz is undoubtedly one of the best movies ever made, and it still retains an incalculably significant, vice-like grip over pop culture. If the documentary Lynch/Oz is to be believed, David Lynch’s fascination with the musical is even the basis for his entire career.

Because of its age and quasi-mythic status, there are endless stories, tales, and rumors which circulate about The Wizard of Oz. With almost a century now having passed since its release, The Wizard of Oz has also been subject to intense interpretation and re-interpretation, and the movie is rich with deep symbolism and hidden imagery.

But, in the endless re-watching of The Wizard of Oz, there is one moment that is still scrutinized and debated today: the mysterious munchkin hanging from a tree in the background of the Tin Woodsman sequence in which Dorothy, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow sing a happy tune while skipping down the yellow brick road.

There are multiple explanations and theories for The Wizard of Oz’s apparent hanging munchkin and many common questions. The urban legends would have you believe lots of things.

YouTube Thumbnail

The mystery around the moment isn’t helped by the fact that in subsequent re-releases of The Wizard of Oz, the studio removed the image and cleaned it all up. This makes clear versions of the clip hard to find and ambiguous, and urban legends thrive on ambiguity. Naturally, when there were already questions and rumors, the change raised suspicions among the ‘hanging munchkin truthers’.

So what does the studio say in response to the rumors? The official explanation is that the set contained live animals from the Los Angeles Zoo, including birds, which were intended to add a degree of life and movement to make the set seem more real and less like something created for a movie. In response to the munchkin hanging theory, the studio says the silhouette seen in the background is actually a shadow cast by a large bird shifting its position and unfolding its wings, which is a neat explanation for the unfortunate image.

This was then removed in future versions of the movie in order to make things more child friendly and quash the unintentional rumors.

YouTube Thumbnail

Beyond that, there are other factors that seem to disprove the hanging munchkin theory. The actors who played the munchkins, who were open about the mistreatment they (and the rest of the cast) received on set, didn’t arrive to start filming until the Tin Woodsman sequence was already finished filming. On top of that, none of the munchkins ever corroborated the rumors, which also speaks for itself.

So the hanging munchkin is neither a real suicide nor intentional imagery. The best explanation, which aligns with what we know from the facts, is that one of the birds on set cast an unfortunate shadow that does – admittedly – look dark. This then led to the moment being removed in re-releases, which added further fuel to the theory and pointed to a ‘cover-up.’

In reality, there were no on-set deaths while filming The Wizard of Oz, though there were other injuries. The myth is just that: a myth and nothing more.

For more on The Wizard of Oz, find out about disgusting costumes and delicious tears. Or take a look at our picks for the best fantasy movies of all time before seeing our guide to all the new movies coming in 2024.

When life is difficult, Samaritans are here – day or night, 365 days a year. You can call them for free on 116 123, email them at [email protected], or visit www.samaritans.org to find your nearest branch