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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 August 2006, 10:37 GMT 11:37 UK
What's the myth of the hanging Munchkin?
The Magazine answers...

Wizard of Oz
Have they spotted the Munchkin?
Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh's new play, which opens in Dublin this week, seizes on the legend of a small shadowy figure hanging from a tree in the Wizard of Oz - said to be a hanging Munchkin. What's that all about?

Irvine Welsh's new play Babylon Heights, which has its European premiere in Dublin this week, portrays the backstage lives of the dwarves who played the Munchkins in the legendary Judy Garland film.

The actors, recruited from all over the world and billeted away from the rest of the cast, were reputed to have indulged in "sex orgies, drunken behaviour and general dwarf debauchery" - rumours that Garland herself later propagated.

But the play focuses on how, in the film's original print, you can see a small shadowed figure hanging from a tree. Myth has it that one of the dwarf actors was driven to despair over his unrequited love for a female Munchkin and decided to end it all right there on the set.

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A feature to the BBC News Magazine - aiming to answer some of the questions behind the headlines
"You can see this in the final print of the film. It does very much look like a Munchkin that has hung himself," says Welsh.

"It's a persistent myth - the point about myths is they don't have to be true, they don't have to be facts, but people need to believe in them. We've taken that as a starting point, that that myth is actually true and the Munchkin has actually hung himself."

The so-called "Munchkin suicide" scene is at the very end of the Tin Woodsman sequence, as Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Woodsman go down the yellow brick road to the Emerald City.

Urban legend

The official line from the studio has always been that it was a bird. To give the indoor set used in this sequence a more "outdoors" feel, several birds of various sizes were borrowed from Los Angeles zoo and allowed to roam around.

Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting
The point about myths is they don't have to be true, but people need to believe in them
Irvine Welsh
According to Snopes.com - the urban legends reference site - the shadowed figure has also been explained as a stagehand accidentally being caught on the set after the cameras started rolling, and also a stagehand falling out of a prop tree into the scene.

It says the change in focus of the rumour from a stagehand to a suicidal Munchkin appears to have coincided with the heavy promotion and special video re-release of The Wizard of Oz to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 1989.

Snopes says the myth is just that - a myth. All the forest scenes in The Wizard of Oz were filmed before the Munchkin land scenes and so none of the dwarf actors would have been present. It says the bird is often said to be an emu, but is more likely to be a crane.

A spokesman for Bizarre magazine - which specialises in stories about life in the extreme - says the myth is a popular one. "But the shadow is probably a pelican."

The International Wizard of Oz Club also dismisses the myth. "Can you imagine that many people wouldn't have noticed a suicide in progress, or even a "successful" one, and not done something about it?" it says on its website.

It seems fitting that in this imagined back-story to America's best-loved fairytale, the facts do not get in the way of a good story.

Urban myths, don't ya just love 'em! the funniest one I ever heard was about Bob Holness playing saxophone on the classic song "Baker Street"
John Hatch, Chorley, Lancashire

What an "Oompah,Lumpah" that must have caused!It's certainly a bit over the rainbow in conspiracy tales, yet anyone with an orange face like a munchkin like so many celebs today could be forgiven for topping oneself?
tim mcmahon., pennar/wales

Perhaps it is the Wicked Witch of the East's ghost trying to keep up with that Kansas girl and her little dog?
Ozzard of Wiz, Emerald City, Wiz

Nobody "needs to believe" a munchkin hanged himself! Why doesn't Welsh do a play about the 'ghost boy' in Three Men and a Baby! Or the one about the terminally ill boy whose wish is to be sent enough business cards to get into the Guiness Book of Records? OR.... oh this is a great idea, it would appeal to the Trainspotting fans: the urban legend about the kid who ate pop rocks (fizzy sweets) and then drank a bottle of cola, and his head exploded!!
Pinkle, London, UK

What about 'three men and a baby'? does anyone remember the boy at the window who had apparently died on the set or something - I have this on video somewhere and it still makes me jump when I watch it...
cormac, derry, ireland

This myth has always baffled me. Part of me thinks that it is nothing more than a wind-up but the other half does think 'what if?'. The International Wizard of Oz Club has probably got it right with its statement. However, I can't help but think that if a suicide had occured, then the effect public knowledge would have had on viewings of the film and purchases of the videos/dvds would have been horrendous, thus the International Wizard of Oz Club would WANT to dismiss the myth in order to prevent such poor sales (other than those who would buy the film just to see said 'hanging' for themselves). I also think that in this 'day and age' with such huge advantages in technology why doesn't someone just give the film to a forensic expert or something? This way the myth could be cleared up once and for all. There has also been a big thing about the kid in the Frosties advert, but this has been confirmed by Kelloggs as not true.
Amy , Reading, UK

I first heard this over thirty years ago when one of my students brought in "The Wizard of Oz" video at the end of the school year. We played the tape several times but couldn't see the "dwarf suicide" or the mysterious bird! It reminds me of the "alligators in the New York sewer system" urban myth that keeps re-occuring every few years. It seems the more a story is bizarre and un-believable, the more it gets repeated!
Peter McCready, Burnaby, Canada

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