Dear Matthew Alice: In The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy and the Scarecrow have just befriended the Tin Man, and the characters skip down the path, a cryptic figure among the blue-tinted forest backdrop seems to climb up on something, pause for a moment, then swing (gulp!) just like a hanging body on a gallows. The theory I heard was that this is actually a midget actor (Munchkin) who intentionally committed suicide on the set. I've watched the scene carefully, and as far-fetched as it sounds, it looks like someone hanging himself! Matt, if you can reveal some factoid about this occurrence/ suicide/enigma, please tell me. — S.G.G., The Node, CA
An equally popular and harebrained rumor says it’s the film’s director hanging himself. My reliable source says the shadowy figure is a crew member caught on camera (trying to get out of the shot, not trying to hang himself, but I don’t know that anyone can prove that. There are many Munchkin rumors, including one that had them living in some tiny houses on Mt. Soledad (not true; the so-called Midget Houses of La Jolla are regular, full-size, Cliff May-designed homes). But the suicidal Munchkin of The Wizard of Oz is certainly my fave.
November 30 update
Dear Matthew Alice: Re: the question about the suicidal midget/director who appears in the scene where Dorothy, the Tin Woodsman, and the Scarecrow go skipping down the path together in The Wizard of Oz. I got out my video copy of the movie, and if the figure you’re talking about is the one in the center of the screen, directly behind the three figures, I think I’ve figured out what it is. There is a rather large bird (crane? heron?) that appears in several scenes in front of the house, including the scene where Dorothy and the Scarecrow are helping the Tin Man. Most important is the part when the characters say, “No heart? No heart. All hollow.” Right between Dorothy and the Tin Man, the bird appears, facing the camera and spreading its wings.
The bird does not appear in front of the house as the characters prepare to leave, which means it has to be somewhere else. If you look at the mysterious figure, it’s clearly that bird, first bending to the right several times while the characters are in the foreground, then turning to face the camera as they approach, and spreading its wings to each side after they pass by.
To paraphrase Glinda the Good: I bring you good news, or hadn’t you heard. That’s not a mad Munchkin. It’s only a bird! — David Popejoy, Poway