‘The Wizard of Oz’: The Munchkins Joined the Cast to Escape Nazis, But Rumors of On-Set Debauchery Persist
The Wizard of Oz is one of the most watched movies of all time, but the lure behind it is almost as famous as the story itself. From stories of on-set abuse of the lead actress Judy Garland to myths of suicides during filming, some of the creepiest stories about The Wizard of Oz just add to the intrigue of the movie.
Not all those rumors are verified. But it’s true that a group of actors who played the Munchkins signed on for the movie just in time to escape the beginning of World War II, effectively escaping the Nazis and in some cases, launching successful film careers.
Who were the Munchkins in ‘The Wizard of Oz’?
In the movie, the Munchkins were a group of little people who inhabited Oz, the place Dorothy landed when she bumped her head in the tornado. In real life, they were a group of Germans known as The Singer Midgets who hailed from Germany and barely spoke English. Their voices were mostly dubbed over by professional actors for the movie.
Most of the actors were adult little people but a few were average height children. All of them were part of a group called The Singer Midgets not because they sang, but because their manager’s name was Leo Singer, LA Times reported.
The crew was so grateful for the opportunity to appear in The Wizard of Oz. The gig gave them all a chance to flee Germany mere months prior to Hitler invading Poland and setting off World War II.
There are rumors that the Munchkins behaved badly on set
The Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz are sweet and accommodating of Dorothy, who is technically an intruder in their territory. However, once the cameras stopped rolling there was a different scene entirely.
Rumors of drunken debauchery among cast members persist even decades after filming. Garland’s ex-husband Sid Luft wrote in his memoir that the crew members who played Munchkins often asked the movie’s lead out on dates and went as far as touching her body without permission.
“They’d make Judy’s life miserable by putting their hands under her dress,” he wrote, according to Mirror UK.
All 124 Munchkin actors bunked together in the Culver Hotel, sometimes sleeping three to a bed and enjoying their leisure time after a long day’s work. Rumor has it that they engaged in frequent sexual trysts and at least one was fired for causing too much trouble. But some of the actors claim these stories are exaggerated.
The Munchkin actors from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ were so grateful
The entire group of Munchkins received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2007. While being interviewed during the event, the surviving actors expressed their gratitude for being involved in the project and escaping Germany at just the right point in history.
“I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t been in The Wizard of Oz” Clarence Swensen told LA Times. “It was a great teacher.”
And as for those rumors of nefarious activity? “I was only 15 when the movie was filmed,” Wizard of Oz alum Margaret Pellegrini said. “There were a few of them who liked to drink, but it wasn’t what they said it was. A lot of those stories were false.”