Oh my! Where to start! When researching Munchkins, much because of conversations about my Oz blog, I found a treasure trove of delightful stories. Therefore, Munchkin legend and lore future posts will be sprinkled in here and there. And because we are entering the month of October, witches and wizards seem like appropriate posts to focus on the rest of the month.
Please scroll down to the end of post. There are some very funny bits of trivia included which I will do more posts on later, such as, I mentioned, where to start!
Munchkins have been re-imagined many times over the past century. Besides the 1939 version with the “lollipop kids”, I must admit I liked the Muppet’s version of Munchkin rats with Sergeant Bubba. Munchkins have been portrayed as benevolent happy little folk who love to sing and dance, in most productions. I say most because I didn’t see the television show “Once Upon a Time” Munchkin segment that may have had a more sinister twist. Is this the case? Nor did I see “Dorothy and the Witches of Oz.” Have you see either of these? What wisdoms can I glean from them?
Munchkins, as I know them, are sweet and happy and love to sing. My visit to Oz didn’t include them though their benevolence welcomed me.
- W. Denslow’s depiction of Munchkins, from the first edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The Munchkinsare the natives of the fictional Munchkin Countryin the Oz books by American author L. Frank Baum. They first appear in the classic children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900). They are described as only wearing shades of blue clothing, as blue is the Munchkins’ favorite color, and the predominating color that officially represents the eastern quadrant in the Land of Oz. They and the non-Munchkin Witch, the Good Witch of the North who accompanies them upon Dorothy Gale’s first arrival to Oz, are described as being the same height as Dorothy, who is hinted to be no older than twelve-years-old.
Baum never explained where the term came from, but Baum researcher Brian Attebery has hypothesized that there might be a connection to the Münchner Kindl, the emblem of the Bavarian city of Munich (spelled München in German). The symbol was originally a 13th-century statue of a monk, looking down from the town hall in Munich. Over the years, the image was reproduced many times, for instance as a figure on beer steins, and eventually evolved into a child wearing a pointed hood. Baum’s family had German origins, suggesting that Baum could have seen one such reproduction in his childhood.
It is also possible that “Munchkin” came from the German word “Männchen”, which means “mannikin” or “little figure”. In 1900, Baum published a book about window displays in which he stressed the importance of mannequins in attracting customers.
It is also possible that the term came from the Romanian word for laborer, “muncitor”, replacing the Romanian suffix of agency, “-itor”, with the English suffix of (kind, sort, and) class identification, “-kin”. “Munci” is the Romanian verb “to labor” and is pronounced /MOOHN-chee/.
The classic 1939 musical movie The Wizard of Oz loosely based upon Baum’s novel, the Munchkins are portrayed by children and adults with dwarfism. Unlike the book, their country is called Munchkinland and they all wear colorful garments and outfits instead of all blue attire.
- The Munchkins appeared in The Wiz and were played by children and teenagers.
- In The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz, the Munchkins were played by Rizzo the Rat (who portrayed the Mayor of Munchkinland) and his fellow rats.
- The Munchkins appeared in Dorothy and the Witches of Oz. They were brought to Earth by Glinda in order to combat the forces of the Wicked Witch of the West.
- The Munchkins appear in Oz the Great and Powerful. They alongside the Quadlingsand the Tinkers as inhabitants of Glinda’s protectorate. Although the film is not otherwise a musical, the Munchkins sing and dance much as they do in the 1939 film.
- The Munchkins appear in Once Upon a Time.
- Munchkins from Under the Rainbow.
- When MGM began filming The Wizard of Oz, they housed nearly all of the 124 “little people” who played the Munchkins. Story has it that a secret underground tunnel was built to usher them to their set at the nearby Culver Studio — as well as to ferry alcohol during the Prohibition. In reality, this “secret” pathway was used for pedestrians to cross the busy boulevard, but we like to stick with the first story better!
- The Culver Hotel located in downtown Culver City, near the Sony Studios (formerly MGM) and the Culver Studios, has had many famous residents over the years. However, the most famous guests to stay at this hotel would probably be the Munchkins from the 1939 film the Wizard of Oz.
- The wild tales and stories that emerged from this Munchkin “residence” inspired the 1981 Chevy Chase and Carrie Fisher movie, Under the Rainbow and, in 1997, six of the original cast returned for a Beyond the Rainbow event to share their remembrances with the Culver City Historical Society. (To be continued, as I said, where to start!)