MONKEY BUSINESS


The Winged Monkeys in the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz served at the pleasure of the Wicked Witch of the West and terrorized Dorothy and her companions, and thousands of small children watching the big screen throughout the country. My youngest daughter was one of those children. Many years later I purchased a pair of bronze candle holders in the shape of flying monkeys, and I am not allowed to use them when she is around.

I think for children the goblinlike Flying Monkeys. squealing servants of the Wicked Witch are the stuff of nightmares. For the most part the monkeys were not played by the same small actors as the munchkins. Only a few of the more athletic midgets were asked to don the monkey make-up and costumes fitted with battery-powered wings. The wings were motorized so they would flap while the monkeys were airborne.

Veteran Hollywood midget stuntman Harry Monty was one of the actors who played both a Munchkin and a Flying Monkey. Those who played the brown flying chimps mostly were too tall to play a Munchkin.

They had a harness around them and strung them up on wires. Then they would swoop down. One terrifying moment was when a Flying Monkey swooped down and grabbed Toto, Dorothy’s little dog. They were to be paid $20 for swooping, but there was a misunderstanding about the number of swoops were to be paid. The director assumed it was per day, and kept telling monkeys to keep swooping, while the Flying Monkeys thought it was $20 per swoop. To get the matter settled the monkeys went on strike. It must have been quite a picture– twelve monkeys sitting on chairs with their arms folded and legs crossed arguing with the director over money. As soon as it was settled they were back in the air on black cables which were invisible during the filming.

The rest of the illusion was created by dangling little rubber, painted monkeys about eight inches in length. These molded figurines–complete with foamlike wings and a pipe cleaner for a tail–were suspended on wires, much as the actor/monkeys were, and flown along at the same time to create the illusion of a large army of evil beasts. In 1996 one of the decaying, rock-hard rubber monkeys was auctioned off, fetching $3,000.

After more than fifty years, the slim steel tracks that were built and and installed in the reinforced rafters of MGM Sound Stage 29 are still there, high above the floor as a haunting reminder of Oz’s monkeyshines.

Excerpt from The Munchkins of Oz, by Stephen Cox

Author: kaytisweetlandrasmussen83

I am a retired fine arts teacher, sculptor/painter, writer, and a native Californian. I love my family,dogs, horses, movies, reading and music, probably in that order. I have been married forever to a very nice man who is nice to old ladies, dogs and children.

8 thoughts on “MONKEY BUSINESS”

  1. I don’t remember the monkeys. Truly. I remember the Wicked Witch, and I have a vague memory of the Munchkins, but there are no flying monkeys in my memory banks…

    I just watched a couple of clips, and I still don’t remember them. Apparently I had my filters switched on.

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    1. Funny. Maybe your mom had her hand over your eyes like my mother did while watching the Hunchback of Notre Dame with Charles Laughton. I peeked through her fingers though. My 67 year old daughter still hates the Flying Monkeys. We had to leave the theater.
      ouldn’t
      I just discovered that my mail server has been putting all my WordPress or Pachofa mail into spam. Couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t seeing it. Got that fixed, but I find I cannot post media on my blog as a separate problem. I’ll think about that some other time.

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      1. Are you getting an error message that says something like “https error”? I was getting that for a couple of days, and found that if I renamed my files, they would work just fine.

        My folks never made much a move to keep me from the unpleasant parts. I honestly think I just blocked them out myself. I can see why — unpleasant creatures!

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  2. My granddaughter had many monkeys, some of whom did extremely annoying things like swing on the fridge door. I couldn’t help because I couldn’t see them. I wonder if they were flying monkeys… She was only five, and one’s eyesight is superior at that age.

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  3. I still recall my nightmare after watching the Wizard of Oz; the nightmare was one of only two I’ve had in my life, and that gasping-for-breath fear/memory still resides in my psyche! One never knows why some experiences have profound effects – but it wasn’t the monkeys, but the witch that haunted my dream

    Lovely post (I think – if the witch haunts me tonight in my dreams, I’ll retract that critique!)

    I loved your posts about the drivers license – hooray that all eventually went well!

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    1. In retrospect, I can’t say I was frightened by the monkeys or the Witch, but the whole concept of losing one’s home and family was more terrifying to me. However, in defense of the tech involved in those monkeys, I loved the idea of making small rubber ones to indicate a large army. I particularly liked the pipe cleaner tails. The other movies which were frightening to children were Bambi because the mother deer died, and Babe in which the mother pig was taken away to the big beyond. I thing they both presented an feeling of loss which children identified with. Maybe better than all the shoot-em-ups of today though.

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