If you were anything like most children, The Wizard of Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West wasn’t the most terrifying part of the 1939 classic. No, that honor was reserved for her flying monkeys, those awful winged humanoid creatures that could swoop down and wreak havoc without any warning.
Several of the primate parts were played by real people: Nikko, the head monkey, was played by actor Pat Walshe, while vaudevillian actor Harry Monty was both a Munchkin and a monkey. But in the creepy scene where thousands of monkeys descend upon our heroes in the Haunted Forest, the monkeys were all tiny rubber figures no more than a few inches tall.
The figures were hung from a gantry car with four strands of extremely thin music wire, resulting in about 1100 wires total. As the gantry moved down the soundstage, it took all of the little monkeys with it, making it appear as if they were flying. That’s about 275 tiny little winged monkeys in all—but according to the Oz museum in Wamego, Kansas, only four of these models survive to this day. They have two of them.
They’re so small, in fact, that despite being hyped as one of the coolest exhibits in the museum, I walked right by them without realizing what they were. So, the next time you watch The Wizard of Oz and find yourself shuddering at that swarm of winged primates, remind yourself how tiny and nonthreatening they actually were. Now, the monkeys played by actors ... we can’t help you with that fear. They’re still pretty scary.
By the way, the “little insect” the Wicked Witch mentions in the beginning of the video was a reference to a scene that was cut from the final movie. Before the monkeys show up, the Wicked Witch of the West sent little pink and blue mosquito-like insects called Jitter Bugs to make Dorothy and her friends dance and tire them out. Despite the $80,000 it cost to film the song-and-dance number, the footage was cut to help with the run time of the movie. Though most of the Jitter Bug film has been destroyed, there is some grainy footage of the number being performed in rehearsal. Here it is, mixed it with some other images from the movie: