Dear Straight Dope:
If you watch the movie Three Men and a Baby, right when the grandmother picks up the baby and walks across the living room, a kid can be seen looking into the window. Who is this kid and why is he there? As you may have guessed there have been rumors suggesting that the kid used to live in the apartment in which the filming occurred and had committed suicide, thus making him an apparition. I'm sure there are other rumors floating around--I just want to get the straight dope.
OK, let’s get to the heart of the matter: It’s an urban legend–at least the bit about the boy. There is, in fact, a "figure" there, but its origins are less than mysterious.
The rumor is that a boy used to live in the New York apartment where they filmed Three Men and a Baby. The boy killed himself either with a rifle/shotgun or by jumping out the window he’s seen standing near. What you see is his ghost. His parents saw and recognized him when they rented the movie on videotape. In fact, some people say they saw the parents interviewed on TV about it.
The first problem with this is that the movie wasn’t filmed in an actual New York apartment, but on a Toronto sound stage. That kind of rules out the whole "kid who lived there" thing right off the bat.
Besides, there is a perfectly reasonable and visible explanation for the apparition in the scene. It’s actually a cardboard cut-out of Ted Danson, whose character in the movie is an actor (must have been a stretch for him to play that part). The cut-out is supposed to have been part of an advertising display involving his character. Apparently, there was some mention of it in the original script, but it got left on the cutting room floor. You can, however, see it in another scene, when the baby’s mother comes to get her child. It is easily recognizable for what it is in that scene.
Jan Harold Brunvand, dean of all urban legend research, discussed this one in his books The Baby Train and Other Lusty Urban Legends and Too Good to Be True: The Colossal Book of Urban Legends. In the former, he noted that the idea of a dead person showing up on film is nothing new:
One popular cycle of stories tells of a face showing up in the window of an abandoned house when it is photographed. The face is recognized as that of someone who died in the house long ago, often as a murder victim.
Other old legends claim that in a group photo of some mining, logging, or other work group the face of an extra person appears. It is recognized as someone who had been killed in an accident on the job, and the eyes of the figure in the photo are blank.
Thus, when people saw the unidentified apparition in Three Men and a Baby, they had lots of historical legends to draw on in concluding that it must have been a ghost. From there, it spread as other urban legends do, getting changed a little bit in each telling. The part where people insist they have seen the parents interviewed on TV recalls other legends where people are certain they have seen something that never happened–for example, the famous story about The Newlywed Game, in which a contestant who’s asked the most unusual place they’d made love says, "That’d be the butt, Bob."
Interestingly, the Urban Legends Reference Pages (more commonly known by the handle of the person who runs it, snopes) notes: "The cynical among us might wonder whether the studio itself had something to do with the creation and/or propagation of this rumor," because it helped video sales. Brunvand, however, notes that while the story did boost rentals, "there’s no evidence that it was deliberately planted."
If you’re interested in seeing the scenes in which the cut-out appears, hop on over to http://www.snopes.com/movies/film s/3menbaby.htm.
Send questions to Cecil via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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