The legend states that the image is the ghost of a boy who died in the house. The parents, wracked with grief, moved out, making the house available for the shooting of the film.
What is the truth behind this legend, that has persisted for so many years?
Three Men and a Baby
However, it's popularity sky-rocketed in 1990, right before its sequel 'Three Men and a Little Lady' was to be released. Video rental records were smashed as people made way to their local video shops in large numbers, to hire the movie.
The videos of Three Men and a Baby were booked out weeks in advance. Some of it had to do with the imminent release of the sequel, but a majority was for a recently broken story, and soon to be urban legend.
A Dead Boy and a Rifle
During this scene, after Jacks mother picks up the baby, they make their way back through the house. When passing a window in the background, the image of a person can be seen, standing behind the curtains.
Soon stories circulated that the image was that of a young boy, who had thrown himself from a window. The parents, suffering much grief over the tragedy, moved out of the house, the memories too much to bare. The story continues, saying it was a stroke of luck for the film makers, who moved right on in to shoot the movie, however they did not count on the dead boy making an ‘otherworldly’ appearance in their movie, while wearing the clothes he was buried in
You can watch a video clip of the scene here: http://youtu.be/LPEvJrs-1yM
(the figure is seen in the window at 35seconds, the 'rifle' (a peculiarity of the ruffled curtains creating the shape) is seen at about 6seconds, but is much harder to see)
Within a year the story of the ghost was being reported all over the place, and people rushed to stores to get a copy, so they can see it for themselves. Stories and reports sprang up about the boys parents threatening to sue the studio if they did not remove the offending scene.
However, it was not too long before the studios attempted to put a close on the matter through a story in 'People' magazine that ran on December 24th, 1990.
There was a storyline involving Jack being cast in a dog food commercial, a cardboard cut out showing Jack in a tuxedo and top hat was created for this scene, but was never shown in the final movie, as it had been cut. However, the cut out is seen later in the movie.
The film makers maintained that the 'ghost' was, in fact, the cardboard cut out. It had jokingly been placed behind the curtain, as an ‘in-joke’ for the crew, but was not meant to intentionally deceive anyone into thinking a ghost was present.
Not Everyone Likes the Explanation
'How gullible does Touchstone Pictures think we are? If you watch the scene from Three Men and a Baby, frame-by-frame, when Ted Danson and Celeste Holm walk into the room, the "being" is not there. I would like to hear Steve Feldstein explain how a cardboard cut out can change its facial expressions and move curtains. Get real, Touchstone. Admit it's something you can't explain.'
'So a whole nation was fooled by a Ted Danson cut out? An "odd camera angle" changed the features of the figure, changed the stance and removed the top hat? Give us a break—and a believable explanation.'
Many people were very unhappy with this official explanation. They claimed that the image of the cut out and the 'ghost' did not look to be the same, and that Touchstone were clutching at straws.
However a vast majority of people accept the explanation and leave the tale as a strange piece of Urban Legend Lore.
Regardless, the major factor against the 'ghost' story was that the indoor scenes were not shot in a house, but rather on a sound stage in Kleinburg, Canada, created to look like the inside of a house. No family had ever lived there, so no son ever died there...
Still, ghosts can be present for many different reasons... maybe. If it was a ghost, any ghost, maybe it just wanted to make itself known and be famous?