I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!
— Margaret Hamilton as The Wicked Witch of the West in the MGM Film The
Wizard of Oz
The Wizard of Oz keeps coming back every year "...because
it's such a beautiful film. I don't think any of us knew how lovely it was at
first. But, after a while, we all began to feel it coming together — and knew we
had something. I can watch it again and again and remember wonderful Judy, Bert,
Ray, Jack, Billie, Frank and how wonderful they all were. The scene that always
gets to me, though, and I think it's one of the most appealing scenes I've ever
seen, is the one where the Wizard gives the gifts to them at the end. Frank
(Morgan) was just like that as a person. And every time I see him do it, the
tears come to my eyes. I listen to the words. I think of Frank, and I know how
much he meant what he said, and how much the words themselves mean."
— Margaret Hamilton, interviewed by Robert C. Roman in After
Her entire life, actress (and teacher) Margaret Hamilton loved
children. Born in Cleveland, Ohio on December 9, 1902, she was the youngest of
She obtained her teaching certificate from the Wheelock
Kindergarten Training School in Boston, Massachusetts. The year was 1923.
She taught kindergarten at a private day school in Rye, New York. Sources for
this piece vary and one online biography states that she taught kindergarten in
her home city of Cleveland. She married a landscape architect in 1931. Although
the marriage lasted only eight years she bore a son, Hamilton Wadsworth Meserve,
and raised him alone (a single parent being a rarity in those times).
Again, sources vary about dates but one thing is certain; she
spent some time in her native Cleveland before and after the birth of her son,
and got involved in community theatre. She soon moved to California. by 1933,
she earned her first film role in Another Language. Her plain appearance,
notably her nose, and clipped straight-ahead diction made her a perfect
character actress, specializing in spinsters, schoolmarms, housekeepers and
other roles which required a serious, authoritative demeanor; sometimes
dramatically, sometimes as the "straight" character in a comedy. She proved to
be quite versatile and talented. She acted in 24 more films until she was
offered the role that led to fame and fortune: the parts of "Mrs. Gulch" and
"The Wicked Witch of the West" in MGM's innovative new spectacle The Wizard
of Oz, based on the book by L. Frank Baum.
"I don't look on it as any great shakes of acting, it's not
subtle or restrained. It isn't any of the things you like to think might apply
to your acting," she explained to a reporter for Newsday in 1978. In
fact, Hamilton was MGM's second choice for the role. The actress Gale
Sondergaard refused to wear the horribly ugly makeup the role demanded.
So the role was given to the gentle, humble Hamilton. Research about Ms.
Hamilton's delightful demeanor and love of fans young and old alike add to the
irony that she earned her fame with a role that's best described as, well,
The theme-song for the witch and Ms. Gulch, remains a
popular tune to hum to warn of "bad people" approaching. It's one of
the most recognizable character themes ever composed. However, composer Harold Arlen
was not directed write any songs for the Wicked Witch; the only major character
in the musical film without a beautiful Arlen tune to sing. (Of course,
"Somewhere Over the Rainbow," and to a lesser degree "Ding Dong The Witch is
Dead," and "If I Only Had a Brain" have become integrated into the Great
American Songbook and have been embraced by artists of nearly all genres.)
A year before the release of the film, she nearly quit. She
suffered severe burns in a special effect gone wrong (the Witch's first fiery
disappearance from Munchkinland). She was hospitalized and then recuperated for
a month before continuing shooting. A source for this piece states that "she had
nothing to do with fire again" in the film. This would be incorrect, unless the
scene where she taunts the character of the Scarecrow with a flaming broom was
shot prior to her injury.
136 Roles in Film and Television
Far from being typecast, her acting versatility made her a
perfect foil for comics, most notably W.C. Fields in the classic My Little
Chickadee in 1940. Between her beginning in 1933 until 1982, she appeared in
no less than 136 films and television programs, in roles ranging from:
Elegant: Madame DuBarry in 1934's Hat, Coat and
Funny: in 1938's Four's A Crowd to
Serious: The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) and
People Will Talk (1951)
She transitioned well into work on the small
screen, often capitalizing on her role as "The Witch" for great comic effect,
but also appearing in important programming like Playhouse 90 and the
Hallmark Hall of Fame in serious roles.
Beside a lifetime commitment to education and child welfare, Ms.
Hamilton was also a long-time supporter of animal welfare, she often made
appearances at fundraisers (as well as organizing them) toward that cause.
It troubled her that often when children would see her they'd
exclaim "there's the Wicked Witch of the West" so she finally appeared on the
popular children's television program Mister Rogers' Neighborhood in
1970 and she and Fred Rogers explained all about the difference between real
life, playing a role, and how makeup adds to the role.
For many years she played the country store owner "Cora" on
Maxwell House coffee commercials, proclaiming "it's the only brand I'll
sell!" Ironically, one of them appeared during a television airing of The
Wizard of Oz.
Margaret Hamilton died in Salisbury, Connecticut on May 16th,
About The Film, and the Witch, In Today's Context
In these days of political correctness,
some controversy has arisen as to whether or not director Victor Fleming's
masterpiece is too violent for children of a certain age. The writer, in
searching for source material to cover this point, discovered several
parenting-oriented websites which gave a thumbs-down to the movie with little
explanation. A site was finally selected that was absent any dubious agendas
(e.g., religious fundamentalism). The site, although agreeing that the movie is one of the
most popular of all times, argues that the film got rated "G" by the MPAA "for
not containing material warranting a higher rating." The site goes on to cite
"Tornadoes and Witches" as items which may disturb small children who've not yet
seen the movie. It gives the movie a 9 on a scale of 10 for wholesomeness, and
urges that those not familiar with the film should review it before showing it
to other members of their household.
Margaret Hamilton, NASA Software Engineer
In the course of research for the writeup on actress
Margaret Hamilton, another Margaret Hamilton was found, one who will no
doubt be of interest to readers of E2:
Margaret Hamilton, Founder and CEO of Hamilton Technologies,
Inc., received her BA from Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana with a math
major. She postponed her PhD in abstract math when offered the opportunity to work on NASA's
Apollo program. At that time, computer science and software engineering
courses were not yet taught. Everyone basically just learned by jumping in and trying.
Ms. Hamilton remained at NASA through the Skylab program, and
was elevated to the prestigious position of Director of the Software Engineering Division at NASA's Charles Stark Draper Laboratory. She created and developed
the mathematical theory which later became the "Development Before The Fact" (DBTF)
systems design and software development paradigm.
She has published 130 papers and reports concerned with original
ideas in software development.
Her self-named company specializes in cutting-edge software
engineering, including software design automation.
The Internet Movie Database (IMDB)
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0002121/ (Accessed 7/7/07)
Margaret Hamilton Biography: by Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide
Margaret Hamilton Official Fan Site by James R. Whitcomb
http://www.geocities.com/hollywood/hills/6396/maggie.htm (Accessed 7/7/07)
Screen It! Appropriateness Guide for Family Viewing
http://www.screenit.com/movies/1939/the_wizard_of_oz.html (Accessed 7/7/07)
Office of Logic Design, NASA
http://www.klabs.org/home_page/hamilton.htm (Accessed 7/7/07)
Wikipedia.com (Reference Only/Facts in Dispute):
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Hamilton (Accessed 7/7/07)