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 Dark Magazine

Her entire life, actress (and teacher) Margaret Hamilton loved children. Born in Cleveland, Ohio on December 9, 1902, she was the youngest of four.

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, wicked.

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 Glove to

  • 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, 1985.

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 http://www.allmovie.com/cg/avg.dll (Accessed 7/7/07)

  • 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)

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