Margaret Hamilton Birthday December 9, 1902
Margaret Hamilton (December 9, 1902 – May 16, 1985) was an American film actress known for her portrayal of the Wicked Witch of the West in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. A former schoolteacher, she worked as a character actor in films for seven years before she was offered the role that defined her public image.
In later years, Hamilton made frequent cameo appearances on television sitcoms and commercials. She also gained recognition for her work as an advocate of causes designed to benefit children and animals, and retained a lifelong commitment to public education.
It is ironic that her performance as the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz (1939) was so scary to children, because her first job was as a kindergarten teacher. She loved and doted upon children all her life.
Until the day she died she had children recognizing her and coming up to her to ask why she was so mean to Dorothy. She became very concerned about the role’s effect on children, and finally guested on “MisteRogers’ Neighborhood” (1968) to explain that the Witch was just a character in the film, and not herself.
She was the kindergarten teacher of five-year-old William Windom, until she threw him out for rambunctious behavior. Another of her students was Jim Backus.
Gave her most noted recollection of her role in The Wizard of Oz (1939) by writing the Preface to the book “The Making of The Wizard of Oz” by Aljean Harmetz.
Nearly quit as the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz (1939) after a December 1938 accident in which she was severely burned during her dramatic exit from Munchkinland. The impressive special effect was achieved by her stepping onto a trap door (obscured by rising smoke) that dropped beneath her, and then a burst of real fire came up. On one take, the fire came too early, and her costume caught fire. She was off the film for more than a month. After she recuperated, she said “I won’t sue, because I know how this business works, and I would never work again. I will return to work on one condition – no more fire work!”.
Welcomed pen-pal fans to visit her at her New York City apartment in later years.
Her legendary role as the Wicked Witch of the West was ranked #4 on the American Film Institute’s villains list of the 100 years of The Greatest Screen Heroes and Villains.
She was cremated and her ashes spread on her Dutchess County, New York estate.
She is a distant cousin of Neil Hamilton.
Lived in a Gramercy Park building in New York City that was also occupied by James Cagney and now boasts Jimmy Fallon as one of its tenants.
And Your Little Dog, Too: Miss Hamilton was a strong promoter of animal rights and the welfare of companion animals. She often appeared in TV public service announcements with her cat, pleading that everyone spay and neuter their pets to help cut down on the number of unwanted, homeless animals. She also had a dachshund named Otto.
For many years, she appeared in Maxwell House coffee commercials as the feisty storekeeper who declares, “It’s the only brand I sell!”
Had one son, Hamilton Wadsworth Meserve (b.1935)
Biography in: “The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives”. Volume One, 1981-1985, pages 360-361. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1998.
Starred in the live on-stage musical “A Little Night Music” (with actress Jean Simmons in the lead role) during the mid-1970s in San Francisco.
Under her married name of Margaret Meserve, she served on the Beverly Hills Board of Education from 1948 to 1951.
Wore the same costume for two productions, 26 years apart. The dress she wore as Miss Gulch in The Wizard of Oz (1939) was worn again when she played Grandma Frump in “The Addams Family” (1964) in 1965.
She said that when sees the scene in The Wizard of Oz (1939) when Frank Morgan as the Wizard is giving Dorothy’s friends gifts from his “black bag” (a diploma for the Scarecrow, a ticking heart for the Tin Man, and a medal for the Cowardly Lion), she gets teary eyed, because “Frank Morgan was just like that in real life – very generous”.
She knew and accepted that she was not “conventionally glamorous”. She often told the story that when her agent first called and told her MGM was interested in talking to her about a role in The Wizard of Oz (1939), she responded, “Oh, I loved reading those books to my kindergarten children. Which role?” Her agent replied: “The witch.” Hamilton said: “The witch?” and the agent responded: “Yes, what else?”.
Remarked during an interview that many children believed that she was mean in real life. She had a hard time to convince them that she was only play acting when she appeared as the Wicked Witch of the West.
She attended Wheelock College in Boston, MA. A school that specializes in working with children and families. She acted in some of the Wheelock Family Theater productions.
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