By Erin Free

“Just try and stay out of my way. Just try! I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!” Unforgettably menacing Judy Garland’s angelic Dorothy Gale (and her adorable pet, Toto) in The Wizard Of Oz, actress, Margaret Hamilton, instantly established herself as one of cinema’s all-time great villains as The Wicked Witch Of The West in the 1939 classic. With just twelve minutes of screen time, Hamilton stands tall over the film, as her dark, creepy brand of cruelty casts inky shadows across the film’s much loved sunniness and extraordinary visuals. With her green face, hooked nose, cackling laugh, and pointed witch’s hat, Hamilton created the seminal image by which all future screen witches would be judged, while her wholehearted dialogue delivery pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable for a children’s film of the era. “It was very good, although The Witch was so terrifying that some small children had to be taken out,” said The Wizard Of Oz author L. Frank Baum’s granddaughter, Florence, after seeing a preview of the film. In fact, Hamilton was deemed so scary by backing studio, MGM, that several lines of The Wicked Witch’s dialogue were cut in order to tone down the character’s impact.

Ironically given her character’s horrifically iconic status (The Wicked Witch was ranked #4 on The American Film Institute’s villains list of “The 100 Years Of The Greatest Screen Heroes And Villains”), Hamilton’s first job was as a kindergarten teacher, and she would spend much of her time after The Wizard Of Oz explaining to little children that the character wasn’t real, even appearing on the TV show, Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood, in 1968 to do exactly that. The role would follow the hard working Hamilton her whole career…and she didn’t mind a bit. “They want me to laugh like The Witch,” she once said. “And sometimes when I go to schools, if we’re in an auditorium, I’ll do it. They’re really scared for a second…even adolescents! For a minute, they get the feeling they got when they first watched the picture. They like to hear it, but they don’t like to hear it. The picture made a terrible impression of some kind on them, sometimes a ghastly impression, but most of them got over it, I guess. When I talk like The Witch and when I laugh, there is a hesitation, and then they clap. They’re clapping at hearing the sound again…”


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