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Margaret Hamilton

The Wicked Witch of the West, Almira Gulch

Margaret Hamilton [1902–1985] (Miss Almira Gultch / The Wicked Witch of the West) fittingly capped off five decades of acting with an appearance in the 1979 television documentary "The Making of 'The Wizard of Oz.'" The actress became a steady television performer in the '50s, '60s, and '70s, with roles on such series as "The Addams Family" and the children's program "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters" and in regular commercials for Maxwell House Coffee.

Hamilton's unlikely career as a film actress was driven by the very qualities that placed her in stark contrast to the stereotypical Hollywood glamour girl. Her image was that of a New England spinster, extremely pragmatic and impatient with all manner of "tomfoolery". Hamilton's plain looks helped to bring steady work as a character actor. She made her screen debut in 1933 in Zoo in Budapest. Hamilton went on to appear in These Three (1936), Saratoga, You Only Live Once, Nothing Sacred (all 1937), and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938). She strived to work as much as possible to support herself and her son; she never put herself under contract to any one studio and priced her services at $1000 a week.

In 1939, she played the role of the Wicked Witch of the West opposite Judy Garland's Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz and created not only her most famous role, but one of the screen's most memorable villains. Hamilton was chosen when the more traditionally attractive Gale Sondergaard refused to wear makeup designed to make her appear ugly. Hamilton suffered severe burns during a second (and unused) take of her fiery exit from Munchkinland, in which the trap door's drop was delayed to eliminate the brief glimpse of it seen in the final edit. Hamilton had to recuperate in a hospital and at home for six weeks after the accident before returning to the set to complete her work on the now-classic film, and refused to have anything to do with fire for the rest of the filming.[4] Studio executives cut some of Margaret's wickedest scenes, worrying they would frighten children. Whatever ill will she may have felt toward the role quickly disintegrated; later on in life she would comment on the role of the witch in a light-hearted fashion. She recalled in the past:

"I was in a need of money at the time, and my agent called. I said 'yes?' and he said 'Maggie, they want you to play a part on the Wizard.' I said to myself, 'Oh Boy, The Wizard of Oz! That has been my favorite book since I was four.' And I asked him what part, and he said 'The Witch' and I said 'The Witch!' and he said 'What else?'" She said this quite happily.