One of my all time favorite movies from the decade known as the Golden Age of Hollywood is the now classic, WIZARD OF OZ. So needless to say some of my favorite performances also came from the same movie. One of the best character actresses of Hollywood was the immortal, Margaret Hamilton. Even though most remember her as Cora the “Coffee Lady” from the Maxwell House commercials in the 1980’s, Margaret Hamilton had a career in Hollywood that spanned five decades.
Prior to her role as the Wicked Witch of the West, Margaret appeared in These Three (1936), Nothing Sacred (1937), and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938). Prior to acting, Hamilton taught kindergarten in Rye, NY. Hamilton was married briefly in the 1930s and had one son, whom she raised on her own.
In 1939, her life was to change forever when 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 was unable and refused to wear makeup designed to make her appear ugly. Even though Hamilton suffered severe burns when the trapdoor elevator she was riding on the sound stage malfunctioned during the filming of her fiery exit from Munchkinland later on in life she would comment on the role of the witch in a light-hearted adoring fashion. 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.
From the moment she rode on the dusty road from her home to the Gale’s home on her bicycle through the Kansas farmlands, she struck terror in the hearts of the movie goer. As she was transformed in Dorothy’s “dream” from Miss Elvira Gulch to the Witch, her performance would cause children for generations to jump, scream, and even cry. Regardless of what she would do later in her career, Margaret Hamilton would always be the Wicked Witch of the West for children for generations past and future.