MARGARET HAMILTON Biography - Actors and Actresses


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Name: Margaret Hamilton                                                                 
Born: 9 December 1902 Cleveland, Ohio                                                   
Died: 16 May 1985 Salisbury, Connecticut                                                 
Margaret Hamilton (December 9, 1902 - May 16, 1985) was an American film actress         
best known for her iconic portrayal of The Wicked Witch of the West in The               
Wizard of Oz.                                                                           
Hamilton was born to Walter J. Hamilton and his wife, Jennie (Adams), in                 
Cleveland, Ohio. She later attended Hathaway Brown School in Shaker Heights,             
Ohio. Drawn to the theater at an early age, Hamilton made her stage debut in             
Before she turned to acting exclusively, Hamilton worked as a teacher. Over the         
years, her students included future actors William Windom and Jim Backus. After         
moving to the East Coast, Hamilton taught kindergarten at Rye Country Day School,       
in Rye, New York. Her early experience as a teacher fueled a lifelong interest           
in educational issues. Hamilton served on the Beverly Hills Board of Education           
between 1948 to 1951, long after her success in films. She also taught Sunday           
School in the 1950s.                                                                     
Hamilton married Paul Boynton Meserve on June 13, 1931, and made her debut on           
the New York stage the following year. While her acting career developed, her           
marriage became troubled, and the couple divorced in 1938. They had one son,             
Hamilton Wadsworth Meserve (born 1935), whom she raised on her own. Not long             
after the official end of her marriage, Hamilton accepted the film role that             
made her famous.                                                                         
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.         
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.                                               
Her crisp voice with rapid but clear enunciation was another trademark. She             
appeared regularly in supporting roles in films until the early-1950s (her               
uncredited nearly 10-minute performance in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's People Will           
Talk from 1951 playing the part of Sarah Pickett opposite Hume Cronyn's Dr.             
Elwell was especially memorable) , and sporadically thereafter.                         
She co-starred opposite Buster Keaton and Richard Cromwell, in 1940's                   
forgettable spoof of the long-running local melodrama, The Drunkard, entitled           
The Villain Still Pursued Her. Later in the decade, she was in a now-forgotten           
film noir from one of the "poverty row" studios, entitled Bungalow 13 (1948), in         
which she again co-starred opposite Cromwell, though that film did nothing for           
either of their careers.                                                                 
In 1960, producer/director William Castle cast her as the maid in his 13 Ghosts         
spookfest. Throughout the film she plays straight face to 12-year-old lead               
Charles Herbert's barbs about her being a witch, including one scene with broom         
in hand.                                                                                 
Hamilton was often asked about her experiences on the set of The Wizard of Oz.           
Hamilton said she sometimes worried about the effect that her monstrous film             
role had on children. In real life, Hamilton dearly loved children and gave to           
charitable organizations benefitting them. She often remarked about children             
coming up to her and asking her why she had been so mean to poor Dorothy. She           
appeared on an episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, where she explained to           
children that she was only playing a role and showed how make-up transformed her         
into the witch. She also made personal appearances, and Hamilton described the           
usual reaction:                                                                         
"Almost always they want me to laugh like the Witch. And sometimes when I go to         
schools, if we're in an auditorium, I'll do it. And there's always a funny               
reaction, like Ye Gods, they wish they hadn't asked. They're scared. They're             
really scared for a second. Even adolescents. I guess for a minute they get the         
feeling they got when they watched the picture. They like to hear it but they           
don't like to hear it. And then they go, 'Ohhhhhhhhhh.'... The picture made a           
terrible impression of some kind on them, sometimes a ghastly impression, but           
most of them got over it, I guess... Because 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."                                                                       
Robert Altman's Brewster McCloud, a film about flying, pays homage to her wicked         
witch character: in the film, Hamilton plays a wealthy woman who is crushed by a         
large birdhouse. As the camera pans down her body, you see that on her feet are         
the ruby slippers.