Agent: They're sort of interested in you for a part in The Wizard of Oz.
Margaret Hamilton: Oh gosh! think of that! I've loved that story from the time I was four years old, what (part) is it?
A: Well, the witch.
MH: The witch?!?
A: Yes, what else?
(Cue gales of laughter from the audience)
Margaret Brainard Hamilton (December 9, 1902 – May 16, 1985) was an American film character actress best known for her portrayal of the Wicked Witch of the West, based on Dorothy Gale's malevolent neighbor, Miss Almira Gulch, whom Hamilton also played, in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's classic film The Wizard of Oz.
A former schoolteacher, she worked as a character actress in films for seven yearsnote before she was offered the role that defined her public image. The Wicked Witch of the West was eventually ranked No. 4 in the American Film Institute's list of the 50 Best Movie Villains of All Time, making her the highest ranking female villain. In later years, Hamilton made frequent cameo appearances on television sitcoms and commercials. Younger viewers may associate her as Cora the grocer from the Maxwell House ads. 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. In her later life, Hamilton fully embraced her legacy as the Wicked Witch, making personal appearances, often (in keeping with her passions) in school auditoriums, signing all of her autographs "W.W.W." and deconstructing her role on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood as well as reprising it on Sesame Street, in an episode that was lost for nearly a half-century before it was rediscovered in 2022. Well into her old age, she was able to provide her legendary Evil Laugh on command, and reported that everyone always asked for it. In a charming surviving audio clip from a 1968 appearance they shared on The Merv Griffin Show, even her costar Judy Garland requests the laugh... and Hamilton brings down the house when she does it.
Hamilton had one son, whom she raised a single mother after she divorced her husband. Unlike many children of Golden Age Hollywood celebrities, he remembered her fondly and would claim that she often used the immortal catchphrase "I'll get you, my pretty... and your little dog, too!" in her private life. Neil Hamilton, who played Commissioner Gordon in Batman (1966), was a distant cousin.
She appeared in:
Film and television
- The Farmer Takes a Wife
- Nothing Sacred
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
- As the World Turns
- Four's a Crowd (1938)
- Babes in Arms
- The Wizard of Oz
- With W. C. Fields My Little Chickadee
- State of the Union
- The Addams Family
- 13 Ghosts
- The Daydreamer
- Brewster McCloud
- Sesame Street
- Sigmund and the Sea Monsters
- The Partridge Family
- Mister Rogers' Neighborhood
- The Paul Lynde Halloween Special
- Lou Grant
- The Night Strangler
- Actor Allusion:
- Also counts as a Casting Gag. Hamilton's appearance in 13 Ghosts as a Witch... This time she's a good witch, helping the household keep up with the trapped ghosts.
- Defied in The Addams Family — she was offered the role of Grandmama Addams, who is explicitly described as a witch and looks very much like your stereotypical old hag, but declined. She did, however, appear in the recurring role of Morticia's mother Hester Frump, who is also a witch but appears as a typical middle-aged woman of The '60s.
- Kindhearted Cat Lover: Starting in the mid-1970's, she appeared with her beloved cats in a number of PSAs for the Humane Society, with a short poignant speech about abandoned kittens and reminding us to get our companions spayed and neutered.
- Mean Character, Nice Actor: She's known for playing antagonistic roles, especially that of the Wicked Witch of the West, when she was actually a very sweet woman who worked as a kindergarten teacher before acting.
- Star-Making Role: As the Wicked Witch of the West. Perhaps painfully so.
- Typecasting: As a witch. In her later career, as a Cool Old Lady Granny Classic.