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Margaret Hamilton

Margaret Hamilton

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Also Known As: Died: May 16, 1985
Born: December 9, 1902 Cause of Death: heart attack
Birth Place: Cleveland, Ohio, USA Profession: actor, kindergarten teacher, nursery school teacher

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

In a career that spanned five decades and more than 70 features, Hamilton is best remembered as the Wicked Witch of the West in the 1939 MGM classic "The Wizard of Oz". This character actress with a hooked nose and pointy chin whose screeching laugh frightened generations of children was in private life a gentle, animated woman who taught kindergarten before getting her first break in the 1932 Broadway production "Another Language". The play's success provided her ticket to Hollywood where, after recreating her role in the film version, Hamilton went on to supporting roles as what she termed "women with a heart of gold and a corset of steel" under such directors as Frank Capra, Fritz Lang, Michael Curtiz, Busby Berkeley, and William A Wellman. Hamilton never signed a studio contract by design, partly to avoid typecasting. Additionally, she only asked for a salary of $1,000 per week so as not to price herself out of the market. Ironically, Hamilton almost didn't get cast in her best-known role, despite having played the Wicked Witch in a Cleveland stage version of "The Wizard of Oz". Producer Mervyn LeRoy had originally wanted Gale Sondergaard for the part but her makeup and costume tests made her...

In a career that spanned five decades and more than 70 features, Hamilton is best remembered as the Wicked Witch of the West in the 1939 MGM classic "The Wizard of Oz". This character actress with a hooked nose and pointy chin whose screeching laugh frightened generations of children was in private life a gentle, animated woman who taught kindergarten before getting her first break in the 1932 Broadway production "Another Language". The play's success provided her ticket to Hollywood where, after recreating her role in the film version, Hamilton went on to supporting roles as what she termed "women with a heart of gold and a corset of steel" under such directors as Frank Capra, Fritz Lang, Michael Curtiz, Busby Berkeley, and William A Wellman. Hamilton never signed a studio contract by design, partly to avoid typecasting. Additionally, she only asked for a salary of $1,000 per week so as not to price herself out of the market.

Ironically, Hamilton almost didn't get cast in her best-known role, despite having played the Wicked Witch in a Cleveland stage version of "The Wizard of Oz". Producer Mervyn LeRoy had originally wanted Gale Sondergaard for the part but her makeup and costume tests made her look too glamorous. Relenting, LeRoy offered the role to Hamilton, who in turn demanded a guarantee of six weeks work. After being cast, the actress was nearly burned in an onset accident when the Witch was supposed to disappear in a flash fire and the stage trap door did not open quickly enough, causing her costume to catch fire. Also, Hamilton disdained the dual role because she had a total of just over ten minutes of screen time. The initial reviews seemed to justify her feelings; she was barely mentioned and the film proved to be somewhat of a box office disappointment in its initial release. It took the annual TV airings begun in the 1950s for her to be fully appreciated. Scores of children were terrified by the Witch and Hamilton was assured of a place in the hearts and nightmares of many.

In other films, the actress was often cast as unsmiling spinsters, prim maiden aunts, snooping neighbor ladies and other generally unpleasant or overbearing women. Some memorable roles were an uptight gossip who despises Mae West in "My Little Chickadee" (1940), an old maid in "George White's Scandals" (1945), the house maid of a political boss in Frank Capra's "State of the Union" (1948), and a volatile old widow in Robert Altman's "Brewster McCloud" (1971).

Hamilton also kept her stage career active, taking parts in repertory and regional theaters, appearing in Lincoln Center productions of "Oklahoma!" and "Show Boat" and in the mid-1970s toured as Madame Armfeldt "A Little Night Music", delivering a standout interpretation of her one major musical moment, the lovely waltz "Liaisons". She also frequently performed a one-woman show entitled "Aprons I Have Worn" in which she offered key lines from her screen roles. A pioneer of early television, she made her small screen debut on the anthology series "Silver Theater" in the late 40s and went on to a regular stint on NBC's "The Paul Winchell-Jerry Mahoney Show" during the 1953-54 season. In the 60s and 70s, Hamilton had recurring parts on ABC sitcoms like "The Patty Duke Show" and "The Addams Family" and the NBC children's program "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters". One of her best late-in-life roles was the college professor with a knowledge of the occult (and the spinster-esque name of Hester Crabwell) in the TV-movie "The Night Strangler" (ABC, 1973). Around the same time, she embodied the helpful, sweet New England storekeeper Cora in a long-running series of commercials for Maxwell House Coffee. Hamilton continued to act until about two years before her 1985 death from a heart attack.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Letters From Frank (1979) Grandma Miller
2.
 Journey Back to Oz (1974) Voice
3.
 Night Strangler, The (1973) Professor Hester Crabwell
4.
 The Anderson Tapes (1971) Miss Kaler
5.
 Brewster McCloud (1970) Daphne Heap
6.
 Angel in My Pocket (1969) Rhoda
7.
 Rosie (1967) Mae
8.
 The Daydreamer (1966) Mrs. Klopplebobbler
9.
 Paradise Alley (1962)
10.
 13 Ghosts (1960) Elaine Zacharides
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio
1923:
Made stage acting debut in "The Man Who Ate the Popomack"
:
Taught kindergarten at the Rye (New York) County Day School in the early 1930s
1932:
Helping a friend audition, she won a part for herself in the Broadway play, "Another Language"
1933:
Reprised stage role in film version of "Another Language"
1939:
Played the Wicked Witch of the West in "The Wizard of Oz"
1935:
Reprised Broadway role in "The Farmer Takes a Wife", directed by Victor Fleming
1936:
Played the dual roles of Elvira Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West in "The Wizard of Oz"; reprised role in numerous stage versions
1940:
Appeared in support of W C Fields and Mae West in "My Little Chickadee"
1947:
Co-starred with Harold Lloyd in Preston Sturges' "The Sin of Harold Diddlebock/Mad Wednesday"
1948:
Acted in "State of the Union"
1950:
TV debut as guest on anthology series, "Silver Theater" in episode titled "Papa Romani"
1951:
Last film for nearly a decade "People Will Talk"
1955:
TV-movie debut, "The Devil's Disciple"
1958:
Played Dolly Tate in a tour of Irving Berlin's stage musical "Annie Get Your Gun"
1960:
Returned to featured in "13 Ghosts"
1962:
Voiced character of Auntie Em in the animated "Journey Back to Oz", with Liza Minnelli voicing Dorothy; film released on video in 1974
1963:
Had recurring role in the ABC sitcom, "The Patty Duke Show"
:
Played recurring role of Hester Frump in the TV sitcom, "The Addams Family" (ABC)
1969:
Portrayed Aunt Eller in the revival of "Oklahoma!" staged at the New York State Theater in NYC
1971:
Had last acting role in feature film, "The Anderson Tapes"
:
Recurring role on a children's series, "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters"
:
Portrayed the freindly shopkeeper Cora in a popular series of TV commercials for Maxwell House coffee
1973:
Played an occult specialist in the ABC TV-movie "The Night Strangler"
:
Had a recurring role on the NBC children's series, "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters"
1974:
Played Madame Armfeldt in the national tour of "A Little Night Music"
1978:
Appeared on stage in "The Devil's Disciple" in NYC
1979:
Last TV-movie "Letters from Frank" (CBS)
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Hathaway-Brown High School: Cleveland , Ohio - 1921
Wheelock Kindergarten Training School: Boston , Massachusetts - 1921 - 1923

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
Paul Boynton Meserve. Married on June 13, 1931; divorced in 1938.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Walter J Hamilton. Lawyer.
mother:
Jennie Hamilton.
niece:
Sylvia Dick. Dancer.
son:
Hamilton Meserve. Newspaper publisher. Oversees chain of newspapers in Dutchess County, New York.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

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