Family & Companions
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 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.
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 in "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 1940s and went on to a regular stint on NBC's "The Paul Winchell-Jerry Mahoney Show" during the 1953-54 season. In the 1960s 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 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.
Cast (Feature Film)
Costume-Wardrobe (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Made stage acting debut in "The Man Who Ate the Popomack"
Helping a friend audition, she won a part for herself in the Broadway play, "Another Language"
Reprised stage role in film version of "Another Language"
Reprised Broadway role in "The Farmer Takes a Wife", directed by Victor Fleming
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
Played the Wicked Witch of the West in "The Wizard of Oz"
Appeared in support of W C Fields and Mae West in "My Little Chickadee"
Co-starred with Harold Lloyd in Preston Sturges' "The Sin of Harold Diddlebock/Mad Wednesday"
Acted in "State of the Union"
TV debut as guest on anthology series, "Silver Theater" in episode titled "Papa Romani"
Last film for nearly a decade "People Will Talk"
TV-movie debut, "The Devil's Disciple"
Played Dolly Tate in a tour of Irving Berlin's stage musical "Annie Get Your Gun"
Returned to featured in "13 Ghosts"
Voiced character of Auntie Em in the animated "Journey Back to Oz", with Liza Minnelli voicing Dorothy; film released on video in 1974
Had recurring role in the ABC sitcom, "The Patty Duke Show"
Portrayed Aunt Eller in the revival of "Oklahoma!" staged at the New York State Theater in NYC
Had last acting role in feature film, "The Anderson Tapes"
Played an occult specialist in the ABC TV-movie "The Night Strangler"
Played Madame Armfeldt in the national tour of "A Little Night Music"
Appeared on stage in "The Devil's Disciple" in NYC
Last TV-movie "Letters from Frank" (CBS)