As any good group of conservatives would, the staff at the RedState Department of History is looking with apprehension to the new Pelosi regime taking over the House of Representatives in January.
For succor, we decided to return to our film roots and take a look at the most famous incidence of a Wicked Witch of the West’s attempt to influence events.
The Wizard of Oz is one of the world’s best-loved film classics. Recent stories about the recovery of a stolen pair of Dorothy Gale’s ruby slippers – arguably the most valuable props in movie history – dominated the headlines last year.
However, today is an anniversary that has nothing to do with Judy Garland or Dorothy Gale. On this day eighty years ago, there was an accident on the set that injured the original Wicked Witch — who in real life was nothing like her on-screen role.
Margaret Hamilton was born in 1902 and got her start acting in children’s theater in Cleveland. Her first job was as a kindergarten teacher — reflecting her lifelong love of children.
However, she also loved Frank Baum’s classic book — she said it had been her favorite since the age of four – and when the offer came to play a part in the movie, she jumped.
I was in need of money at the time, I had done about six pictures for MGM 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?
Hamilton turned the role into one of the industry’s most iconic. But for its time, The Wizard of Oz was a pytotechnic marvel, which made Hamilton’s role a dangerous one.
On this date in 1938, the Witch’s exit from Munchkinland was filmed — and Hamilton’s costume caught fire.
She suffered second-degree burns on her face and third-degree burns on one hand, forcing her to spend several weeks in the hospital in recovery. She returned to work on the condition that she not be involved with fire, knowing that if she sued, she “would never work again.”
Oddly, Hamilton was not the only Wicked Witch of the West to be injured in the shooting of the film.
Betty Danko, who was Hamilton’s stunt double in the film, was also injured during the “Surrender Dorothy” skywriting sequence. While seated on top of a smoking pipe designed to look like the witch’s broom, Danko was injured when the pipe exploded, burning and permanently scarring her legs.
The producers of the day deleted scenes considered too frightening for children, but Hamilton’s performance was a tour de force. Unfortunately, it also typecast her and for years afterwards, Hamilton worried that she would be seen by children as evil. Some even asked her why she had been so evil to Dorothy.
In real life, Hamilton was routinely described as charming, graceful and funny with a wonderful sense of humor — which helped her explain to children that she wasn’t as bad a person as the movie had made her appear.
In 1975, Hamilton made an appearance on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in which she explained that the Wicked Witch was just a role, and how putting on a costume could turn her into something different.
In reality, Hamilton was passionately devoted both to children and education — but she didn’t shy away from the fame her role brought.
The American Film Institute listed Hamilton’s character as the fourth greatest movie villain of all time, and the top female villain, and for years afterwards, Hamilton would sign her autograph with the postscript “W.W.W”. We’ll leave it to you to figure out what that means.
And her line reproduced in the headline also made AFI’s top 100 movie quotes list — and Hamilton herself reportedly used it throughout her life.
Happy Sunday and enjoy today’s open thread!