In the mall this past Halloween, one of the shops which sold costumes, masks, and other goulish get-ups featured the pointed-hatted, green-faced witch whom we have all become so familiar with from The Wizard of Oz -- the Wicked Witch of the West. Her face is that of Margaret Hamilton, who was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on December 9th, 1902. When The Wizard of Oz appeared in 1939, Miss Hamilton was already on her way to becoming one of America's leading character actresses, having appeared in over a dozen movies. But Oz put her on the map of cultural icons. Despite all the difficulties shooting the movie, including some severe burns that she received in her first disappearance into a puff of smoke and flames, Miss Hamilton remembered her character fondly. Here she is telling a standing-room only audience of students at the University of Connecticut, just a few years before her death in 1985, about the experience of playing Elvira Gulch and the witch:
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Hamilton went on to make nearly eighty movies, and did frequent guest spots on television programs. Well into her seventies, and she became Cora, the friendly proprietress of a country store for a series of popular coffee commercials. But perhaps her most remembered appearance was on "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood," where she swept into the studio dressed as the witch and then, as she talked to the children watching the program, she removed her make-up and became the loving person she really was, the kindergarten and Sunday school teacher who wouldn't harm a hair on any child's head.
Copyright 2003 © John Cech
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