The Curse of Playing the Wicked Witch of the West
After nearly dying while filming “The Wizard of Oz,” Margaret Hamilton spent the rest of her career trying to escape her evil character’s long shadow.
Margaret Hamilton almost did not get cast as the Wicked Witch of the West in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, released 80 years ago this week.
The former kindergarten teacher had already donned the black hat in a Cleveland stage production of L. Frank Baum’s classic children’s book, but producer Mervyn LeRoy had initially wanted a more prominent actress to play the witch in what would become one of the most iconic films of all time.
A single mom with a spiked chin and prominent nose, Hamilton was not exactly a casting director’s mental image of a movie star. She would often hear that she needed plastic surgery to remove the bump on her nose if she ever wanted to move her career beyond community theater and brief appearances in films.
But Hamilton had gone into acting for the money, so she looked past these indignities and accepted any role that came her way. By the time the auditions for The Wizard of Oz came around, she had already played her share of spinsters and villains, both in theater productions and Hollywood films like Way Down East and The Farmer Takes a Wife, both released in 1935.