Monday, May 16, 2011

Margaret Hamilton

On May 16, 1985, actress Margaret Hamilton died. She was an American film actress known for her portrayal of the Wicked Witch of the West in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. A former schoolteacher, she worked as a character actor in films for seven years before she was offered the role that defined her public image. In later years, Hamilton made frequent cameo appearances on television sitcoms and commercials. She also gained recognition for her work as an advocate of causes designed to benefit children and animals, and retained a lifelong commitment to public education.

Hamilton's unlikely career as a film actress was driven by the very qualities that placed her in stark contrast to the stereotypical Hollywood glamour girl. Her image was that of a New England spinster, extremely pragmatic and impatient. Hamilton's plain looks helped to bring steady work as a character actress. She made her screen debut in 1933 in Another Language. Hamilton went on to appear in These Three (1936), Saratoga, You Only Live Once, Nothing Sacred (all 1937), The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938), and My Little Chickadee (1940). She strove to work as much as possible to support herself and her son; she never put herself under contract to any one studio and priced her services at $1000 a week.

In 1939, Hamilton played the role of the Wicked Witch of the West, opposite Judy Garland's Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz, creating not only her most famous role, but also one of the screen's most memorable villains. Hamilton was chosen when the more traditionally attractive Gale Sondergaard refused to wear makeup designed to make her appear ugly.

In the 1940s and 1950s, Hamilton had a long running role on the radio series Ethel and Albert in which she played the lovable, scattered Aunt Eva. During the 1960s and 1970s, Hamilton appeared regularly on television. She did a stint as one of the What's My Line? Mystery Guests on the popular Sunday Night CBS-TV program. She reprised the image of Elmira Gulch from The Wizard of Oz for her role as Morticia Addams' mother Hester Frump in The Addams Family.

During the 1960s she was a regular on the CBS soap opera, "The Secret Storm," and in the early 1970s, she joined the cast of another CBS soap, "As the World Turns. She had a small role in the made-for-TV film The Night Strangler (1973) and appeared in Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. She would reprise her role as the Wicked Witch of the West in an episode of Sesame Street, but after complaints from parents of terrified children, it hasn't been seen since 1976. She also appeared as herself in an episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and continued acting regularly until 1982. Her last role was a guest appearance as a veteran journalist on an episode of Lou Grant.

She lived in New York City for most of her adult life. Her Gramercy Park apartment building also boasted James Cagney and Jonathan Frid as tenants. She later moved to Millbrook, NY. Hamilton died in her sleep following a heart attack on May 16, 1985, in Salisbury, Connecticut, at the age of 82. There is conflicting information about the exact location where her ashes were scattered one sources states that they were scattered at her home in Amenia, New York, while another source says it is Cape Island, Maine. Author of "Fade to Black: Graveside Memories of Hollywood Greats, 1927-1950"

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