Margaret Hamilton, who flew a broomstick to fearsome fame as the Wicked Witch of the West in the classic film “The Wizard of Oz,” died today in a Connecticut nursing home.
Miss Hamilton, 82, apparently succumbed to heart failure, according to Joan Luning, nursing supervisor at Noble Horizons in Salisbury, where the retired actress had been under care for nearly a year.
“She was a very pleasant, very happy woman who never put on any airs,” Luning said.
And in Beverly Hills, Ray Bolger, last survivor among the featured players in the 1939 film, commented: “She was a terrifying villain in the picture, but an angel in life.”
A Serious Actress
Although admired as a serious actress and an accomplished comedienne for years before and after “Oz,” it was her role as the green-faced, consummately evil witch with features as pointy as her conical witch’s hat, that made her a movie immortal. Future generations would remember her cackling screech as she pursued poor little Judy Garland (Dorothy) and her eccentric friends along the Yellow Brick Road.
Oddly, although she was a nightmare figure in the movie--goading her ghastly flying hench-monkeys to commit the most dastardly deeds--she also was able to stir sympathy in her audience. Even Dorothy herself seemed horrified when she dashed water on the Wicked One and the witch slowly dissolved into a puddle of nothingness, moaning “What a world . . . what a world. . . . “
“I didn’t mean to kill her!” Dorothy cried.
Appeared at ‘Oz’ Festivals
In later years, Miss Hamilton became the center of an admiring cult, often appearing at “Wizard of Oz” festivals across the country. “Somebody in Chillicothe would want to put on something about Oz, and she would just jump on her broom and get there,” Bolger said this morning.
In a 1977 interview, Miss Hamilton said that she received--and faithfully answered--as many as 2,000 letters a year from children who knew her from television reruns of the famous film.
Despite the fame the witchy character brought her, Miss Hamilton did not consider it her best work as an actress. But, in another interview, she admitted: “I adore the picture.”
Born in Cleveland, she was trained as a teacher and taught kindergarten while studying acting at the Cleveland Play House. She made her Broadway debut in 1932 in “Another Language.”
All told, she appeared in 75 motion pictures and at least as many stage productions. She performed in countless television and radio dramas and most recently was seen as the kindly Cora in Maxwell House Coffee commercials.
There will be a private funeral service. A memorial service will be scheduled later.