Posts Tagged ‘Margaret Hamilton’


Until Jessica Lange emerged as the Supreme in American Horror Story: Coven, my life had lacked the presence of modern witchcraft, and admittedly this had gone unnoticed. For decades I have surrounded myself with my own coven of crafty conjurers, and it’s been quite some time since I have initiated any new members. Lange’s Fiona Goode is blessed with style, wit, and absolutely zero patience for those who attempt, unsuccessfully, to outsass her. Your welcoming to The Ticket Booth’s coven is long overdue, Fiona . . . please come meet the rest of the girls.


Jennifer, I Married a Witch (1942):


Bolts of lightning probably followed Veronica Lake wherever she went, and Samantha Stephens can’t hog all the attention – I think we need more blond witches out there.


Endora, Bewitched (1964–1972):


If Endora ever lost her powers in some freak curse or power outage, undoubtedly the fashion house that she would open to function as a mortal would lead her to world domination. Ah, Agnes Moorehead and her eyeshadow for days . . . the show hinted at some interesting points about prejudices that American Horror Story: Coven would violently incorporate decades later.


Carrie White, Carrie (1976):


Since the late 1930s, witches tend to joke about the whole “dumping buckets of liquid on them” situation, but Carrie has no sense of humor when it comes to that kind of thing.


Princess Mombi, Return to Oz (1985):


A blond witch at times, I guess . . . Jean Marsh’s demonic portrayal of Mombi and her habitual head swapping had children of the 80s hitting the fast-forward button just to make it end. I, instead, elected to rewind. A dear friend of Alice’s Queen of Hearts, this one.


Alex, Jane, and Sukie, The Witches of Eastwick (1987):


With Pfeiffer popping up in here, maybe the list is filled with Goldilockses! The film that either ruined or enchanted the act of eating cherries also reminds me that, in fact, Cher is not a foot taller than Jack Nicholson. Why do I have that idea in my head as an uncontested truth?


Ursula the Sea Witch, The Little Mermaid (1989):


It’s never easy to select only one villain from Disney’s powder room, but let’s go with the one who has “witch” on her birth certificate. I will never forget sitting in the movie theatre during a friend’s ninth birthday and thinking, “This isn’t how the story goes.” The 1975 Japanese anime film was “Mermaid truth” to me, and its Sea Witch had no motive other than to cause pain and heartbreak. Yes, when Ursula started singing, the truth was rewritten for me and coven admission was granted, but we all know that she stole her color scheme from her predecessor.


Miranda, Wicked Stepmother (1989):


Because she’s Bette Davis, so shut up about it.


Miss Ernst/The Grand High Witch, The Witches (1990):


Aside from yours truly, writers are a stubborn, picky, unyielding squad of artists who refuse to have their visions tampered with by any mortal, mere or miraculous. Therefore it thaws out our hearts to hear that Roald Dahl fully supported the casting of Anjelica Huston as his Grand High Witch. An offensive Oscar snub for both the actress and her makeup team.


Lisle Von Rhuman, Death Becomes Her (1992):


She is the one who understands; she is the one who knows your secret. What we will never understand is the spell that she used to keep those beads in place for a PG-13 rating. Clearly the witchcraft of Miss Isabella Rossellini is one of our coven’s most advanced and mysterious. Maybe it’s genetic . . .


The Sanderson Sisters, Hocus Pocus (1993):


The Internet machines have teased us with rumors of sequels and musicals, but alas, nothing. Damn, damn, double damn! Now if only I could find truth to the other rumors I’m hearing (or did I start them?) about Bette Midler and a biopic of Mae West.


Then, of course, there’s the original Supreme. I believe you’ve been introduced . . .


Happy Halloween!



My jolly good fun friend Jessica and I were working our way through a delicious round two at our favorite wine bar when a thought dropped out of the sky and crushed me, right there in my fabulous shoes. I was debating my options for the following day over a glass of Pinot noir (one that turned out to be too easy to drink); either I was going to get all the work done that I had taken home that evening, or I was going to take advantage of the sunny day and see the latest film adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s Oz stories. Due to lack of leadership from the men and women behind the curtain, work has been cycloning out of control lately, so the choice was pretty clear to Jessica, me, and our empty wine glasses. Despite low expectations, the next afternoon somehow I found myself standing in line at the box office. Eating away at me more than the criminal ticket price—a price that would give Mom nightmares for a month—was that single thought from the previous evening, just as haunting sober as it was sloshy: the Wicked Witch of the West is not supposed to have cleavage.

Launching the Land of Oz and its inhabitants into the future hopefully keeps alive our precious 1939 classic, and viewing the returns to Oz with any sense of competition borders slightly on the absurd. How does one compare Fairuza Balk to Judy Garland or Kristin Chenoweth to Billie Burke . . . and doing so even necessary? From page to screen or page to stage, magic comes in many forms, and no two actors will interpret a character in precisely the same way. That said, this recent reincarnation of the West’s best was anything but. Remember when the science majors had to fulfill an arts requirement before graduation and ended up looking bored and stiff in their drama class productions? Scenes went on too long while plots and backstories were revealed too quickly, and above all, it felt disrespectful to the late and great Margaret Hamilton. At least her costume designers had the decency to cover up her lady parts. Rounding out the group and giving Oz its latest makeover was a politically correct and diverse ensemble of extras from around the globe . . . an issue with which I always have, if you’ll pardon the expression, mixed feelings. When I can see the effort, its intended effect is ruined.


Tears don’t come to me nearly as easily as they did when I was a child. That quirky little boy cried at anything and everything, so maybe the water supply evaporated all too quickly in my early years. These days when I feel a tear roll down my cheek, I tend to look up at the ceiling to see if the roof is leaking. There must be a “heartstrings safety net” that Oz filmmakers bank on when they slam us with prequels, sequels, and remakes . . . subtle reminders of my attachment to MGM’s 1939 masterpiece can’t help but stir up my dusty tear ducts. Miraculously my eyes may have experienced a heavy mist at times, but no tears actually flowed during this latest revision. An unusual reference to Snow White and original makeup tests for early visions of 1939’s witch were oddly placed and practically ruined a scene for which I had been waiting an hour. With a hunched posture and flimsy foot placement, this newest Witch of the West looked incredibly uncomfortable on her broom. Not once did I feel drawn to any of the female villains, and believe you me, that’s the acid test ‘round these parts. As I should have said to every girl I ever kissed, this isn’t working for me! A good witch performance is judged by how much my brutally honest child within longs to emulate both the character and the actress:

Margaret Hamilton, check!

Idina Menzel, check!

Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer, check!

Angelica Huston (hey, I guess witches can have cleavage), check !

This latest group of gals in Oz the Great and Powerful . . . we appreciate your efforts. I applaud anyone who has the courage not only to get in front of an audience but also reinterpret any roles as iconic as these. But ladies, these things must be done delicately, or you hurt the spell.


Last Sunday Judy Garland would have turned 90 years old. I’ve long taken care of fawning over our beloved Judy, so this year I’ll let another voice chime in, one that’s slightly better than mine.

I have been fortunate to have spent some fantastic evenings at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. Highly enjoyable were the special screenings of Psycho, Casablanca, and The Wizard of Oz, during which the symphony provides the musical score. These were indeed impossible acts to follow, but eventually Liza Minnelli and her sequins popped in for a visit, and we all know how that went over for me. A few nights ago, I dyed my eyes to match my gown and floated down Van Ness Avenue to see Idina Menzel perform barefoot at the symphony . . . since then, I’ve been bragging about the experience to anyone who throws me even the most insincere form of “how are you?” This conversation starter of mine has a “hey look at my vacation slides” feel to it, yes, and it turned out that quite a number of folks had never heard of Miss Menzel. Tempting it was to burn for all of them a copy of a certain musical, but I was fresh out of the green CDs I buy at Walgreens . . . and, oh yes, apparently no one plays CDs anymore. It was in Wicked that the great Idina Menzel originated the role of Elphaba, the (un)fairly skinned young lady who is both forced into and chooses to become the Wicked Witch of the West. My abiding love for and attachment to this character matches the Witch’s own stubbornness in strength and is not to be mocked, particularly when discussing Margaret Hamilton’s should-have-won-an-Oscar performance in 1939.

Chills and goose bumps . . . so good you want to melt in your seat, but you stop yourself because you don’t want to miss the rest of her show. With and without a microphone, on stage and dashing through the aisles, Idina Menzel’s is a truly remarkable voice to hear and to feel. When the lights went down, I still could see her come out in the dark and stand behind her orchestra, the luminescence of her white dress refusing to remain in the dark. When the lights came up, Idina remained at the back of the stage and slowly the lyrics of her first song floated up to the first tier and found my well-guarded tear ducts: “Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high . . .” That witch!

I’m always impressed by anyone brave enough to sing this untouchable song outside the privacy of a car or shower. As expected, not only is Miss Menzel capable of nailing it, but she also brought tears to my usually dry eyes with the unique attachment that she now has to Oz and to Judy Garland. She went on to wallop us with numbers from Wicked, Rent, Cole Porter, and a bit of Barbra here and there, but with a single verse and chorus from “Over the Rainbow,” I surrendered to the Witch. Idina Menzel is more than just an unbelievable bundle of talent . . . you’ll believe in more than that before she’s finished with you.

Here’s to Judy on her 90th birthday, and here’s to one of her many courageous songs that continues to melt our hearts and minds . . . oh my!

Add Judy to your queue.

As our beloved Miss Garland discovered, the Yellow Brick Road is the perfect place to begin a journey into the unknown, especially when said journey is into the world of old movies. For many, The Wizard of Oz has followed us from childhood into our teenage years, when friends suggested we watch it backwards with certain party favors. Finally it’s a part of childhood we bring it into adulthood, a time when we realized we still remember each and every word.

At the tender age of out-of-the-womb, I was hooked on our VHS copy of the film the family had taped off of TV. The old Kit Kat commercials on that tape will forever be locked in my memory, as will the image of Michael Jackson’s sequin socks and Pepsi drinking. Watching my DVD today, I can pinpoint the moments when I expect the film to pause for a Kit Kat and Pepsi break. A scratch in the record becomes part of the song when you’ve never heard it any other way…

My experience of The Wizard of Oz — for I didn’t just watch this gem; I experienced it — was not always a shared one. Yes, I’m sure there were times early on when the family gathered together to watch Miss Garland in her razzle-dazzle slippers skip down yellow brick, but my memories begin a bit later than that. As I imagine is true with many readers, this was the first special relationship I had with a film, so for me naturally it took special preparation.

While the film as a whole was, and is, to be treasured on one of the highest shelves, there was one character who really got under my skin… and later, with the help of a green marker, onto the surface of my skin as well.

 Before I could begin my private viewing of the movie at the age of five or six, a certain black cape had to be balled up on the floor with a pointed black hat placed on top of it. As the necessary garments rested on the carpet, I’d grab the red-handled broom from behind the garage door, always holding it broom-side-up as I walked back to the stirring black pile. Since the cape remained tied even when an Oz session wasn’t in progress (I was one of the last to master the art of shoe tying), naturally I had to be cloaked first. Resurrecting her with the placement of the hat on my head, the Wicked Witch of the West once again returned to life. 

Who knows what outlet was provided by my dressing up as the terrifyingly brilliant Margaret Hamilton? I imagine 20 or 30 possible theories are all somehow correct, but it’s still a smidge of a mystery to me. I used to get angry when this part of my childhood was put on display by my family; I wasn’t so much embarrassed as I was protective of the memory —  I had created my own little Oz and didn’t really understand the raised eyebrows that seemed to scream “what a weird kid.” But in my mind… weird, no. Lucky, oh you betcha!

Margaret Hamilton’s performance was the first to spark in me whatever needed sparking, and I had begun to understand how movies could be a marvelous part of my life. That trusty hat, tied cape, and red-handled broom is my first memory of what I believed to be “confidence.” Ms. Hamilton’s Witch of the West is one of the finest in film villains — she won me over with that evil self-assurance and confidence that only a villain can have — and with this came what I later named my imaginary Oscar Time Machine. Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes paled in comparison to the importance of an Academy Award, the highest honor in the (or my) land. Before my exposure to glorious Hattie McDaniel in Gone with the Wind, I was convinced Margaret Hamilton had been robbed of the Best Supporting Actress Oscar without even a nomination.

Ms. Hamilton’s wickedness was so real to me that long before Elphaba rose up in the Broadway curtain, I had already given her character a name. As I understood it, the Witch was not threatening our post-makeover heroine when she wrote “Surrender Dorothy” in the sky with her broom; rather she was simply announcing her arrival by writing her name for all of Emerald City to see — “Sorrenda” is perhaps how I would have spelled her name at the time.

 The Cowardly Lion’s accent is partially to blame here (if we even need to assign blame), as I heard no hard “r” at the end of “surrender” when he read the smoke signal aloud to the rest of the cast. Since I can’t help but smile at one of my many childhood misunderstandings that paved the way to creativity, I’ll dismiss the need to point a witchy finger in any particular direction.

One of the comforting aspects about The Wizard of Oz is that so many of us have these wonderful, embarrassing, green-marker-all-over-our-hand memories attached to it… and I’d love to hear yours! My loving worship of dear Sorrenda should by no means drown out the strong attachment I have to the rest of the cast. As I continue down my own brick road of (mostly) black-and-white, you’ll discover my love knows no bounds for the one voice to which none will ever compare… … …except maybe Liza’s.

In my next piece I’ll tackle a film of the radiant Judy Garland’s that perhaps my generation has not had the pleasure of viewing, since I only came to love it at the age of 28. Released 15 years after The Wizard of Oz, it has become one of my “Judy favorites” that manages to get me a bit teary every time. For those who have never voyaged beyond Oz, I encourage you to do so… you’ll probably hear a piece of “Over the Rainbow” in every song she sings.



Academy Awards (1940) for The Wizard of Oz: Best Music, Original Score, and Best Music, Original Song (“Over the Rainbow”). Miss Judy Garland received a special Juvenile Award at the ceremony.

My Oscar Time Machine: Best Supporting Actress for Margaret Hamilton (tied with Hattie McDaniel for Gone with the Wind).

Add it to your queue.