Margaret Hamilton - Actress
In 1929, Caroline Goff headed a group of parents who started a nursery school in her Bratenahl home at 10024 Lake Shore Boulevard for local pre-school children. Their teacher was Margaret Hamilton, who later became famous for her portrayal of the witch in the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz. The nursery school program ran for about six years, summer and winter, with about twelve to fourteen children participating.
As the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, she created her most famous character. Gale Sondergaard, first considered as a more glamorous witch with a musical talent, declined the role when the decision was made that the witch should appear ugly.
Margaret suffered a second-degree burn on her face and a third-degree burn on her hand during the second take of her fiery exit from Munchkinland, when the trap door's drop delayed. The brief glimpse of it seen in the final edit was eliminated. Hamilton recuperated in a hospital and at home for six weeks after the accident before returning to the set. She refused to have anything further to do with fire for the rest of the filming.
After recuperating, she said, "I won't sue, because I know how this business works, and I would never work again. I will return to work on one condition – no more fireworks!" Judy Garland visited Hamilton while she recuperated at home and looked after her son. The studio executives cut some of Hamilton's more frightening scenes, worrying they would frighten children too much.
The Wicked Witch of the West was eventually ranked number four in the American Film Institute’s 2003 list of the 50 Best Movie Villains of All Time, making her the top-ranking female villain.
Hamilton was born in Cleveland on December 9, 1902, to Walter and Mary Jane Hamilton. She attended Hathaway Brown School, when the school was located at 1945 East 93rd Street in Cleveland. Drawn to the theater at an early age, Hamilton made her stage debut in 1923. Hamilton also practiced her craft doing children's theater while she was a Junior League of Cleveland member. Before she turned to acting exclusively, her parents insisted that she attend Wheelock College in Boston, which she did, and later became a kindergarten teacher.
She worked as a character actress in films for seven years before being 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.
Margaret married Paul Boynton Meserve on June 13, 1931, and made her debut on the New York City stage the following year. While her acting career developed, her marriage began to fail, and the couple divorced in 1938. They had one son, Hamilton Wadsworth Meserve, born in 1936, whom she raised on her own. She never remarried.
Hamilton's early experience as a teacher fueled a lifelong interest in educational issues. She served on the Beverly Hills Board of Education from 1948 to 1951 and was a Sunday school teacher during the 1950s.
Margaret developed Alzheimer's disease and died in her sleep following a heart attack on May 16, 1985, in Salisbury, Connecticut, at age 82.