The actress who might have been the witch in Wizard of Oz –
The casting for the wicked witch in MGM’s The Wizard of Oz caused a major controversy. Everyone at MGM were going in circles. Frank Baum‘s concept in his original book illustrated by WW Denslow wasn’t much help, resembling more a grumpy dwarf than a scary witch.
Wizard of Oz producer Mervyn Leroy finally had an idea. Since Disneys glamorous wicked queen in Snow White was so successful, why not make the wicked witch slinky and seductive?
Despite considerable protest to this idea, LeRoys mind was made up. On the MGM lot was Gale Sondergaard, who the year before had won an Oscar for best supporting actress in Anthony Adverse, directed by none other than Mervyn Leroy.
Leroy persuaded Sondergaard to test for the role. Decked out in stylish black sequins with a shapely form filling wardrobe to match, Sondergaard was a knockout and the search as far as Leroy was concerned was over.
Others in the production team such as composer Arthur freed and Herbert Fields strongly disagreed, as did screenplay writer Herman Mankiewicz, who expanded the role of the wicked witch from book to screenplay, and had written several key scenes for her, including that immortal line “I’ll get you my pretty!”
“Witches should be ugly !” he said.
So Leroy ordered the makeup department to give Sondergaard the “ugly treatment”, but her striking features defied the makeup. The distinguished actress decided herself that she didn’t want the role.” In those days I was not about to make myself ugly!” she said many years later “I have no regrets”.
Enter former kindergarten teacher Margaret Hamilton, 36 years old and recently divorced. She had been supporting herself and three year old son as a hard working character actress.
Many years later she displayed a great sense of humour when recalling how she got the role.
“I had done about six pictures for MGM by that time when my agent called and said ‘Maggie, they’re interested in you!’
So I said ‘what for?’
He said ‘they’re interested in you for a part in the Wizard of Oz’.
I said ‘oh gosh I’ve loved that story from the time I was four years old, what is it?’
He said ‘well the witch’ and I said ‘the witch?’
and he said ‘ yes, what else!?’
I thought ‘that’s a kind of an exciting part … but geez!’ “