In 1939, Hamilton played the role of the Wicked Witch of the West, opposite Judy Garland's Dorothy 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.
Hamilton suffered severe burns during a second (and unused) take of her fiery exit from Munchkinland, in which the trap door's drop was delayed to eliminate the brief glimpse of it seen in the final edit. Hamilton had to recuperate in a hospital and at home for six weeks after the accident before returning to the set to complete her work on the now-classic film, and refused to have anything to do with fire for the rest of the filming. Judy Garland had visited her while Hamilton recuperated at home.
Studio executives cut some of Margaret's most wicked scenes, worrying they would frighten children. Whatever ill will she may have felt toward the role quickly disintegrated; later on in life she would comment on the role of the witch in a light-hearted fashion. For an interview, she joked:"I was in a need of money at the time, and my agent called. I said, 'Yes?' and he said 'Maggie, they want you to play a part on the Wizard.' I said to myself, 'Oh Boy, The Wizard of Oz! That has been my favorite book since I was four.' And I asked him what part, and he said 'The Witch' and I said 'The Witch?!' and he said 'What else?'" (Hamilton presented this as the punchline to the joke.) [DVD commentary track]
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