Today, I'm writing about the costume for The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz (1939). Here's Margaret Hamilton, who portrayed the Witch, menacing Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland).
This article is part of the Characters in Costume Blogfest: Fiction and Film hosted by Christina Wehner and Into the Writer Lea.
If you are passing out candy this Halloween, chances are you will see a child dressed like the Wicked Witch of the West in MGM's classic musical, The Wizard of Oz (1939). The makeup and costume for the legendary villain played by Margaret Hamilton has become the defining pop culture image for the witch, but Oz producers tried out several variations of the character before settling on the famous black wardrobe and green makeup.
In L. Frank Baum's 1900 children's novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Wicked Witch of the West is one of four villains -- the other three are the Wicked Witch of the East, the Wicked Witch of the South, and the Wicked Witch of the North -- who menace Kansas farm girl Dorothy Gale. Baum's Witch has some characteristics that were used in the movie such as a fear of water and a band of winged monkeys, but she is mostly a cross between a fairy tale crone and 19th century eccentric who ruleses Oz with an eyepatch and an umbrella.
In the 1910 movie version of Oz, the character portrayed by Winifred Greenwood is quite similar to Baum's description, but the 1925 silent version eliminates the Witch entirely in favor of a villainous Oz politician, Prime Minister Kruel (Josef Swickard). Screenwriters Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allan Woolf made the Wicked Witch of the West the primary villain for MGM's version of Oz, but, at first, producer Mervyn LeRoy had a very different characterization in mind than Baum's wizened old crone.
LeRoy directed the wildly successful costume drama, Anthony Adverse (1936), which won actress Gale Sondergaard the first-ever best supporting actress Academy Award for her portrayal of a glamorous social climber. LeRoy, wanted to capitalize on Sondergaard's screen allure by portraying the Witch as a fairy tale femme fatale who was modeled on the evil Queen in Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1938). Sondergaard did several costume tests for a glam Witch dressed in a body-hugging black sequined costume, but MGM's honchos were dissatisfied. They wanted a more traditional witch -- they felt the character would have more kid appeal at the box office -- so LeRoy uglied up Sondergaard for a series of wardrobe tests that caused the actress to immediately resign from the production.
|A wardrobe test for Gale Sondergaard as a glamourous Wicked Witch of the West.|
Hamilton began working on Oz in October 1938, according to her introduction to The Making of The Wizard of Oz by Aljean Harmetz. She went through a series of grueling tests for everything from the prosthetic nose, chin, and nails she wore as the Witch to the length of her black costume (Hamilton had to keep on insisting that it be short enough so that she wouldn't trip over it during film). Several hairstyles were also considered before they settled on a somewhat elaborate chignon, mostly because it held the Witch's peaked hat in place.
|Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West.|
When Oz premiered in September 1939, Hamilton's iconic portrayal of the Witch garnered a lot of press and critical attention. One reviewer, who is quoted in The Wizard of Oz: The Official 75th Anniversary Companion by Jay Scarfone and William Stillman, warned parents to think carefully before taking their children to see the movie, and Mrs. T.G. Winter of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America stated that "the Wicked Witch is a bit scary for ultra-nervous children."
|Ray Bolger, Margaret Hamilton, and Jack Haley at a 1970 Oz reunion.|
I'll leave you with this clip about Hamilton and the Wicked Witch from the documentary, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: 50 Years of Magic.