The Very Good Margaret Hamilton
It's always stretching things to say a video is The Best. So, I'll just put this in a category of "Among the most remarkable videos I've come across." It's Margaret Hamilton on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.
First some background tales.
Margaret Hamilton, of course, is renowned for having playing the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz. She had a long career beyond that -- including a remarkable Broadway revival of Our Town with a little cast that featured Henry Fonda, Elizabeth Hartman, Ed Begley and Mildred Natwick. And she had a long run playing 'Cora' in a series of charming, Down East-style commercials for Maxwell House Coffee. But one of my great joys was seeing her play the Grandmother in the touring company of Stephen Sondheim's musical, A Little Night Music, when it came to Chicago at the Shubert Theater. It was a wonderful cast, led by Jean Simmons, but nobody in that cast could top seeing Margaret Hamilton in that musical. Her big solo number, slowly walking across the stage and singing, "Liaisons," is about as indelible, happy a theater memory as I have.
Years later, I saw her interviewed on what can best be described as a sort of children's talk show. The set was basically a playroom, with little kids sitting around, and she and the host sat on big risers. She was warm, lovely and endearing -- but the thing that most stood out was when she was asked about whether she'd ever had an opportunity to play The Wicked Witch again.
Oh, yes, she said, many offers, for commercials. And she was offered a great deal of money for some of them -- which she always turned down. But it was her reason for turning them down which, if I didn't love Margaret Hamilton before that, it would have been impossible not to have after. What she said is that she knew the Wicked Witch was one of the scariest movie characters ever for little children, and that many kids were terrorized by her. When the Wicked Witch died at the end of the movie, it was a great relief. So, if the WIcked Witch came back to life, she said, it would probably be terribly traumatic for little children to see the character. And so, if I remember her remarkably admirable words correctly, "the Wicked Witch is dead, and she will remain dead."
And therefore she kept turning down large amounts of money to play the Wicked Witch again and bring her back to life.
Pretty amazing. And not just that she turned down all the offers to play the Wicked Witch in some story, but that she had the presence of mind to recognize all that.
Which brings us to Mister Rogers. And to Margaret Hamilton appearing on the show.
This clip below doesn't have what leads up to her appearance. I have to assume though that Fred Rogers talked about The Wizard of Oz and how kids were scared by it, and that they would be having as a guest the woman who pretended to be the character. That was the sort of thing he did often -- talk about things that caused fear in little kids and then address those fears forthrightly.
And so, Margaret Hamilton agreed to appear on his show. And...okay, are you ready...she dresses up as Wicked Witch!!
This is very different from the Wicked Witch suddenly appearing as a character in a story or commercial. She and Mister Rogers are talking about pretend and dressing up and Halloween. And in seeing this nice, old lady putting on a costume, the hope (I'm sure) was that kids could see it was just a pretend character -- and besides, she's also not in the green makeup, which she tells stories about. There's more to it, which you'll see, which makes it all so remarkable .
And all of that is why this is "Among the most remarkable videos I've come across."
8/18/2013 05:07:57 pm
Memory is a funny thing. I was going to comment on how odd it was that I didn't remember that show. I watched Mr. Rogers every weekday, as a young child; based on Fred's grey hair, this episode was done during my prime viewing years. (In case anyone thinks I'm being sarcastic at Mr. Roger's expense; I had several Mr. Rogers LP's and a Daniel Tiger hand puppet, that were cherished childhood possessions.) I just could not remember Ms Hamilton being on the show. Until she put on the cape. Something clicked, at that point. The plot of the "real world" story even came into a fuzzy focus. Thank you for posting this. It brought a smile to my face. On a side note, I'd kill to know if Michael Keaton was part of the crew when this one was filmed. The pranks that he supposedly pulled on Fred were very funny; if a bit inappropriate. I'm curious what kind of antics Margret Hamilton being on the set would have inspired.
8/19/2013 01:14:09 am
Well, I just thought I would do my part to make it a beautiful day in your neighborhood. By the way, my college roommate was from Pittsburgh, which is where the show was produced, and for a brief time, he worked on the show, as well. And he always said, whenever that was ridicule about whether Fred Rogers was "really" that nice -- that he was. That he really, truly cared that much about kids. And as time went on, the evidence built how right he was.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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