Margaret Hamilton (1902 - 1985) as the Wicked Witch and Judy Garland (1922 - 1969) as Dorothy Gale in 'The Wizard of Oz', 1939. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Movies - TV
How The Wizard of Oz Changed Margaret Hamilton And Her Stunt Double Forever
For Margaret Hamilton (The Wicked Witch of the West) and her stuntwoman, Betty Danko, shooting "The Wizard of Oz” was a nightmare that resulted in physical and emotional damage for both women. They were unfortunately the victims of unsafe working conditions, freak accidents, and director Victor Fleming’s dangerous demands.
To accomplish the shot of The Wicked Witch’s first appearance, Danko had to be in a hole beneath the set, which she was to be catapulted out of into the red plume of smoke. However, during rehearsal, a crew member fell into the hole landing on Danko’s shoulder, and the injury led to long-term pain that prevented her from easily lifting her arm or driving.
Hamilton suffered an injury in the scene where The Witch disappears in a cloud of smoke and fire after saying, “I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too." Fleming kept insisting on extra takes and was getting impatient because things kept going wrong. The sixth take resulted in the flames and smoke going off before Hamilton was safely in the hole beneath the set (the same one where Danko had been injured).
Hamilton ended up with second-degree burns on her face, and third-degree burns on her hand and her burned flesh had to be cleaned with acetone because the copper-based, green makeup she was wearing is toxic, if absorbed. When she returned to the set six weeks later (with exposed nerves in her hand) she did not want to risk further injury so she refused to do the skywriting scene.
Thus, Danko was called in and because Fleming wanted the witch’s cape to flutter in the wind, the pipe that produced smoke was mounted underneath the broom seat. During the third rehearsal, the pipe exploded, and Danko suffered a two-inch-deep leg burn that kept her in the hospital for 11 days.