Her roles were largely stereotypical, yet her charm and goofiness made her memorable. Here’s a look at her work beyond Gone With the Wind.

DESIGN IN FILM: THE MODERN HOUSEAn eight-minute video montage of modern homes—real and fake—as seen on the silver screen.

An examination of the lengthy career of the Chinese-American character actor, from Charlie Chan to Woody Allen.

70MMThirty visually stunning films that illustrate the grandeur of large-format filmmaking.

Our look at the Texas actor’s 43-year film career, including an ill-advised Oscar campaign. 

A look at the professional life of an actress who proved to be much more than just the Wicked Witch of the West.

NEBRASKANSA look at some of the memorable talentsfrom Astaire to Zanuck—to come from the Cornhusker State.

Twenty-five cool photos reveal what goes on outside of movie camera range.

Our list of at least a dozen silent film performers that are happily still with us.

12 GREAT MOVIE SONGSElvis, The Beatles and The Supremes join our list of favorite movie themes of the 1960s.

WILHELM SCREAMWe trace the history of one of the most famous and beloved sound effects in movies.

LOST HORIZONA dud receives its due as we explore the elements that made this 1973 musical so preposterously memorable.

One hundred films whose final words of dialogue make indelible lasting impressions.

25 GREAT SILENT MOVIE POSTERSOur selection of artwork from the early days of motion pictures that expertly illustrate the tone and tale of the films they represent.

RAVES AND RASPBERRIES We select some choice bits from reviews by the late Roger Ebert.

ERROL FLYNN GETS WHACKEDThe actor recalls an unforgettable moment with Bette Davis on the set of The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex.

CINEMATIC RIDESTen films where carnival attractions add to the plot and give their protagonists a cheap thrill.

Three overwrought cautionary tales from the 1930s examine the perils of smoking marijuana in polite society.

20 DIRECTORS / 20 FILMSSome of the world’s best moviemakers from Hollywood’s Golden Era provide a behind-the-scenes look at their creations.

LOS ANGELES IN THE 1920SVintage clips offer a look at famous boulevards, studios, theaters, eateries and more.

BILLY WILDEROur favorite lines of dialogue from the Oscar-winning writer/director.

WOODY ALLENChoice lines of dialogue, from Take the Money and Run to Midnight in Paris.

KATHARINE HEPBURNTen authoritative moments when Kate's movie character speaks her mind.

UFA MOVIE POSTERSA look at the early one sheets from the longest standing film studio in Germany.

THE LANGUAGE OF NOIRWe celebrate tough talk from the best of Hollywood’s gritty crime dramas.


Aerial shots of Hollywood in 1958 includes Griffith Observatory, Grauman’s Chinese Theater and major studios.

AMERICAWe celebrate one of the most exuberant dance numbers committed to film, a thrilling showcase for freakishly talented folks with music in their bones.

HOLLYWOOD POSTCARDSTen vintage postcards revealing the glories of Southern California's movie mecca.

MAJOR FILMS, MINOR GAFFESTwenty-five mistakes in some of the greatest movies ever made.

GEORGE GERSHWINTen classic songs as seen on the silver screen.

GREAT ENDINGSA memorable tussle in Death Valley caps Erich von Stroheim’s broken classic.

10 GREAT POSTERSOur look at striking works of art that just happen to sell movie tickets.

MUST READMGM: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot provides a fascinating look at a lost treasure.

IN THE COOL, COOL, COOL OF THE EVENINGJane Wyman and Bing Crosby charm with the Oscar-winning song from Here Comes the Groom (1951).

PLUNDER ROADFilm noir at its best—and most economical. No backstory, a lean look and just 72 minutes long.

W.C. FIELDSTen of his most memorable character names.

Aliens and mutants take center stage in twenty-five spectacular movie posters from the 1950s.

Our list of ten must-see films—ten artful depictions of the human condition—by one of the world’s most influential directors.

Accomplished directors from the past 50 years talk about their triumphs and challenges in bringing a story to the big screen.

We single out five films that display the talent and range of the Warner Bros. character actor.

AL HIRSCHFELDWe select our ten favorite movie posters by the famed caricaturist.

Five films that best represent the fluttery voiced character actress’s charms.

DIAMOND SETTINGSWe take a look at five of our favorite baseball movies of the ‘40s and ‘50s.


A dozen books that became publishing phenomena and, at times, well-made and popular films.

SCREEN TESTSAudition footage from Monroe, Dean, Brando and others.

MOVIE MOMENTS THAT MAKE LIFE WORTH LIVINGOur collection of ten little moments of breathtaking beauty, expert craftsmanship and happy accidents that rank as our favorites.

A tribute to a character actress who’s made aunts and spinsters her specialty.

STARS ON STARS: 30 CANDID OPINIONSA collection of favorite quotes from movie folk discussing their peers.

We take a good look at the work of MGM’s legendary art director.

JOHN QUALENFive of our favorite performances from the character actor’s lengthy career.

We select three movie musicals we deeply wish the sunny singer/actress would have made.

Twelve examples of what made the late actor such an enduring movie star.

Ten artful, playful and downright silly shots from some of the most famous movies in existence.

JEFFREY HUNTERWe tip our hat to the underrated (and very pretty) actor best known for going toe-to-toe with John Wayne in The Searchers and hanging on the cross in Nicholas Ray’s King of Kings.

ELVIS PRESLEYFive essential films for the Elvis movie fan.

We take a closer look and listen at Johnny Mercer’s witty ditty about the coming of the season.

BILL GOLD’S MOVIE POSTERSOur salute to the legendary graphic artist, including 25 of his posters for some of the most famous movies ever made.

BEAUTIFUL MENFilm giants Cary Grant and his ilk will have to wait. Here we look at ten not-so-obvious choices—actors blessed with incredible good looks, if not legendary status.

BEAUTIFUL WOMENTen of the most physically stunning females to grace the silver screen.

FOOTBALLFive classic films where gridiron shenanigans drive the plot. 

THE 43 FACES OF JOHNNY DEPPWe review the wide variety of characters the actor has played, from early teenager roles to larger-than-life eccentrics.

FRED ASTAIREFive lively numbers from the peerless hoofer.

THE ROAD TO HELEN LAWSONJudy Garland, Susan Hayward and the bumpy road Valley of the Dolls producers experienced in casting an important role in a truly lousy film.

 AMERICAN LANDMARKS ON FILM From the Empire State Building to the Golden Gate Bridge, we take a look at ten famous sights that added drama to the movies.

THE GIRL HUNT BALLETWe revisit the stylish Fred Astaire dream ballet from The Band Wagon (1953).

IOWA FILMS & STARSTen contributions the Hawkeye State has made to motion picture history.

FOX THEATEROur fond look back at one of San Francisco’s grandest movie palaces.

AUTOBIOGRAPHIESTen great titles penned by industry legends.

THE BAND WAGONNanette Fabray recalls a glaring mistake in the 1953 classic musical.

TRIGGERWe celebrate the life and somewhat creepy afterlife of Roy Rogers's favorite mount.

CHARACTERS: AGNES GOOCHPeggy Cass's memorable turn as a plain Jane coaxed into living a little in Auntie Mame (1958).

DESIGNS ON FILMA handsome volume by author and designer Cathy Whitlock chronicles the history of Hollywood set design.

REBECCAFive screen tests for Hitchock’s 1940 classic, with comments by David O. Selznick.

CHARACTERS: BABY ROSALIEIn a daffy send-up of Shirley Temple, June Preisser plays an aging child star in MGM's let's-put-on-a-show musical, Babes in Arms (1939).

PRESTON STURGESSnippets of dialogue from six of the writer/director’s best films.

ANSELMO BALLESTEROur gallery of ten striking one sheets from the Italian poster artist.

GREAT MOVIESCelebrating the cool jazz short, Jammin’ the Blues (1944).

BETTY HUTTONTwelve films that exemplify the charms of this freakishly energetic performer.

JOSEPH L. MANKIEWICZSmart dialogue from the Oscar-winning screenwriter.

DESERT NOIROur report from this year’s Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs.

RED DREAM FACTORYWe profile eight films from a unique Russian-German film studio of the twenties and thirties.

Entries in margaret hamilton (4)


Margaret Hamilton

The American Film Institute can be a wonderful friend to those who love movies and those who love lists about movies. From its first ranking in 1998—“100 Years…100 Movies”—AFI has put forth other such conversation starters as “100 Years…100 Thrills,” “100 Years…100 Laughs” and “100 Years…100 Movie Quotes.” On one particular list that came out in 2003, actress Margaret Hamilton appeared in a well-deserved and lofty fourth place. The list was “100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains,” with Hamilton landing firmly on the villain’s side of the fence portraying a single woman looking for a new pair of slippers. Hamilton’s specialty was playing busybody spinsters, a character she perfected in 69 feature films during her 41-year film career. She may not have had a lot of screen time or played full-bodied, complex characters, but movies instantly became more interesting whenever she popped up on screen.

Essential Films
Nothing Sacred (1937)
For a fine example of how movie dialogue can possess a certain music and rhythm, take a look at the scene where New York newspaperman Wally Cook (Fredric March) arrives in the small town of Warsaw, Vermont—a place whose inhabitants are suspicious of, if not downright hostile to, this slicker from the city. In his search for Hazel Flagg (Carole Lombard), a woman reportedly dying of uranium poisoning, Cook encounters a stern array of citizens in a deftly written sequence—consisting primarily of “Yep” and “Nope” responses to his questions—that reveal the stern, standoffish nature of the townspeople. Hamilton plays a drugstore clerk peeved that Cook has “tooken up” her time.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)
“I don't look on it as any great shakes of acting,” Hamilton once said of her most famous role. “It's not subtle or restrained. It isn't any of the things you like to think might apply to your acting.” She’s wrong of course. Her acting isn’t subtle or restrained because The Wicked Witch of the West isn’t. The character is fiercely driven, fiendishly evil and vividly grotesque—the stuff nightmares are made of. And so enduring is Hamilton’s performance that a 1976 appearance on Sesame Street, with the actress in character as the witch, elicited complaints from parents of terrified wee ones. The episode never re-aired, its footage kept from public view to this day. A year earlier, Hamilton appeared as herself on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to much softer effect. After a friendly chat with host Fred Rogers, the affable host helped Hamilton into her witch’s costume, all the while emphasizing that she was merely play-acting.

Babes in Arms (1939)
Hamilton plays Martha Steele, a small-town sourpuss who voices her concerns to Judge Black (Guy Kibbee) that the juveniles in town—which consist of Mickey Moran (Mickey Rooney), Patsy Barton (Judy Garland) and an earnest gang of vaudevillian offspring—value show business more than their schoolwork. This would be the second movie of 1939 to feature Garland and Hamilton. Though The Wizard of Oz was well received, Babes in Arms would end up being the year’s biggest moneymaker for MGM.

My Little Chickadee (1940)
Hamilton plays Mrs. Gideon, the biggest gossip of Little Bend, who makes life so inconvenient for Flower Belle (Mae West), a singer of shady virtue, that Belle is run out of town on a rail. W.C. Fields costars as con artist Cuthbert J. Twillie, who marries the loose woman and thereby lends her a bit of (temporary) respectability. The western comedy was written by West and directed by Edward F. Cline, who helmed many of Fields’s most popular movies.

Brewster McCloud (1970)
Bud Cort stars as the title character of director Robert Altman’s oddball tale of a loner who lives in the Houston Astrodome and yearns to fly. As stadium singer Daphne Heap, Hamilton takes part in a mean, funny national anthem sequence over the opening credits. And if the mere presence of Margaret Hamilton fails to evoke memories of The Wizard of Oz, Altman throws in red slippers (worn by the actress), a gingham dress (worn by Jennifer Salt) and a few bars of “Over the Rainbow” on the soundtrack.


TCM's Swell Film Festival Ad

It’s no challenge, really, to sell the public on The Wizard of Oz (1939). The movie is freakishly beloved, its visual elements instantly recognizable, a few of its lines of dialogue firmly ensconced in the American lexicon and its songs committed to many a memory. Any challenge, it would seem, would be to package the movie in a way that is entirely new, which is what TCM has done, not just to promote the screening of the movie during their upcoming classic film festival, but to promote the festival itself. So it was particularly refreshing to see Gale Sondergaard, in a costume test for her role as the Wicked Witch of the West, fifty feet tall and overlooking Hollywood and Highland. Before shooting began, of course, the actress was replaced by Margaret Hamilton when producers abandoned their initial concept of a beautiful witch for one with a more hideous visage. Sondergaard endured a makeup test as the ugly version before leaving the project outright.

The TCM Classic Film Festival will take place April 10-13 in Hollywood. As usual, we’ll be there.


April 15

Clara Blandick commits suicide in Hollywood, 1962. She started in films in 1911 playing maids, wives, aunts, mothers, and mothers-in-law—great steady work for a character actress of a certain age. By the time she retired from movies in 1950 with Love That Brute and Key to the City, she had more than 100 films to her credit. But it was The Wizard of Oz (1939) that made her immortal, playing the stern yet caring Auntie Em to Judy Garland’s Dorothy. (When she tells Almira Gulch (Margaret Hamilton) that “for twenty-three years, I've been dying to tell you what I thought of you! And now... well, being a Christian woman, I can't say it!,” one practically drools at the idea of what a non-Christian Auntie Em would say.) In later years, she was plagued by severe arthritis and increasing blindness and so, on Palm Sunday in 1962, Blandick composed a note: “I am now about to make the great adventure. I cannot endure this agonizing pain any longer. It is all over my body. Neither can I face the impending blindness. I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen." She fixed her hair, put on her best dress, took an overdose of sleeping pills, placed a plastic bag over her head and—at the age of 81—ended her life.


August 14

Gale Sondergaard dies at the age of 86 in Woodland Hills in 1985. Discovered by director Mervyn LeRoy, Sondergaard made her film debut in Anthony Adverse (1936), for which she won the first Academy Award given for Best Supporting Actress. For The Wizard of Oz (1939), she tested twice for the Wicked Witch of the West—an ugly version and a beautiful one inspired by the wicked queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). Producers decided on the ugly version, causing Sondergaard to withdraw and Margaret Hamilton to step into the role. A memorable performance in The Letter (1940) and an Oscar-nominated turn in Anna and the King of Siam (1946) followed. Her career was seriously damaged in the early 1950s when her husband, Herbert Biberman, was named as one of the Hollywood Ten. Sondergaard refused to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee and was blacklisted.