‘The Wizard of Oz’: Margaret Hamilton Was Badly Burned On Set — So Was Her Stunt Double

The Wizard of Oz may be a beloved gem of a film today, but actually getting the movie made was quite the challenge. Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West, was badly burned while filming the movie — and her stunt double was burned as well. Unfortunately, Hamilton’s experience was only one example of several things that went wrong while filming The Wizard of Oz.   

‘The Wizard of Oz’: Wicked witch Margaret Hamilton was badly burned 

Judy Garland, Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz
Judy Garland, Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz | FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images

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Margaret Hamilton was originally thrilled to receive a callback for The Wizard of Oz. In fact, it was her favorite book growing up. 

“I was in need of money at the time, I had done about six pictures for MGM 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.’” she said

However, on December 23, 1938, Hamilton experienced an accident on set that resulted in a second-degree burn on her face and third-degree burns on her hands. A trap door’s drop had been delayed, and the flames that were meant to appear during her disappearance burned her while she was still above the flooring. 

Hamilton needed six weeks to recover from her burns, and demanded that she no longer be required to work with pyrotechnics. 

“I won’t sue, because I know how this business works, and I would never work again. I will return to work on one condition – no more fireworks!” she demanded. 

Hamilton wasn’t the only one hurt by witch-related pyrotechnics. Her stunt-double, Betty Danko, was severely burned when she sat on a smoking pipe meant to look like the Witch’s smoking broomstick. The pipe exploded and she spent 11 days in the hospital, resulting in permanent leg scarring. 

Toxic paints caused problems for actors 

Margaret Hamilton, as The Wicked Witch of the West, hides behind a tree from Dorothy, played by Judy Garland (1922 - 1969), and the scarecrow as they make their way down the yellow brick road in a scene from The Wizard of Oz
Margaret Hamilton, as The Wicked Witch of the West, hides behind a tree from Dorothy, played by Judy Garland (1922 – 1969), and the scarecrow as they make their way down the yellow brick road in a scene from The Wizard of Oz | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Exploding pipes and poorly timed pyrotechnics weren’t the only mistakes made while filming The Wizard of Oz. In fact, some of the paint and makeup used for some actors proved to be problematic. 

Notably, the original Tin Man, Buddy Ebsen, had to be hospitalized nine days into filming as a result of poisoning from his makeup. He was covered in a thorough layer of aluminum dust daily.

His replacement, Jack Haley, developed an eye infection when the makeup artists decided to switch to aluminum powder and paste painted on the actor. 

‘The Wizard of Oz’: Other costume debacles 

American actor Margaret Hamilton (1902 - 1985) and a winged monkey look into a crystal ball in a still from the film, The Wizard of Oz, directed by Victor Fleming, 1939
American actor Margaret Hamilton (1902 – 1985) and a winged monkey look into a crystal ball in a still from the film, The Wizard of Oz, directed by Victor Fleming, 1939. | MGM Studios/Courtesy of Getty Images

The Lion and the Scarecrow also struggled with their costumes, seemingly a consistent issue for The Wizard of Oz. The Lion, played by Ben Lahr, had to wear a costume fashioned out of a real 90 lb. lion hide. He was stuck filming under hot lighting, and the hide provided little to no ventilation.

Meanwhile, Ray Bolger, who played the Scarecrow, wound up with scars. His cloth-style makeup was so intense that the marks it left on his face wouldn’t disappear for over a year following the movie’s wrap.