Why Did Rosie O’Donnell Turn Down ‘Hocus Pocus?’

The Hocus Pocus reunion is just around the corner. The New York Restoration Project fundraiser will reunite Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker for a one-night-only event taking place on October 30, 2020. The virtual “Hulaween” gala will be entirely virtual and feature the Sanderson Sisters in all their former glory – witchy wardrobes, buckteeth, and all. 

Rosie O'Donnell
Rosie O’Donnell | Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

Yet, with a renewed focus on Hocus Pocus, as a sequel film is also in the works for Disney+, it’s important to remember history. Initially, Kathy Najimy — though boasting incomparable chemistry with Parker and Midler — was not the first choice for Mary Sanderson. 

Rosie O’Donnell was offered the role of Mary Sanderson in ‘Hocus Pocus’

Rosie O’Donnell was initially offered the role of Mary Sanderson — the witch who flys on a vacuum cleaner when she cannot access a broomstick. 

Mary Sanderson offered up a campy degree of levity to Hocus Pocus. Najimy brought a crooked smile and a wacky hairdo to the submissive sister who takes orders willingly and gleefully tortures children. Mary Sanderson — like her sisters — wanted to steal youth from children, but her clueless disposition and overall ridiculous comedic streak stole viewers’ hearts. 

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The role was anything but terrifying, as Hocus Pocus has since become a family-friendly cult classic. However, O’Donnell reportedly turned down the role over a fear that, at the time, she presumably didn’t know was unrealistic. 

Why Rosie O’Donnell walked away from Mary Sanderson

According to Seventeen, Rosie O’Donnell reportedly turned down the role, for she didn’t want to seem like a “scary witch.” Worried the role would be bad for her image, she passed up on the opportunity to star alongside Midler and Parker. 

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The fact that Mary’s cluelessness supersedes her villainy may not have been considered (or fully understood) until Najimy’s performance hit the screen. Though O’Donnell lost out on Hocus Pocus, she starred in a few other blockbusters that performed better critically (as well as at the box office) around the same time.

Hocus Pocus premiered in 1993. In that same year, O’Donnell starred in Sleepless in Seattle, Fatal Instinct, and Another Stakeout. The year before, she starred in the critically acclaimed hit A League of Their Own, as well as Stand By Your Man. And, in 1994, she appeared in The Flinstones, Exit to Eden, and more. 

Though O’Donnell missed out on becoming a part of a cult classic, her career definitely didn’t suffer from skipping out on Hocus Pocus.