In 1939, Margaret Hamilton made cinema history as the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. In 1976, she made television history by reprising the role on a Sesame Street episode that was pulled from the show’s rotation immediately after it aired. It seems to have drawn Sesame Workshop, then known as the Children’s Television Workshop, a fair few complaints from the parents of disturbed children. As a result, writes Mental Floss’ Michele Debczak, “the episode was banned for being ‘too scary’ for kids, and for decades it was difficult to find,” seen only on low-quality video tapes and in the troubled minds of certain Generation Xers.
Now Hamilton’s Sesame Street appearance has become available on Youtube, ready for you to watch with the braver children in your life this Halloween. But then, it’s hard to imagine any twenty-first-century viewer being truly frightened by it, no matter how young. (This in contrast to the Wicked Witch’s army of flying monkeys in the original film, which continues to give kids the creeps generation after generation.)
Some may even be delighted by the evident relish with which Hamilton plays her part, even 37 years after the first time; as William Hughes writes at The AV Club, she “was always game to reprise the role of the Witch on behalf of educational programming; she also appeared, around that same period, on several episodes of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
In Big Bird’s neighborhood, the Wicked Witch accidentally loses her broom to David, whom readers of a certain age may remember as the spirited law student who once dated the iconic Maria Rodriguez. Only when the Witch shows him some respect, David insists, will he return that precious possession. Thus begins the Witch’s campaign of terror and trickery on Sesame Street, which continues until David finds a way to outsmart her into a wholly uncharacteristic show of courtesy. This story within the episode deals with the timeless theme of overcoming fears; and as the long unavailability of the episode itself shows us, giving in to fears — especially those of public backlash — can have real consequences.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.