Watch the Sesame Street Episode Banned for Being Too Scary, Featuring The Wizard of Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West (1976)

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.

Relat­ed con­tent:

When Mis­sis­sip­pi Tried to Ban Sesame Street for Show­ing a “High­ly Inte­grat­ed Cast” (1970)

Alfred Hitch­cock Presents Ghost Sto­ries for Kids (1962)

Watch Twin Beaks, Sesame Street’s Par­o­dy of David Lynch’s Icon­ic TV Show (1990)

Watch Vin­cent Price Turn Into Edgar Allan Poe & Read Four Clas­sic Poe Sto­ries (1970)

When L. Frank Baum’s Wiz­ard of Oz Series Was Banned for “Depict­ing Women in Strong Lead­er­ship Roles” (1928)

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.

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Comments (8)
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  • Jme says:

    Lol!! So many cry babies!! Don’t like it, DONT WATCH IT

  • Peter's wife says:

    Jme ok Boomer. The shows tar­get audi­ence are very young chil­dren.

  • Annie says:

    Let me get this straight, man steals per­son­al prop­er­ty from a woman no mat­ter what ethnicity/culture she belongs to, mean­ing I don’t care if she’s been labeled a “Bad Witch” by oth­ers, and then the male oppres­sor DEMANDS respect from the woman being oppressed! I can see why it got pulled on that sto­ry­line Alone.

  • Lisa wurtinger says:

    Omfg for Christ­mas sake it’s just a char­ac­ter

  • Chuck says:

    The deci­sion to ban it was made after the episode orig­i­nal­ly aired 57 years ago…is it real­ly hard to imag­ine that very young chil­dren might have been scared of the Witch? And years lat­er, in 1992, the pro­duc­ers of SS also decid­ed to shelve an episode where Snuffy’s par­ents got divorced before it aired, as test screen­ings showed that kids were unable to grasp the con­cept and were left think­ing Snuffy would nev­er see his father again, argu­ing was a sign of divorce, etc.

  • Willie t says:

    It was a JOY to see Ms.Hamilton reprise her role! Brought back a good mem­o­ry of my child­hood from watch­ing The Wiz­ard of Oz.i guess the kids who were scared they nver went Trick or Treat­ing either!! LOL 😂

  • James Rivera says:

    Too scary? R u seri­ous? Now, The Exor­cist. That was scary. I Love Mar­garet Hamil­ton as the wicked witch of the West. I saw this episode when I was a kid.🧡👍

  • Brian Johnson says:

    I’m inter­est­ed in sub­scrib­ing to your mag­a­zine sec­tion

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