SALISBURY, Conn. -- Actress Margaret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch of the West who terrorized Dorothy and her dog Toto in the movie 'The Wizard of Oz,' died Thursday in a nursing home of an apparent heart attack.
Hamilton, 82, moved to the Noble Horizons retirement complex from her New York home six months ago, said nursing supervisor JoAnn Luning. She is survived by a son.
Luning said Hamilton rarely talked about her movie career or her part in the 1939 classic as the cackling witch who pursued Dorothy, played by a young Judy Garland, on the yellow brick road to Oz.
Her portrayal of the witch who sought Dorothy's red ruby slippers has frightened generations of young children, who are elated when she is doused with water and melts into a steaming pile of black clothes topped by a conical witch's hat.
'This international classic has given us all immortality,' said actor Ray Bolger, who played the scarecrow who accompanied Dorothy to Oz, seeking a brain. He is now the film's only surviving star.
'I will miss Margaret because I became fond of her after the picture was produced,' he said. 'Margaret had become a great cult figure in recent years and that was the nicest thing that could have happened to her. She leaves the world with many people who love her.'
Hamilton appeared in more than 75 movies, numerous stage shows, starred in television and made television commercials, but no role proved as memorable as the one she created in 1939, playing the witch.
Millions saw the original movie in theaters, and to many millions more it became a classic on television.
She appreciated this perpetual audience, but once said, 'If I were to pick a role so far as acting is concerned, it is not the greatest thing I ever did.'
The continuing appeal of the film astonished her.
'Maybe it was because the show was made so carefully,' she said. 'There's something in it for everyone. I'll still watch it all the way through, familiar as it is.
'I've always wanted to get a psychologist to analyze the story.'
In 1975 she toured in a road company of Stephen Sondheim's 'A Little Night Music.'
She interrupted her appearance in that show to come to New York for a rare reunion with some of the main actors from 'Oz' -- Jack Paley, who was the Tin Man; Ray Bolger, the Scarecrow; and Mervyn Leroy, producer of the film.
Born Sept. 12, 1902, in Cleveland, Ohio, Margaret Hamilton began her career as a nursery school teacher. Her interest in acting began in Cleveland. She made her Broadway debut with Helen Hayes and Robert Montgomery in 'Another Language' and went on to Hollywood to do the movie.
In 1939, the year 'The Wizard of Oz,' was released, Hamilton also appeared in a low-budget picture, 'Angels Wash Their Faces,' that starred the Dead End Kids and Ronald Reagan.
'She was the most loved lady in the theater,' said Michael Thomas, her agent for 20 years. 'There was no one that didn't love Maggy.'
Even in the nursing home, he said, children would find her, seeking an autograph.
'Not a day goes by that we don't get mail from fans somewhere in the world,' he said.
Thomas said there will be no funeral, honoring Hamilton's request that she be cremated. A memorial service will be held at a later date. The family requested in lieu of flowers, contributions be sent to the Cleveland Playhouse.