The Wicked Witch of the West, highest ranking female villain, as well as one of The Greatest Movie Characters of All Time. Originally, she was merely the more well known antagonist of L. Frank Baum’s, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Despite never really being mentioned again after her death in book one. The Wicked Witch is a character that continues to evolve and challenges us all to question the true definition of Wicked.
In illustrations by W. W. Denslow for Baum’s book, she is depicted as an elderly rotund hag with three pigtails, Baum in the book stated that she only had one eye, but that it “was as powerful as a telescope”, enabling the witch to see what was happening in her kingdom from her castle windows. Illustrator Paul Granger, placed her eye in the center of her forehead, as a cyclops. Usually, she is shown wearing an eye patch, however some illustrations and in all but one film adaptations, she is incorrectly shown with two eyes.
In all versions the Wicked Witch is a force to be reckoned with containing immense power, however, in the character’s infancy before cinematic license took over, most of her power resided in the creatures she controls. It is commonly accepted that she had a pack of wolves, a swarm of bees, a flock of crows and an army of Winkies. Of her magical tools she owned an umbrella; instead of a broom, which she uses on one occasion to strike Dorothy’s dog Toto. She also wields the enchanted Golden Cap, which gave her control over the flying monkeys.
In most variations of the story The Wicked Witch of the West is defeated after Dorothy, throws a bucket of water on her. L. Frank Baum never explained why that’s what destroyed her but it is a belief that water has purifying properties against evil, commonly accepted in most religions.
In Baum’s creation she is merely referred to as the Wicked Witch, however in adaptations and recreations the character has been known by many other names. She was known as Bastinda in the 1939 novel The Wizard of the Emerald City, a name that was borrowed for March Laumer’s Oz books and in the 2005 novel The Emerald Wand of Oz. She is identified as Elphaba in Gregory Maguire’s best-seller Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West and in it’s musical adaptation as well. The name Elphaba is tribute to author of the original Witch L. Frank Baum. Unlike its theatrical predecessor and any of Baum’s writings, Maguire’s novel is not intended for children, and contains profanity, sexual content and violent imagery.
In film, popularity for the Wicked Witch ebbed and flowed, she was featured in the 1910 silent film The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, known as “Momba the Witch”. In, His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (1914) she is depicted correctly as a one -eyed villain. Margaret Hamilton, made sure everyone remembered the witch in the 1939 adaptation of The Wizard of Oz. With her famous line “I’ll get you my pretty, and that little dog too.” In this version she is sister to the Wicked Witch of the East and sees Dorothy’s accidental homicide as a reason for revenge.
Hamilton reprised the role for Sesame Street, in 1976 but was poorly received by parents of frightened young children. She also appeared in The Paul Lynde Halloween Special (1976), and reprised her role several times on stage, most notably at the St. Louis Municipal Opera. Hamilton’s final appearance was on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood where she explained to the children how she was able to be turned into the witch and that it was all make believe.
In the 70’s the 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz was given a groovy revamp and released as the hit musical The Wiz, the all – star cast featured, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and Mabel King, as Evillene, the new Wicked Witch of the West both on screen and on Broadway. In the Wiz, King’s Wicked Witch is the sister of Addaperle (Miss One in the film version), Glinda, and Evermean, the other three witches of Oz.
She runs a sweatshop under Yankee Stadium with the slogan “Manufacturers and Exporters of Sweat” and extracts it from the Winkies, the Crows, the Poppy Girls, and the Subway Peddler. Her magic creates evil growing dolls sent by the Subway Peddler, Fighting Trees, and the wolves who in this version are actually sentient carnivorous trash cans, her lair is the Subway system. Her flying monkeys are a biker gang and she is defeated when Dorothy, played by Diana Ross, sets off the sprinklers.
Elphaba was reprised and played by actress Idina Menzel, for the 2003 musical loosely based on Maguire’s adaptation of the story. The Wicked Witch underwent one more transformation in the 2013 Disney film Oz the Great and Powerful, played this time by Mila Kunis.