ATLANTA — Almost four decades after the Wicked Witch of the West plagued Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, the green-skinned, bushy-browed one lost her broom on, of all places, Sesame Street. Actress Margaret Hamilton reprised her famous role in an episode of the children’s TV series that aired on Feb. 10, 1976, writes Heather Greene in her new book Bell, Book and Camera: a Critical History of Witches in American Film and Television (McFarland, April 2018, 234 p). “With the exception of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, the inhabitants of Sesame Street are visibly frightened of Hamilton’s character,” Greene writes. The Wicked Witch also scared the hades out of young viewers, just as she had done for decades since the release of Oz in 1939.
It has been a several months since the last installment in my series on Hollywood’s witches. Last May I explored the period from 1939 to 1950. During that time the witch evolved from a cartoon hag into a signifier of the empowered, sexualized woman (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs 1937 and I Married a Witch 1942). Now I will pick back up in 1950 just as television enters its Golden Age. During the subsequent eighteen years, the American film industry undergoes radical changes affecting its structure and product. The period ends in 1968 with the death of the Production Code and the birth of an entirely new Hollywood.
This past weekend I traveled to the historic town of Salem, Massachusetts for Covenant of the Goddess’ (CoG) yearly Merry Meet Convention. This multi-faceted four-day event includes rituals, leadership training, social activities, shopping and the ever important annual business meeting called Grand Council. This year’s Merry Meet was artfully hosted by CoG’s New England-based local council – the Weavers. Before I recount the experience, I want to make one thing very clear. I am a proud CoG member and have been for years.
Not since the 1990s has witchcraft been such a popular subject matter within pop-culture. Wicca and Brujería mingle with more fantasy-oriented versions of witchcraft on the HBO series “True Blood,” while the CW is set to launch “The Secret Circle” this Fall, a teen-oriented show based on a series of books that focuses on a coven of genetic witches. To top it all off, there seems to be plans for a new take on the 1960s classic television show “Bewitched”. “In the latest classic TV title getting considered for a reboot, CBS and Sony are developing a script for remake of the classic sitcom Bewitched. This is still in very early stages, but it’s definitely a project worth keeping an eye on.”