The Wicked Witch's Broom Blew Up, Sending Her To The Hospital
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Shooting The Wizard of Oz wasn't very fun. We've told you before how just about everyone was horrible to Judy Garland, with one of the few exceptions being Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch. Hamilton had her own problems, famously burning her skin thanks to the green paint she wore.
Today, we're going to focus on a less well-known name: Betty Danko, Hamilton's stand-in and occasional stunt double. The very first appearance of the witch onscreen was going to be Danko, not Hamilton. She squeezed into a space below the stage of the yellow brick road set so she could pop out, and the dance director, Bobby Connolly, instructed the munchkins over and over that they had to stay clear of the trap door. Then, of course, Connolly stepped on the trap door and fell through, landing on Danko.
For a while, she couldn't lift her arm up and almost couldn't drive. But she accepted the offer of the studio to use their in-house chiropractor, and she went on working. A stunt performer is expected to keep going while slightly injured.
Then came the skywriting scene, the one where the witch spells "Surrender, Dorothy" in smoke. Hamilton, fresh off injuries of her own, wasn't ready to do the scene, so Danko stepped in. They didn't need to film her doing loop-the-loop in the sky—1930s special effects would take care of the tiny figure writing the words. For her close-up, however, she needed to straddle a broomstick suspended by wires while a pipe pumped out black smoke.
They filmed the scene successfully. But they then shot another take. The pipe exploded.
The blast threw Danko across the stage, sliced open her leg, and sent her to the hospital for 11 days. So, it was a bit more serious than the yellow brick road incident. Still, she recovered. It wasn't the worst injury she'd suffer as a stunt performer. That would be a different film, a comedy, where a puma chomped on her leg.
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Top image: MGM