The Wicked Witch of the West on Sesame Street
On February 10, 1976, an unexpected visitor showed up on Sesame Street. Blown in by an unusual storm, the Wicked Witch of the West and her broom landed right in front of Mr. Hooper’s store. It was a fun guest appearance that, like most episodes of the show, attempts to entertain and educate. Unfortunately, the episode was not appreciated by parents who claimed it terrified their children, and the Wicked Witch’s appearance was never put into re-runs.
I remember hearing about this segment when I worked at a video store, years ago. A fan of The Wizard of Oz would come in regularly to display expertise on the subject. He would often lament that this appearance by Margaret Hamilton, who originated the role of the witch in the film, would never be seen again.
Fortunately for that guy and for other curious parties, Reddit user sarsaparilla170170 was able to procure a copy of the episode and posted it and the abridged version of just the Wicked Witch segments to the amazing Subreddit, lost media. There it was met with enthusiasm and excitement that manifested in lots of sharing, up-voting, and people taking it upon themselves to mirror the video on various other sites.
What is the episode all about?
It is a stormy afternoon on Sesame Street, and David emerges from Mr. Hooper’s store to spot an object hurtling towards him. It’s a broom, and after he catches it, the storm dies down.
That’s when the green-faced Wicked Witch appears and demands to have her broom back. Her tone is angry and disrespectful, so David refuses to give it back. When she tries to grab it, we learn that the witch cannot pick up the broom as long as another person is holding it without getting electrocuted. Frustrated, she flees.
David fills in Maria on what happened. She is a bit incredulous, but becomes a believer when the Witch makes an appearance. Unable to get the broom back yet again, she decides to display her magical powers by making it rain inside the store.
Big Bird arrives on the scene and gets involved. Pledging to protect his friends. He picks up the broomstick and the Witch appears again. She taunts everyone and threatens to turn Big Bird into a feather duster and David into a basketball.
Do you think this makes Big Bird go away? No way, instead we get one of my favorite moments in the episode where Big Bird is guarding the store holding a baseball bat and hockey stick.
Meanwhile, after retreating to an alley and having Oscar the Grouch fall in love with her beauty, the Witch turns herself into a non-green human and in this clever disguise goes past Big Bird and right into the store.
This is when the lesson is learned. David convinces her to ask for the broom nicely and although it pains the Witch, she does it and gets her broom back and states that she is going back to Oz and will never come back.
It ends with a great shot of the Witch in flight. Exhilarated by the thrill of flight, she does some hot-dogging on her broom and tries flying with no hands. This results in the broom getting away from her and landing right back on Sesame Street.
Other Appearance by Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch in the 1970s
Besides her appearance on Sesame Street, in the 1970s, we get two other amazing appearances of Hamilton in her most memorable role.
The first is in another fine children’s show, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. That appearance cannot be more tonally different from her appearance on Sesame Street. The second is on the delightfully campy, Paul Lynde Halloween Special. While not lost media, both are worth checking out.
Is it Scary?
To adults, definitely not, but to a kid? I could see it. This is the same Wicked Witch, played by the same actor from the original film, and she does a great job. She is assisted in her spookiness by the addition of the famous green witch face makeup, which while not film-quality, is eye-catching. You could certainly see how it would capture a child’s attention and put their focus completely on the Witch character and not on the important lesson of treating people with respect.
Perhaps scarier is the audio and visual effects in these segments. First there is a storm that sets an uneasy tone, then when the witch appears they use an electric guitar as an audio indicator that is simple, yet ominous.
Even scarier is the visual effect that they use when the Witch tries to take her broom back. It causes the Witch to be electrocuted, and they use this great effect.
Overall, if I had seen this as a kid, this would have stuck with me and probably freaked me out a bit. I also would have been intrigued and like many young people would have obsessed over its weirdness, especially as I got older.
Reaction at the Time
The production company who makes Sesame Street, The Children’s Television Workshop (CTW), didn’t seem to think that the Witch segments of this episode would do anything but entertain and educate when they released them. In fact, there were promotions in many papers hyping this episode. But almost instantly they started to receive letters from concerned parents who claimed their children were so freaked out by the episode that they were refusing to watch ANY episodes of Sesame Street.
The CTW took this very seriously. According to the Muppet Wiki, which looked at the CTW Archives, they held extra test screenings, “to assess children’s reactions to the Wicked Witch of the West.” What they found is that kids were indeed fascinated by the Margaret Hamilton segments and were especially drawn to her green face makeup.
Ultimately, they determined that they couldn’t properly assess the children’s reactions in their test environment, but because of the outcry and their preliminary observations, it would be best if the episode not be re-run.
Interestingly, another letter of criticism they received was from a member of the Wiccan community who disliked the negative portrayal of witches. They suggested that to balance out the episode, they might include a more positive segment that showed a modern take on witches. It does not appear that they ever took up that suggestion.
While the criticism of the episode by parents and the Wiccan community might have made the episode go away, before that, critics and fans lavished praise on the episode in newspapers. Not only liking the message of the show, but pointing to the fine performance of Margaret Hamilton specifically.
Why This Release Matters
Sesame Street is an icon. Perhaps one of the most important children’s television shows ever broadcast in the United States. The idea that any portion of it, especially one that features a guest appearance from an equally iconic character, would stay locked up forever robs us of our past.
So I encourage you to check out the segments and the full episode at lost media. They have been mirrored in various places, most importantly, the Internet Archive.
Hopefully now that the CTW is seeing people’s positive reactions to the segments, they will consider releasing the full episode officially. That way, a whole new generation can learn a critical lesson about the importance of being respectful of people, and/or be traumatized by The Wicked Witch of the West.