Comedy of the Commonplace: The Sitcom Genius of Peg Lynch

Hollywood Memories

Peg Lynch talks about working with Margaret Hamilton

Peg Lynch hired actress Margaret Hamilton, best known for playing the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, to play Aunt Eva, a recurring role on Peg’s sitcom Ethel and Albert.

In this interview, recorded in 2012, Peg talks about her memories of Hamilton.

Transcript:

Linda Long: I know Margaret Hamilton had a recurring role on Ethel and Albert. Can you tell us what it was like working with her?

Peg Lynch: It was just fine. Margaret was fine, we were great friends. There's one thing about actors, and they can't help it. Maggie called me—she never did anything between making The Wizard of Oz and doing my show... and the whole 3 years... she would say every time we’d go anywhere, she’d say, “Peggy, I don’t what I’d do without… About pay. She says, “It’s marvelous, I’ll work on the show.” I paid her the same thing I gave myself. I couldn't afford really what she was worth because she was worth it to be on my show and I liked her, and we got along just fine. She moved down to where she lived in Gramercy Park to be near me. And we had, Sunday night, we would have a Sunday night… like The Player's Club for women except across the street The Players Club was having it for men. And I stopped one time, I had to drop a script off for Tallulah Bankhead and she [Margaret Hamilton] had bare feet and an old icky house dress [on], and she said "I'm scrubbing the kitchen floor, come on in." I said, "I can't—I gotta get home to get a script thing started or finished...” something like that. And she said, "Oh come on up, take five." I didn't know her at all, she was very sweet, very funny. And I said, "My God, you must have somebody..." Here was a tub... it was filled with glads [gladiolas] and it was just enormous, and I said, "Boy, somebody really loves you." "No," she said, "It’s the Brooklyn gas company. They're so afraid I'm going to screw up their commercial tomorrow."

Maggie did something to me that was typical. I paid her the same... because I could afford it. Whether you’re on it or not [the show, Ethel and Albert] you will get this much... I can't remember how much... $650 or something like that. She was worth that to me. But what she did was so strange.

I'd say you're on one [show] or you're on three or something like that. And we could record by that time, you see, in one day, so we didn't have to worry about that. She called me and said, "Am I on any of them?" She was always on some. I said, “Yes, you're on seven of them, out of the ten, two weeks.” And she said, “Well I just wonder, Peggy—I don't think we can go on with this arrangement. I said, “What's the matter?” “Well, United States Steel wants me out on the coast to do a commercial and they’re giving me a thousand dollars.” And, ah, for once in my life I kept my mouth shut. I said, “Well, if it means that much to you why, go on and go get your thousand dollars, and I'll see you when you get back.”

But I really wanted to kill her because that meant I had to make seven new shows in one week. I couldn't figure out where is friendship, and where does it start and where does it end. And she was terrible to me. Then she had... well, Maggie slipped on a squirrel.

Linda Long: A squirrel?!

Peg Lynch: Yes, she did. That's exactly what happened... She stepped out... She had a cottage up in Maine. And she stepped outdoors and she stepped on a squirrel's tail. And the squirrel made her slip and she hurt her back, and it really hurt. And she shrunk, she really 'boom' [gestures with hands]. And it affected her on top of it anyhow…

Astrid King [Peg's daughter]: Didn't you... you meet up somewhere, I can't remember what it was...

Peg Lynch: Well, it wasn’t that she, had done... This is apropos of nothing I'm talking about... We were still working, and she just began... Well, she once bashed some girl over the head with a cast iron fry pan. It's true the pan was small, but that hurts, you know. And she didn't like it. So...

Astrid King: You mean it started affecting her mentally after the fall? I see.

Peg Lynch: Yes, yes, you translate for me.

Astrid King: I will.

Peg Lynch: And she did come back. And I didn't say anything to her. And then, oh, about Tallulah... She came back from Hollywood... And uh, she came over with two men carrying like a wash tub... like, not cast iron...

Astrid King: To hold the flowers...

Peg Lynch: Three, four dozen, they were huge. And she splashed water on Maggie's floor. And Maggie got mad. And so she says, "I hate these people. Bring you flowers… If they’re going to bring flowers when they're coming for dinner they should, by god, bring it in a vase, bring it in a planter...” something like that, “Don't bring flowers...” So I gotta go outside and get the ladder... And all the time Tallulah was standing there. So I motioned her to go on into the living room where the other people were, where everybody was listening. And Maggie then... somebody went out and got the ladder, and oh, or sent them out for the ladder. And the ladder came in, and the upshot, and I cannot remember all of the details, that were written up somewhere, and... She fell, and she didn't hurt herself, but she got really mad, and told the boy off who had nothing to do with it, and there was water on the floor. And I got her into the dressing [room], into her bedroom and asked her to behave herself, you know. But it's kind of awkward.

Astrid King: I thought she was rude to you, years later, at something, too.

Peg Lynch: Oh yes, then on her 80th birthday, on her 80th birthday, they called me and said, "Could I come up to her 80th birthday to Sardi's...” “Oh, Christ, I gotta take a bus up, well, yeah, I thought I better do that. And I did and I got in, and she didn't know me. And they were all sitting at tables. And I walked over where she was and I said "Hi, Maggie." And her son said, "It's Peg, honey. Peg, mother." "Oh, who?" "Peg, you know, Peg Lynch." And she didn't know me, she didn't know... Who was the one who had the geranium dropped on her head?

Astrid King: Well, I don't know.

Peg Lynch: Arlene Francis… a geranium dropped off [her balcony] and killed a woman down on the street, you know, one time. Yeah, it was her. She didn't know her either.

Astrid King: But that wasn't being rude to you, she just didn't know you. I thought she was rude to you at some point.

Peg Lynch: She was. The same day... the end [of the event], I looked over at someone... Who’s that woman? Who is that in the pink suit? She looked so familiar... It was... Lorraine... No...

Astrid King: Loretta Young?

Peg Lynch: No. It was another… She was very big, wearing a pink suit... and her hair...

Astrid King: What does she do? Sing, act?

Peg Lynch: Act.

Astrid King: Well, I don't know, Mama.

Peg Lynch: Well, I don't know either, but she was...

Astrid King: Well, the point?

Peg Lynch: Well, the point... I was talking about her [mumbles]... Maggie got... They were going around to say good-bye to everybody, and thanks for coming. And then, Maggie showed up with her son, and he said, "Well, say good-bye to Peg." "Oh, there you are!" She said, "Well, you certainly got me for nothing! I was certainly a lot more… You should have paid me a lot more than you did." And loud! It could be heard all in an area like this [gestures], with all the actors, and so on. I said, "Oh, well, I'm sorry, I did the best that I could, Maggie.”

"Well, it certainly wasn't very good, I'll tell you that!"

And her son was so embarrassed. And they couldn't get her loose because she had dug her claws in, and she wasn't about to be budged! [laughing]. And she was just whipping me one side of the... as if I didn't pay her at all.

Linda Long: Was that her dementia speaking, rather than...

Peg Lynch: Well, I hope so!

Linda Long: Yeah, that's sad.

Peg Lynch: That was the first time that... Well, she got so bad... I had been with her when she bought the apartment, and the apartment was the oldest cooperative building in New York... And the floors were like this [gestures] and the elevator was the size of half of this room, with an old man who I think came with the elevator [gestures].

Astrid King: Yes, it was a hand-pulled elevator.

Peg Lynch: When you went shopping from Maggie's place, you didn’t forget anything, it was a voyage, a trip...

Astrid King: Scared to ask him to do it again, yeah.

Peg Lynch: So, anyhow, yes, the time she bopped the nurse on the head, she got carted off to New Rochelle and a padded cell. So she really was bad up. But the slipping on the squirrel did it, I think.