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Ray Bolger 1904-1987

Country : Dorchester, MA
Profession : Actor
Date of birth : 1904-01-10
Date of death : 1987-01-15
Cause of Death : Cancer - unspecified

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Ray Bolger (born Raymond Wallace Bulcao January 10, 1904 – January 15, 1987) was an American entertainer of stage and screen, best known for his portrayal of the Scarecrow and Kansas farmworker Hunk in the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz.


Early life

Bolger spent his early life in a predominantly Irish neighborhood in Dorchester, Massachusetts. His father, James Edward Bulcao, was a Portuguese-American house-painter, and his mother, Anne Wallace, an Irish-American, was a homemaker. Both parents were Roman Catholics. Bolger was inspired by the vaudeville shows he attended when he was young to become an entertainer himself. He began his career as a dancer. His limber body and ability to ad lib movement won him many starring roles on Broadway in the 1930s. Eventually, his career would also encompass film, television and nightclub work.


Bolger's film career began when he signed a contract with MGM in 1936. His best-known film appearance prior to The Wizard of Oz was The Great Ziegfeld (1936), in which he portrayed himself. But he also appeared in Sweethearts, (1938) the first MGM film in Technicolor, starring Nelson Eddy, Jeanette MacDonald, and Bolger's future Oz co-star, Frank Morgan, as well as the 1937 Eleanor Powell vehicle Rosalie, which also starred Eddy and Morgan.

Bolger's studio contract stipulated that he would play any part the studio chose; however, he was unhappy when he was cast as the Tin Man. The Scarecrow part had already been assigned to another lean and limber dancing studio contract player, Buddy Ebsen.

In time, the roles were switched. While Bolger was pleased with his role as the Scarecrow, Ebsen was struck ill by the powdered aluminum make-up used to complete the Tin Man costume. The powdered aluminum badly coated Ebsen's lungs, leaving him near death. Ebsen's illness paved the way for the Tin Man role to be filled by Jack Haley. Ironically, Ebsen would outlive all the principal players of Oz.

Bolger's performance in Oz was a tour de force, and he displayed the full range of his physical, comedic, and dramatic talents playing the character searching for the brain that he always had. The Scarecrow's sympathy for Dorothy Gale's plight, his cleverness and bravery in rescuing her from the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) and his deep affection for her shone through, endearing the character — and Bolger — in the public mind forever. Whenever queried as to whether he received any residuals from telecasts of the 1939 classic, Bolger would reply: "No, just immortality. I'll settle for that."

He was good friends with Hamilton until her death. He had given a eulogy at her memorial service.

Bolger toured in the USO shows with Joe E. Lewis in the Pacific Theater during World War II, was featured in the United Artists war-time film Stage Door Canteen and returned to MGM for a featured role in The Harvey Girls (1946).

Following Oz, Bolger moved to RKO. In 1946, he recorded a children's album, The Churkendoose, featuring the story of a misfit fowl ("part chicken, turkey, duck, and goose") who teaches kids that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it all "depends on how you look at things".

Bolger starred in several films, including Walt Disney's 1961 remake of Babes in Toyland, and his own sitcom, Where's Raymond?, also known as The Ray Bolger Show, from 1953-1955. He also made frequent guest appearances on television, including the episode "Rich Man, Poor Man" of the short-lived The Jean Arthur Show, a CBS sitcom which aired in 1966. In 1985, he and Liza Minnelli, the daughter of his Oz co-star Judy Garland, starred in That's Dancing, a film also written by Jack Haley, Jr., the son of Tin Man actor Jack Haley. Minnelli and Haley, Jr. would have a brief marriage some years later.

He also appeared in Little House On The Prairie as Toby Noe.

Bolger's Broadway credits included On Your Toes, By Jupiter, All American, and Where's Charley?, for which he won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical and in which he introduced "Once in Love with Amy" the song often connected with him. He repeated his stage role in the 1952 Technicolor film version of the musical.

In his later years, he danced in a Dr Pepper advert. He also appeared intermittently on The Partridge Family in the 1970s as Shirley Partridge's father--a role he shared with actor Jackie Coogan.

Personal life

Bolger died of bladder cancer five days after his 83rd birthday in Los Angeles, California. He was interred at Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City, California, in the Mausoleum, Crypt F2, Block 35.

He was survived by his wife of over 57 years, Gwendolyn Rickard. At the time of his death, he was the last surviving member of the main Oz cast.

An editorial cartoon on January 17, 1987, two days after his death, by Chicago Tribune artist Dick Locher, depicted the Oz cast dancing off into the setting sun and toward the Emerald City, with the Scarecrow running to catch up.




That's Dancing! (18-Jan-1985) Himself
The Runner Stumbles (16-Nov-1979)
Just You and Me Kid (13-Jul-1979)
Captains and the Kings (30-Sep-1976)
Babes in Toyland (14-Dec-1961)
April in Paris (24-Dec-1952)
Look for the Silver Lining (23-Jun-1949)
The Harvey Girls (18-Jan-1946)
Stage Door Canteen (24-Jun-1943) Himself
The Wizard of Oz (12-Aug-1939)
Sweethearts (22-Dec-1938)
Rosalie (24-Dec-1937)
The Great Ziegfeld (22-Mar-1936) Himself

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