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Also Known As: Raymond Wallace Bolger Died: January 15, 1987
Born: January 10, 1904 Cause of Death: cancer
Birth Place: Boston, Massachusetts, USA Profession: actor, vaudevillian, dancer, singer, accountant, insurance agent, vacuum cleaner salesman, bank clerk

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Although he had racked up numerous stage and screen credits, rubber-legged song-and-dance man Ray Bolger will forever be remembered by children of all ages as the Scarecrow who accompanies Dorothy, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion to the Emerald City in search of "The Wizard of Oz" in that 1939 MGM classic. A tall, slender man whose physical capacities as a dancer often mystified audiences (he was so lithe as to appear double-jointed), the Massachusetts native began his career in vaudeville. Although generations came to know him through his musical roles, Bolger first and foremost considered himself to be a comic actor, skills he first honed with the Bob Ott Musical Comedy Repertory in the early 1920s and later as part of a vaudeville act. In 1926, he was spotted by Gus Edwards who hired him as a comedian for the Broadway show "A Merry World". Other stage roles followed, most notably as the lead in the Rodgers and Hart classic "On Your Toes" (1936), introducing the now famous "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" number. Based on the strength of that performance, he was signed to a film contract by MGM. Bolger debuted in features as himself in the Oscar-winning biopic "The Great Ziegfeld" (1936). He got a...

Although he had racked up numerous stage and screen credits, rubber-legged song-and-dance man Ray Bolger will forever be remembered by children of all ages as the Scarecrow who accompanies Dorothy, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion to the Emerald City in search of "The Wizard of Oz" in that 1939 MGM classic.

A tall, slender man whose physical capacities as a dancer often mystified audiences (he was so lithe as to appear double-jointed), the Massachusetts native began his career in vaudeville. Although generations came to know him through his musical roles, Bolger first and foremost considered himself to be a comic actor, skills he first honed with the Bob Ott Musical Comedy Repertory in the early 1920s and later as part of a vaudeville act. In 1926, he was spotted by Gus Edwards who hired him as a comedian for the Broadway show "A Merry World". Other stage roles followed, most notably as the lead in the Rodgers and Hart classic "On Your Toes" (1936), introducing the now famous "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" number. Based on the strength of that performance, he was signed to a film contract by MGM.

Bolger debuted in features as himself in the Oscar-winning biopic "The Great Ziegfeld" (1936). He got a chance to display his comic abilities supporting Nelson Eddy and Eleanor Powell in "Rosalie" (1937) but was mostly wasted, except for a clog dance with Jeanette MacDonald, in "Sweethearts" (1938). When MGM originally announced plans to film "The Wizard of Oz", Bolger was assigned the role of the Tin Man. Feeling that he would be constrained in the role--the dancing would be minimal--he somehow managed to get producer Mervyn LeRoy to allow him to switch roles with Buddy Ebsen who had been tapped to play the Scarecrow. (What for Bolger was a triumph proved problematic for Ebsen who developed an allergy to the make-up and had to be replaced.) Offering an astonishing display of terpsichorean skill (when he dances, he really appears to be made of straw), Bolger etched a truly memorable character. The studio, however, chose not to renew his option.

Moving to RKO, Bolger appeared in "Four Jacks and a Jill" and "Sunny" (both 1941) before returning to Broadway in Rodgers and Hart's "By Jupiter" (1942). Exhausted from the grind of working in live theater, he withdrew early from the show (prompting sniping in the press), but the performer needed the rest before undertaking a USO tour (1943-45). After WWII, Bolger made a one-shot return to MGM where he was again partnered with Judy Garland in "The Harvey Girls" (1946) but his greatest success was to be on stage in what came to be a signature role, Charlie Wykeham, an Oxford student who dons drag and pretends to be a dowager, in "Where's Charley?" (1948-51), a musical adaptation of "Charley's Aunt". In the show, he introduced the soft-shoe number "Once in Love With Amy" with which he became closely identified. When Warner Bros. filmed the show in 1952, the studio wisely selected Bolger to recreate his stage triumph.

Bolger later found it difficult to top himself, though. Decent film roles became elusive, particularly as the movie musical's heyday was past. Despite wanting to be viewed as a comedian, Bolger and his image were rooted to song-and-dance. TV seemingly offered a shot with his own sitcom "Where's Raymond/The Ray Bolger Show" (ABC, 1953-55) but the premise did not take full advantage of his gifts and both versions failed to find an audience. For the remainder of his life, he struggled to find good parts but returns to Broadway in "All American" (1962) and "Come Summer" (1969) proved disappointing as did film work. Nightclubs provided an outlet and he became one of the more popular attractions on that circuit with an act steeped in nostalgia. His most notably acting role was in a rare dramatic turn in the NBC remake of "The Entertainer" (1976). As the father of Jack Lemmon's titular character, Bolger drew on his own history to portray an aging vaudevillian and was rewarded with an Emmy nomination for his efforts. Although he offered a strong turn as a priest in his last film role in "The Runner Stumbles" (1979), the movie itself was a jumble with a miscast Dick Van Dyke in the lead. After undergoing hip surgery, a still agile Bolger served as one of the narrators and hosts of the compilation film "That's Dancing!" (1985). Two years later, he succumbed to cancer, leaving behind only a handful of films. Yet, as long there are movies, he will forever be remembered traveling the Yellow Brick Road in search of a brain.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
2.
 That's Entertainment! III (1994) Song Performer
3.
 That'S Dancing! (1985) Narration
4.
 Runner Stumbles, The (1979) Monsignor Nicholson
5.
 Just You And Me, Kid (1979) Tom
6.
 Three on a Date (1978) Andrew
7.
 Entertainer, The (1976) Billy Rice
8.
 The Daydreamer (1966) The Pieman
9.
 Babes in Toyland (1961) Barnaby
10.
 April in Paris (1953) S. Winthrop "Sam" Putnam
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Raised in Dorchester, Massachusetts
1922:
Professional stage debut in Bob Ott Musical Comedy Reperory Company in Boston
1923:
Appeared in "One Hour From Broadway" in Lukens, Pennsylvania
1924:
Toured in vaudeville
1925:
Acted onstage in "A Pair of Nifties" in Cambridge, Massachusetts
1926:
Broadway debut in "A Merry World"
1936:
Had stage success in "On Your Toes"
1936:
Put under contract at MGM; film acting debut as himself in "The Great Ziegfeld"
1939:
Played his signature role of the Scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz"
1942:
Made one-shot appearance at RKO in "Four Jacks and a Jill"
1942:
Starred in "By Jupiter"
:
Toured in USO shows entertaining the troops
1946:
Had featured role in MGM's "The Harvey Girls", starring Judy Garland
:
Had one of his best stage roles in "Where's Charley?"; introduced signature song of "Once in Love in Amy"
1952:
Recreated stage role in the film version of "Where's Charley?"
1952:
Performed at the opening of the Hotel Sahara in Las Vegas
:
Starred in the ABC comedy series "Where's Raymond/The Ray Bolger Show" (ABC)
:
Hosted the variety series "Washington Square" (NBC)
1961:
Portrayed the Toymaker in "Babes in Toyland"
1962:
Returned to Broadway in "All American"
1963:
Made guest appearance on "The Judy Garland Show" (CBS)
1969:
Final stage role in "Come Summer"
1976:
Nominated in for an Emmy for his dramatic turn in the NBC TV-movie "The Entertainer"
1976:
Appeared in the NBC miniseries "Captains and the Kings"
1978:
Last TV-movie "Three on a Date" (ABC)
1979:
Final film, "The Runner Stumbles"
1984:
Underwent hip surgery
1985:
Narrated and co-hosted the compilation film "That's Dancing"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Dorchester High School: Dorchester , Massachusetts - 1920

Notes

In 1926, Bolger briefly roomed with composer Harold Arlen who later wrote the music for "The Wizard of Oz" (1939).

He was reportedly once fired from an insurance agency for dancing in the hallways.

During a performance of "Life Begins at 8:40" at NYC's Winter Garden Theater in January 1935, a small fire broke out on the roof. Bolger reportedly helped to keep the crowd calm by performing an impromptu tap dance saying, "you can't walk out on me!"

Bolger originally was chosen to play the Tin Man in "The Wizard of Oz"; he balked at playing the role and eventually switched parts with Buddy Ebsen who was cast as the Scarecrow.

Inducted in the Theater Hall of Fame in 1980.

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Gwendolyn Rickard. Vaudevillian, screenwriter, producer. Met in 1924; married from July 1929 until his death; died in 1997 at age 89.

Family close complete family listing

father:
James E Bolger. House painter.
mother:
Anne Bolger.
great-nephew:
John Bolger. Actor. Had appeared on numerous daytime serial like "GUiding Light", "Another World" and "One Life to Live".

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