Ray Bolger


Actor
Ray Bolger

About

Also Known As
Raymond Wallace Bolger
Birth Place
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Born
January 10, 1904
Died
January 15, 1987
Cause of Death
Cancer

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 audien...

Photos & Videos

The Wizard of Oz - Behind-the-Scenes Stills
The Wizard of Oz - Makeup Test Stills
The Harvey Girls - Movie Posters

Family & Companions

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

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.

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 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.

Life Events

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"

1946

Had featured role in MGM's "The Harvey Girls", starring Judy Garland

1952

Performed at the opening of the Hotel Sahara in Las Vegas

1952

Recreated stage role in the film version of "Where's Charley?"

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

Appeared in the NBC miniseries "Captains and the Kings"

1976

Nominated in for an Emmy for his dramatic turn in the NBC TV-movie "The Entertainer"

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"

Photo Collections

The Wizard of Oz - Behind-the-Scenes Stills
Here are some photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's The Wizard of Oz (1939), directed by Victor Fleming.
The Wizard of Oz - Makeup Test Stills
Here are a few Makeup and wardrobe test stills taken during production of MGM's The Wizard of Oz (1939). Such test stills were taken prior to principal photography to approve the look and design of makeup and costumes.
The Harvey Girls - Movie Posters
Here is a group of American movie posters from The Harvey Girls (1946), including a 1-sheet signed by several in the cast and crew.
The Wizard of Oz - Movie Posters
Here are a few original-release American movie posters from MGM's The Wizard of Oz (1939), starring Judy Garland.

Videos

Movie Clip

Sweethearts (1938) - Wooden Shoes After supporting players are introduced in elaborate exposition of the sixth anniversary performance of their Broadway performance, Ray Bolger dances and Jeanette MacDonald sings, Nelson Eddy coming in the next number, in MGM’s Technicolor Sweethearts, 1938, lyrics by Bob Wright and Chet Forrest to the original Victor Herbert tune.
April In Paris (1952) - I'm Gonna Ring The Bell Tipsy diplomat Sam (Ray Bolger), has abandoned efforts to restrain showgirl Ethel (Doris Day) on the boat to France, instead launching his tap reprise of the song by Vernon Duke and Sammy Cahn, in April In Paris, 1952.
April In Paris (1952) - Life Is Such A Pleasure Imagining himself president, bumbling diplomat S. Winthrop Putnam (Ray Bolger) launches into a specialty tune by Vernon Duke and E.Y. Harburg, Leroy Prinz the credited choreographer, in the Warner Bros. musical April In Paris, 1952, starring Doris Day.
April In Paris (1952) - It Must Be Good Nervous diplomat Sam (Ray Bolger) on Broadway on state department business, discovers showgirl Ethel "Dynamite" Jackson (Doris Day), whom he's accidentally arranged to send to Paris, in a number with a song by Vernon Duke and Sammy Cahn, early in April In Paris, 1952.
Wizard Of Oz, The (1939) - I'd Turn Back If I Were You! As chilling as any sequence, Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Lion (Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr), sent to the retrieve the Wicked Witch’s broomstick, run into trouble as she (Margaret Hamilton) looses the flying monkeys, in MGM’s The Wizard Of Oz, 1939.
Wizard of Oz, The (1939) - Bang On My Chest Dorothy (Judy Garland) and the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) discover the Tin Man (Jack Haley) during an apple fight with the talking trees, in MGM's The Wizard Of Oz, 1939.
Babes In Toyland (1961) - We Are Gathered Here The Toymaker (Ed Wynn) is stalling as he marries villain Barnaby (Ray Bolger) and innocent Mary (Annette Funicello), to give shrunken Tom (Tommy Sands) time to rally the toy soldiers, Bill Justice’s special effects sequence the most famous piece of Disney’s Babes In Toyland, 1961.
Babes In Toyland (1961) - Does This Satisfy Your Greed? We meet Ray Bolger in his wild turn as villain Barnaby, observing the innocent Mary and Tom (Annette Funicello, Tommy Sands), with henchmen (Henry Calvin, Gene Sheldon), some technical dazzle, and the top of another song by George Bruns and Mel Leven, in Disney’s Babes In Toyland , 1961.
Wizard Of Oz, The (1939) - If I Only Had A Brain Just begun following the yellow brick road, Dorothy (Judy Garland) meets the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) who has Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg's If I Only Had A Brain all ready, in The Wizard Of Oz, 1939.
Harvey Girls, The (1946) - The Wild, Wild West Fans of Virginia O'Brien will know that no specialty number ever fit her better, as willful Alma, to whom blacksmith Chris (Ray Bolger) has just confessed his fear of horses, George Sidney directing, tune by Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer, in MGM's The Harvey Girls, 1946.
Harvey Girls, The (1946) - On The Atchison, Topeka And The Santa Fe Harvey Girls, The (1946) -- (Movie Clip) On The Atchison, Topeka And The Santa Fe
Four Jacks And A Jill - I'm In Good Shape Musical sendoff from his room-and-band-mates, Nifty (Ray Bolger) performs I'm In Good Shape by Mort Greene and Harry Revel, then meets crafty Karanina (Anne Shirley), early in RKO's Four Jacks And A Jill, 1942.

Trailer

Wizard of Oz, The (1939) -- (1949 Re-issue Trailer) A Kansas farm girl dreams herself into a magical land where she must fight a wicked witch to escape in The Wizard of Oz (1939), starring Judy Garland.
April In Paris - (Original Trailer) State Department bureaucrat Ray Bolger mistakenly sends showgirl Doris Day to April In Paris (1952).
Look For the Silver Lining - (Original Trailer) June Haver and Ray Bolger star in Look For the Silver Lining (1949), a musical biography of Marilyn Miller, who overcame heartache to become a Broadway star.
Great Ziegfeld, The - (Wide Release Trailer) William Powell stars as Flo Ziegfeld, the producer who became Broadway's biggest starmaker, in The Great Ziegfeld 1936, featuring Luise Rainer in her Academy Award winning role.
Harvey Girls, The - (Original Trailer) Straitlaced waitresses battle saloon girls to win the West for domesticity in The Harvey Girls (1946), a musical romance starring Judy Garland and featuring the hit song, "On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe."
Rosalie - (Original Trailer) A West Point cadet falls in love with a European princess in the musical Rosalie (1937) with songs by Cole Porter.
That's Dancing! - (Original Trailer) Gene Kelly, Liza Minnelli and Mikhail Baryshnikov host That's Dancing! (1985) featuring some of the greatest dance numbers in movie history.
Sweethearts - (Original Trailer) A bickering husband and wife stage act are manipulated into a breakup for publicity purposes in the romantic comedy, Sweethearts (1938), starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.

Family

James E Bolger
Father
House painter.
Anne Bolger
Mother
John Bolger
Great-Nephew
Actor. Had appeared on numerous daytime serial like "GUiding Light", "Another World" and "One Life to Live".

Companions

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

Bibliography

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.