Ray Bolger

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Ray Bolger
Ray Bolger 1942.jpg
Bolger, c. 1942
Raymond Wallace Bolger [1]

(1904-01-10)January 10, 1904
DiedJanuary 15, 1987(1987-01-15) (aged 83)
Resting place Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City
Years active1922–1985
Known for Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz
Barnaby in Babes in Toyland
Gwendolyn Rickard
(m. 1929)

Raymond Wallace Bolger (January 10, 1904 – January 15, 1987) [2] was an American film and television actor, vaudevillian, singer, dancer (particularly of tap) and stage performer (particularly musical theatre) who started in the silent film era. He was a major Broadway performer in the 1930s and beyond (see below). He is best known for his role as the Scarecrow and his Kansas counterpart farm worker "Hunk" in The Wizard of Oz (1939) and the villainous Barnaby in Walt Disney's holiday musical fantasy Babes in Toyland . He was also the host of his eponymous television show, The Ray Bolger Show from 1953 and 1955, originally known as "Where's Raymond?" [2]


Early life

Bolger was born at 598 Second St., South Boston, Massachusetts into a Catholic family of Irish descent, the son of James Edward Bolger and Anne C. Wallace. [3] [4] His father James was first-generation Irish, and was born in Fall River, Massachusetts; his mother "Annie" who had a large Italian family, was born in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. [5] He grew up and attended school in the Codman Square section of Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. [6] After graduating high school he worked for a peanut company, as a bank messenger, and for the New England Mutual Life Insurance Company, before finding his way to vaudeville by gaining a role on Broadway in “The Passing Show of 1926."


Early career

His entertainment aspirations evolved from the vaudeville shows of his youth. He began his career in a vaudeville tap show, creating the act "Sanford & Bolger" with his dance partner. In 1926, he danced at New York City's legendary Palace Theatre, the premier vaudeville theatre in the United States. His limber body and improvisational dance movement won him many leading roles on Broadway in the 1930s. Eventually, his career would also encompass film, television and nightclub work. [7] In 1932 he was elected to the theater club, The Lambs [8] and performed on opening night at Radio City Music Hall in December 1932. [9]

Bolger signed his first cinema contract with MGM in 1936, and although The Wizard of Oz was early in his film career, he appeared in other movies of note. His best known pre-Oz appearance was The Great Ziegfeld (1936), in which he portrayed himself. He also appeared in Sweethearts (1938), the first MGM film in Technicolor, starring Nelson Eddy, Jeanette MacDonald. He also appeared in the Eleanor Powell vehicle Rosalie (1937), which also starred Eddy and Frank Morgan.

The Wizard of Oz

Bolger as the Scarecrow The Wizard of Oz Ray Bolger 1939.jpg
Bolger as the Scarecrow

Bolger's MGM contract stipulated that he would play any part the studio chose. However, he was unhappy when he was originally cast as the Tin Woodman in the studio's 1939 feature film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz . The role of the Scarecrow had already been assigned to another dancing studio contract player, Buddy Ebsen. In time, the roles were shuffled around. Bolger's face was permanently lined by wearing the Scarecrow's makeup. [10]

Post-Oz film career

Following The Wizard of Oz, Bolger moved to RKO Pictures. In 1941, he was a featured act at the Paramount Theatre in New York, working with the Harry James Band. He would do tap dance routines, sometimes in a mock-challenge dance with the band's pianist, Al Lerner. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and Bolger's performance was interrupted by President Roosevelt's announcement of the news of the attack. [11] Bolger toured in USO shows in the Pacific Theater during World War II, [12] [13] and appeared in the United Artists wartime film Stage Door Canteen (1943). [14]

In 1946, he returned to MGM for a featured role in The Harvey Girls . Also that year, he recorded a children's album, The Churkendoose , featuring the story of a misfit fowl ("part chicken, turkey, duck, and goose") which teaches children that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it "all depends on how you look at things".


Bolger in a publicity photo for The Bell Telephone Hour, 1963 Ray Bolger 1963.JPG
Bolger in a publicity photo for The Bell Telephone Hour , 1963

Bolger's Broadway credits included Life Begins at 8:40 (1934), On Your Toes (1936), By Jupiter (1942), All American (1962) and Where's Charley? (1948), 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 film version of the musical. [15]


Bolger appeared in his own ABC television sitcom with a variety show theme, Where's Raymond? (1953–1954), renamed the second year as The Ray Bolger Show (1954–55). [16] He continued to star in several films, including Walt Disney's remake of Babes in Toyland (1961) and smaller cameos throughout the 1960s and 1970.

Bolger made frequent guest appearances on television, including the episode "Rich Man, Poor Man" of the short-lived The Jean Arthur Show in 1966. In the 1970s, he had a recurring role as Fred Renfrew, the father of Shirley Partridge (Shirley Jones) on The Partridge Family , and appeared in Little House on the Prairie as Toby Noe and also guest-starred on other television series such as Battlestar Galactica , Fantasy Island and The Love Boat . In the late 1970s, reaching back to his Irish roots, Bolger played in a commercial for Safeway Supermarket's "Scotch Buy" brand. It covered many products ranging from canned food to paper towels to beer and cigarettes. Bolger popularized the jingle, "Scotch Buy - taint fancy but it shore is good." [17] His last television appearance was on Diff'rent Strokes in 1984, three years before his death. [18]

In his later years, he danced in a Dr Pepper television commercial, and in 1985, he and Liza Minnelli, the daughter of his Oz costar Judy Garland, starred in That's Dancing! , a film also written by Jack Haley, Jr., the son of Jack Haley, who portrayed the Tin Woodman in The Wizard of Oz.


In 1998, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him. [19]

In 2016, the City of Boston commissioned a mural in Ray Bolger's honor in the Codman Square section of the Dorchester neighborhood. [6]

Personal life

Bolger was married to Gwendolyn Rickard for over 57 years. They had no children. [20] He was a Roman Catholic, and a member of the Good Shepherd Parish and the Catholic Motion Picture Guild in Beverly Hills, California. [21]

Bolger was a lifelong Republican who campaigned for Barry Goldwater in the 1964 United States presidential election [22] and Richard Nixon in 1968. [23]

Bolger's great-nephew is actor John Bolger.

Death and legacy

Ray and Gwendolyn Bolger's grave at Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City Ray & Gwendolyn Bolger's grave.JPG
Ray and Gwendolyn Bolger's grave at Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City

Bolger was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 1986, and at the end of that year, his health deteriorated and he left his Beverly Hills home to live in a nursing home in Los Angeles. He died there on January 15, 1987, 5 days after his 83rd birthday. [2] He was interred at Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City.

At the time of his death, he was the last surviving maincredited cast member of The Wizard of Oz. [24] At Judy Garland's funeral, Bolger was the only one of her Oz costars to be present. He joined Harold Arlen, the composer of "Over the Rainbow", and his wife, Anya Taranda. They were reported as among the last remaining guests at the conclusion of the service. [25]

Whenever asked whether he received any residuals from telecasts of the 1939 classic, Bolger would reply: "No, just immortality. I'll settle for that." [26] Bolger's Scarecrow is ranked among the "most beloved movie characters of all time" by AMC and the American Film Institute. [27] [28]

For his contributions to the film industry, Bolger received a motion pictures star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. It is located at 6788 Hollywood Boulevard. [29]

In 2019, the biography More Than a Scarecrow by Holly Van Leuven was published, the first comprehensive biography of Bolger. [30] [31]


Theatrical films
1936 The Great Ziegfeld Ray Bolger
1937 Rosalie Bill Delroy
1938 The Girl of the Golden West Happy Moore(scenes deleted)
1938 Sweethearts Hans
1939 The Wizard of Oz Hunk / The Scarecrow
1941 Sunny Bunny Billings
1942 Four Jacks and a Jill Nifty Sullivan
1943 Forever and a Day Sentry(scenes deleted)
1943 Stage Door Canteen Ray Bolger
1946 The Harvey Girls Chris Maule
1949 Look for the Silver Lining Jack Donahue
1952 Where's Charley? Charley Wykeham
1952 April in Paris S. Winthrop Putnam
1961 Babes in Toyland Barnaby
1966 The Daydreamer The Pieman
1979 Just You and Me, Kid Tom
1979 The Runner Stumbles Monsignor Nicholson
1982 Annie Sound Effects ManUncredited
1985 That's Dancing! Himself - HostDocumentary film
1953–1955 Where's Raymond? Raymond 'Ray' WallaceLead role (61 episodes)
1956–1957 Washington Square Host
1958–1959 General Electric Theater Stan Maylor / Alfred Boggs2 episodes
1962 The Red Skelton Show Mayor Threadbare IIIEpisode: "The Mayor of Central Park"
1962The Little SweepStorytellerTelevision film
1966 The Jean Arthur Show Wealthy ManEpisode: "Rich Man, Poor Man"
1970–1972 The Partridge Family Grandpa RenfrewRecurring role (3 episodes)
1971 Nanny and the Professor Uncle HoraceEpisode: "South Sea Island Sweetheart"
1976 The Entertainer Billy RiceTelevision film
1976 Captains and the Kings R.J. SquibbsTelevision miniseries (Chapter I)
1977–1979 The Love Boat Andy Hopkins / Horace McDonald2 episodes
1978 Baretta Episode: "Just for Laughs"
1978 Three on a Date AndrewTelevision film
1978–1982 Fantasy Island Gaylord Nelson / Spencer Randolph2 episodes
1978–1979 Little House on the Prairie Toby Noe2 episodes
1979Heaven Only KnowsSimonTelevision pilot
1979 Battlestar Galactica VectorEpisode: "Greetings from Earth"
1981 Aloha Paradise Harry CarrEpisode: "Best of Friends/Success/Nine Karats"
1981Peter and the WolfNarratorTelevision film
1983 Peter and the Magic Egg Uncle AmosVoice, Television special
1984 Diff'rent Strokes Clarence MarkwellEpisode: "A Haunting We Will Go", (final appearance)

Stage work

Broadway productions
1926The Merry WorldPerformer Imperial Theatre
1926A Night in ParisPerformer 44th Street Theatre
1929Heads UpGeorgie Alvin Theatre
1931 George White's Scandals of 1931Performer Apollo Theatre
1934 Life Begins at 8:40 Performer Winter Garden Theatre
1936 On Your Toes Phil Dolan III, Hoofer Imperial Theatre
1940 Keep Off the Grass Performer Broadhurst Theatre
1942 By Jupiter Sapiens Shubert Theatre
1946Three to Make ReadyPerformer Adelphi Theatre
1948 Where's Charley? Charley Wykeham St. James Theatre
1951 Where's Charley? (revival)Charley Wykeham Broadway Theatre
1962 All-American Professor Fodorski Winter Garden Theatre
1969 Come Summer Phineas Sharp Lunt-Fontanne Theatre

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