Monday, August 7, 2017

Born Today August 7: Billie Burke


Stage and Film actor Billie Burke was born as Mary William Ethelbert Appleton Burke in Washington D. C. on this day.  Burke's father Billy, from whom so obtained her nickname, was a professional clown and singer who worked for Barnum & Bailey Circus; young Mary travelled with him on tours.  Somehow, her family wound up settling in London, England.  There she was exposed to the theater and evertually made her own stage debut in 1903.  This lead to her debut on Broadway back in New York and to her stardom there.  Her specialty was musical comedy.  While playing on Broadway, she met and married the extremely influential stage producer Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.  She made her silver screen debut in 1915 acting in Peggy (the film was released in 1916).  From that time on, until the very early 1920's, she made regular appearances in film.  Finding silent film work unfufilling, she returned to the stage in 1921; but when the family fortune was wiped out by the stock market crash in 1929 (and with the coming of talking pictures), she returned to the silver screen.   Her next film appearance came in the full sound early talkie Glorifying The American Girl in 1929 in a bit part.  Her next film, A Bill Of Divorcement (1932)--a George Cukor film, fully realized her Hollywood revival, and she once again became a film star.  One role that she is well remembered for today is that of Mrs. Clara Topper in the "Topper" film franchise (which started in 1937).  The one role that she is by far and away most famous for is that of Glinda--The Good Witch Of The North in The Wizard Of Oz.  She went into radio work as well, at one point having her own show.   Burke made her television debut in 1950 in the early horror series Lights Out (itself developed from a radio show) in the episode Dr. Heidegger's Experiment.  She continued to work until about 10 years before her death at the age of 85.  Her two last appearances in film came in Sergeant Rutledge and Pepe.  Burke died from natural causes on the 14th of May in Los Angeles.  She is buried in Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York.  

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