Billie Burke

Billie Burke

Infobox actor
name = Billie Burke

caption = Billie Burke in the film "Topper Returns"
birthname = Mary William Ethelbert Appleton Burke
birthdate = birth date|1884|8|7
birthplace = Washington, D.C., U.S.
deathdate = Death date and age|1970|5|14|1884|8|7
deathplace = city-state|Los Angeles|California, U.S.
occupation = Film, stage actress
yearsactive = 1907 - 1960
spouse = Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. (1914-1932)

Mary William Ethelbert Appleton "Billie" Burke (August 7, 1884May 14, 1970) was an Oscar-nominated American actress primarily known to modern audiences for her role as Glinda the Good Witch of the North in the musical film "The Wizard of Oz".

Early life

Known as Billie Burke, she toured the U.S. and Europe with a circus because her father, Billy Burke, was employed with them as a singing clown. Her family ultimately settled in London where she was fortunate to see plays in London's historic West End.

She wanted to be a stage actress. In 1903, she began acting on stage, making her debut in London, and eventually returning to America to become the toast of Broadway as a musical comedy star. She was praised by "The New York Times" for her charm and her brightness.


Thanks to her representation by famed producer Charles Frohman, Burke went on to play leads on Broadway in "Mrs. Dot", "Suzanne", "The Runaway", "The "Mind-the-Paint" Girl", and "The Land of Promise" from 1910 to 1913, along with a supporting role in the revival of Sir Arthur Wing Pinero’s "The Amazons".

There she caught the eye of producer Florenz Ziegfeld, marrying him in 1914. In 1916, they had one daughter, Patricia Ziegfeld Stephenson(1916-2008). cite news |first=|last=|title=Patricia Ziegfeld Stephenson, Daughter of Legendary Broadway Impresario |url=|work= Jazz News |publisher= |date=2008-04-25 |accessdate=2008-05-11] She was quickly signed for the movies, making her film debut in the title role of "Peggy" (1916). She continued to appear on the stage, and sometimes she starred on the screen. She loved the stage more than movie-business, not only because it was her first love, but also because it allowed her to have speaking parts (impossible in silent movies). But when the family's savings were wiped out in the Crash of 1929, she had no choice but to return to the screen. In 1932 Billie Burke made her Hollywood comeback, starring as Margaret Fairfield in "A Bill of Divorcement", directed by George Cukor, though the film is better known as Katharine Hepburn's film debut (Burke played Hepburn's mother). Despite the death of Florenz Ziegfeld during the film's production, Billie Burke resumed filming shortly after his funeral.

In 1936, MGM filmed a biopic of her deceased husband ("The Great Ziegfeld"), a film that won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Actress (Luise Rainer as Ziegfeld's common-law wife, Anna Held). Burke was herself a character in the film, but she was not cast as herself. Instead, prominent actress Myrna Loy essayed the role of Burke. Coincidentally, Ray Bolger who was later cast as the Scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz" (1939) also starred as himself in the movie.

In 1933, Burke was cast as Mrs. Millicent Jordan, a scatterbrained high-society woman hosting a dinner party in the comedy "Dinner at Eight", directed by George Cukor, co-starring with Lionel Barrymore, Marie Dressler, John Barrymore, Jean Harlow and Wallace Beery. The movie was a great success, and revived Burke's career. She subsequently starred in many comedies and musicals, typecast as a ditzy, fluffy and feather-brained upper-class matron, due to her helium-filled voice.

In 1937 she appeared in the first of the "Topper" series of films, about a man haunted by two socialite ghosts (played by Cary Grant and Constance Bennett), in which she played the tremulous and daffy Clara Topper. Her performance as Emily Kilbourne in "Merrily We Live" (1938) resulted in her only Oscar nomination.

In 1938 (at age 53) she was chosen to play Glinda, "the Good Witch of the North", in the Oscar-winning seminal 1939 musical film "The Wizard of Oz", directed by Victor Fleming, with Judy Garland. Another successful series followed with "Father of the Bride" (1950) and "Father's Little Dividend" (1951), both directed by Vincente Minnelli and starring Spencer Tracy, Joan Bennett, and Elizabeth Taylor.

She wrote two autobiographies, both with Cameron Van Shippe:"With a Feather on My Nose" (Appleton 1949) and "With Powder on My Nose" (Coward McCann, 1959).

Radio and television

On CBS radio, "The Billie Burke Show" was heard on Saturday mornings from April 3, 1943 to September 21, 1946. Sponsored by Listerine, this situation comedy was initially titled "Fashions in Rations" during its first year. Portraying herself as a featherbrained Good Samaritan who lived "in the little white house on Sunnyview Lane," she always offered a helping hand to those in her neighborhood. She worked often in early television, appearing in the short-lived sitcom "Doc Corkle" (1952).

Burke tried to make a comeback on the New York stage. She starred in two short-lived productions: "This Rock" and "Mrs. January and Mr. Ex". Although Burke got good reviews, the plays did not. She appeared in several plays in California as well, although her mind became clouded, and she had trouble remembering lines. In the late 1950s, her failing memory led to her retirement from show business, although her explanation for that was, "Acting just wasn't any fun anymore."

Her last screen appearance was in "Sergeant Rutledge", a Western directed by John Ford in 1960.


Billie Burke died in Los Angeles, California of dementia, thought to be Alzheimer's and natural causes, aged 85, in 1970 and was interred at Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, Westchester County, New York, survived by her daughter, Patricia, and four grandchildren. [cite news |first= |last= |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Billie Burke Dead; Movie Comedienne; Billie Burke, Film Comedienne And Once a Stage Beauty, Dies. |url= |quote=Billie Burke, a great Broadway beauty when the century was young and later renowned as a movie comedienne, died last night at the age of 84. |publisher=New York Times |date=May 16, 1970 |accessdate=2008-05-11 ]


For many years, Burke's framed photo was displayed above the exit staircase at New York's Ziegfeld Theatre, but it curiously vanished after renovations to it. However, an opening night program, bearing a picture of Burke, from her 1912 triumph "The Mind The Paint Girl" (Sir Arthur Wing Pinero) is still displayed in the lobby of the Lyceum Theatre in New York City.


"Age is something that doesn't matter, unless you are a cheese."


* "The Ziegfeld Follies of the Air" - 1932
* "Good News of 1939" - 1938
* "The Rudy Vallee Hour" - 1939
* "The Gulf Screen Guild Theater" - 1939
* "The Rudy Vallee Sealtest Show" - 1940-41
* "The Pepsodent Show" - 1941
* "The Billie Burke Show" - 1943-1946
* "Duffy's Tavern" - 1944
* "The Sealtest Village Store" - 1944
* "Mail Call" - 1944
* "The Charlie McCarthy Show" - 1944-47
* "Tribute to Ethel Barrymore" - 1945
* "The Rudy Vallee Show" - 1945
* "Show Stoppers" - 1946
* "The Danny Kaye Show" - 1946
* "WOR 25th Anniversary" - 1947
* "Your Movietown Radio Theatre" - 1948
* "The Eddie Cantor Pabst Blue Ribbon Show" - 1948
* "Family Theater" - 1948-52
* "This Is Show Business" - 1949
* "The Martin and Lewis Show" - 1949
* "The Bill Stern Colgate Sports Newsreel" - 1949
* "Stagestruck" - 1954
* "Biography in Sound" - 1955-56


* "My Wife" - 1907
* "Love Watches" - 1908
* "Mrs. Dot" - 1910
* "Suzanne (stage show)" - 1910
* "The Philosopher in the Apple Orchard" - 1911
* "The Runaway" - 1911
* "The Amazons" - 1913
* "The Land of Promise" - 1913
* "Jerry" - 1914
* "The Rescuing Angel" - 1917
* "A Marriage of Convenience" - 1918
* "Caesar's Wife" - 1919
* "The Intimate Strangers" - 1921
* "Rose Briar" - 1922
* "Annie Dear" - 1924
* "The Marquise" - 1927
* "The Happy Husband" - 1928
* "Family Affairs" - 1929
* "The Truth Game" - 1930
* "Ziegfeld Follies of 1934" - 1934
* "Ziegfeld Follies of 1936" - 1936
* "This Rock" - 1943
* "Ziegfeld Follies of 1943" - 1943
* "Mrs. January and Mr. X" - 1944


*"Peggy" (1916)
*"Gloria's Romance" (1916)
*"The Mysterious Miss Terry" (1917)
*"Arms and the Girl" (1917)
*"The Land of Promise" (1917)
*"Eve's Daughter" (1918)
*"Let's Get a Divorce" (1918)
*"In Pursuit of Polly" (1918)
*"The Make-Believe Wife" (1918)
*"Good Gracious, Annabelle" (1919)
*"The Misleading Widow" (1919)
*"Sadie Love" (1919)
*"" (1919)
*"Away Goes Prudence" (1920)
*"The Frisky Mrs. Johnson" (1920)
*"The Education of Elizabeth" (1921)
*"A Bill of Divorcement" (1932)
*"Christopher Strong" (1933)
*"Dinner at Eight" (1933)
*"Only Yesterday" (1933)
*"Where Sinners Meet" (1934)
*"Finishing School" (1934)
*"We're Rich Again" (1934)
*"Forsaking All Others" (1934)
*"Society Doctor" (1935)
*"After Office Hours" (1935)
*"Becky Sharp" (1935)
*"Doubting Thomas" (1935)
*"She Couldn't Take It" (1935)
*"A Feather in Her Hat" (1935)
*"Splendor" (1935)
*"My American Wife" (1936)
*"Piccadilly Jim" (1936)
*"Craig's Wife" (1936)
*"Parnell" (1937)
*"Topper" (1937)
*"The Bride Wore Red" (1937)
*"Navy Blue and Gold" (1937)
*"Everybody Sing" (1938)
*"Merrily We Live" (1938)
*"The Young in Heart" (1938)
*"Topper Takes a Trip" (1939)
*"Zenobia" (1939)
*"Bridal Suite" (1939)
*"The Wizard of Oz" (1939)
*"Eternally Yours" (1939)
*"Remember?" (1939)
*"The Ghost Comes Home" (1940)
*"Irene" (1940)
*"The Captain Is a Lady" (1940)
*"Dulcy" (1940)
*"Hullabaloo" (1940)
*"And One Was Beautiful" (1940)
*"The Wild Man of Borneo" (1941)
*"Topper Returns" (1941)
*"One Night in Lisbon" (1941)
*"The Man Who Came to Dinner" (1942)
*"What's Cookin'?" (1942)
*"In This Our Life" (1942)
*"They All Kissed the Bride" (1942)
*"Girl Trouble" (1942)
*"Hi Diddle Diddle" (1943)
*"So's Your Uncle" (1943)
*"You're a Lucky Fellow, Mr. Smith" (1943)
*"Gildersleeve on Broadway" (1943)
*"The Laramie Trail" (1944)
*"Swing Out, Sister" (1945)
*"The Cheaters" (1945)
*"Breakfast in Hollywood" (1946)
*"The Bachelor's Daughters" (1946)
*"Billie Gets Her Man" (1948)
*"The Barkleys of Broadway" (1949)
*"Father of the Bride" (1950)
*"Father's Little Dividend" (1951)
*"Small Town Girl" (1953)
*"The Young Philadelphians" (1959)
*"Sergeant Rutledge" (1960)
*"Pepe" (1960)


Listen to

* [ Heritage Radio Theatre: "The Tramp" (April 27, 1946) "The Billie Burke Show" (with three other shows)]

External links

*amg name|2:9595
* [ "Much More Than a Good Witch" by Anne Fliotsos]
* [ Biography of Billie Burke by Grant Hayter-Menzies]
* [ Billie Burke as Glinda the Good Witch]
* [ postcard of Burke]
*Find A Grave|id=1315

NAME= Burke, Billie
ALTERNATIVE NAMES= Burke, Mary William Ethelbert Appleton
DATE OF BIRTH= August 7, 1884
PLACE OF BIRTH= Washington, D.C., U.S.
DATE OF DEATH= May 14, 1970
PLACE OF DEATH= Los Angeles, California, U.S.

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