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Mary William Ethelbert Appleton "Billie" Burke (August 7, 1884 – May 14, 1970) was an 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

Billie Burke in 1909
Known as Billie Burke, she toured the U.S.marker 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 Londonmarker's historic West Endmarker.

She wanted to be a stage actress. In 1903, she began acting on stage, making her debut in Londonmarker, eventually returning to America to become the toast of Broadwaymarker 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 Broadwaymarker 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). Burke 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 Dinner at Eight (1933)
In 1932 Billie Burke made her Hollywoodmarker 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 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 1936, MGM filmed a biopic of her deceased husband (The Great Ziegfeld), a film that won Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Actress (Luise Rainer as Ziegfeld's common-law wife, Anna Held). 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 1937 she appeared in the first of the Topper 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. Burke had worked in a film tailored to Garland just previously called Everybody Sing, in which she played Judy's histrionically hysterical actress-mother. Another star connected with Ziegfeld, Fanny Brice, appeared as the family's maid in that picture. 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 Californiamarker 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 Angelesmarker of dementia, thought to be Alzheimer's and natural causes, aged 85, in 1970 and was interred at Kensico Cemeterymarker, Valhalla, Westchester County, New Yorkmarker, survived by her daughter, Patricia, and four grandchildren.


For many years, Burke's framed photo was displayed above the exit staircase at New Yorkmarker's Ziegfeld Theatre, but it 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.





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