Ray Bolger

Ray Bolger

Ray Bolger, c. 1942
Born Raymond Wallace Bolger[1]
(1904-01-10)January 10, 1904
Dorchester, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died January 15, 1987(1987-01-15) (aged 83)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death Bladder cancer
Resting place Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City
Occupation vaudevillian
Years active 1922–1985
Known for Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz
Religion Roman Catholic
Spouse(s) Gwendolyn Rickard (m. 1929–1987; his death)

Ray Bolger (born Raymond Wallace Bolger; January 10, 1904 – January 15, 1987)[2] was an American actor, singer, and dancer of vaudeville, stage (particularly musical theatre) and screen best known for his portrayal of the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz.[2]

Early life

Raymond Wallace Bolger was born into a Roman Catholic family of Irish descent in Dorchester, Boston, the son of Anne C. (née Wallace) and James Edward Bolger.[3][4]

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 U.S. 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.[5] In 1932 he was elected to the famous theater club, The Lambs.[6]


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, and Frank Morgan. He also appeared in the 1937 Eleanor Powell vehicle, Rosalie, which also starred Eddy and Morgan. Following Oz, Bolger moved to RKO.[7]

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. One day during this period the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and Bolger's performance was interrupted by President Roosevelt's announcement of the news of the attack.[8] Bolger toured in USO shows with Joe E. Lewis in the Pacific Theater during World War II, and was featured in the United Artists war-time film Stage Door Canteen.

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") who teaches children that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it all "depends on how you look at things".[7]

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.[9] Also in 1952 he made April in Paris with Doris Day.

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).[10] He continued to star in several films, including Walt Disney's 1961 remake of Babes in Toyland.[7]

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 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 shows such as Battlestar Galactica and Fantasy Island. His last television appearance was on Diff'rent Strokes in 1984, three years before his death.[7][11]

In his later years, he danced in a Dr Pepper television commercial, and in 1985, he and Liza Minnelli, the daughter of his Oz co-star Judy Garland, starred in That's Dancing!, a film also written by Jack Haley, Jr., the son of Jack Haley, who portrayed the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz.[7]

In 1998, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.[12]

He was a Roman Catholic, and a member of the Good Shepherd Parish and the Catholic Motion Picture Guild in Beverly Hills, California.[13]

Bolger was a staunch Republican who campaigned for Richard Nixon in 1968.[14]

The Wizard of Oz

Bolger as the Scarecrow, 1939
Margaret Hamilton, Ray Bolger and Jack Haley reunited in 1970

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 lean and limber dancing studio contract player, Buddy Ebsen. In time, the roles were switched. While Bolger was pleased with his role as the Scarecrow, Ebsen was struck ill by the powdered aluminum make-up used to complete the Tin Woodman costume. The powdered aluminum badly coated Ebsen's lungs, leaving him near death. While Ebsen recuperated from his illness, Jack Haley was instead cast in the role of the Tin Woodman. Meanwhile, Bolger's face was permanently lined by wearing the Scarecrow's makeup.[15]

Whenever asked whether he received any residuals from telecasts of the 1939 classic, Bolger would reply: "No, just immortality. I'll settle for that."[16] He was good friends with actress Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West, until her death, and gave a eulogy at her memorial service in 1985. Judy Garland often referred to Bolger as "My Scarecrow". Upon the death of Haley in 1979, Bolger said, "It's going to be very lonely on that Yellow Brick Road now."


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

Bolger died of bladder cancer on January 15, 1987 in Los Angeles, five days after his 83rd birthday.[2] He was interred at Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City in the Mausoleum, Crypt F2, Block 35.[17] He was survived by his wife of over 57 years, Gwendolyn Rickard. They had no children.[18]

At the time of his death, he was the last surviving main cast member of The Wizard of Oz.[19]



Short Subjects:

Stage work


  1. https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:F46L-CPJ
  2. 1 2 3 Glenn Fowler (January 16, 1987). "Ray Bolger, Scarecrow in 'Oz' Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved June 5, 2008.
  3. https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M22C-B6N
  4. https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FHF7-R3Z
  5. "Ray Bolger profile at". Filmreference.com. Retrieved September 18, 2012.
  6. http://www.The-Lambs.org
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 Ray Bolger at the Internet Movie Database
  8. Lerner, Al. 2007. Vamp 'Til Ready
  9. Ray Bolger at the Internet Broadway Database
  10. "Where's Raymond?, The Ray Bolger Show". ctva.biz. Retrieved March 14, 2011.
  11. Lucy E. Cross. "About Ray Bolger". Retrieved June 12, 2011.
  12. Palm Springs Walk of Stars by date dedicated, palmspringswalkofstars.com; accessed September 26, 2014.
  13. Church of the Good Shepherd: Our History, goodshepherdbh.org; accessed September 26, 2014.
  14. http://www.pophistorydig.com/topics/1968-presidential-racerepublicans/
  15. The Making of The Wizard of Oz, books.google.ca; accessed September 27, 2014., by Aljean Harmetz; published 1977.
  16. Jane Albright (2008). "Return to Oz & 50th Anniversary of MGM Film". The Oz Reference Library. Archived from the original on April 19, 2008. Retrieved June 5, 2008.
  17. Ray Bolger at Find a Grave
  18. Adelman, Gary (2008). "Ray Bolger in The Wizard of Oz as the Scarecrow". Kansas Wizard of Oz 'N More. Retrieved June 5, 2008.
  19. Masterworks Broadway – Ray Bolger, Lucy E. Cross
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