Hollywood Remains to Be Seen

Ray Bolger
1904 - 1987

Holy Cross Cemetery

Rubber-limbed dancer, singer and comedian Ray Bolger will always be best known as the Scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz" (1939).

Bolger worked a variety of jobs as a teen-ager, including bank clerk, accountant and vacuum-cleaner salesman, while taking dance lessons and making plans to become an entertainer. Bolger made his professional debut in 1922 with a musical-comedy repertory company in New England, touring and performing in small towns. He began performing in vaudeville in 1924 as half of a dance act called, "Sanford and Bolger, a Pair of Nifties." After appearing in several successful Broadway shows, Bolger made his film debut playing himself in "The Great Ziegfeld" (1936), starring William Powell, Myrna Loy and his future "Oz" co-star, Frank Morgan. Bolger also appeared with Morgan in his next two films -- "Rosalie" (1937), which starred Nelson Eddy and Eleanor Powell, and "Sweethearts" (1938), which starred Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald.

In 1938, Bolger was contacted by MGM and offered a role in "The Wizard of Oz," but the studio wanted him to play the Tin Woodsman. "It's not my cup of tea," Bolger responded. "I'm not a tin performer. I'm fluid." Bolger wanted to appear in the film, but he desperately wanted the role of the Scarecrow, since it was that character that inspired him to become a performer in the first place.

As a young boy, Bolger had seen a stage production of "The Wizard of Oz," with Fred Stone in the role of the Scarecrow. Bolger later said that the moment he saw the Scarecrow leap out of a haystack on stage was a defining moment for him. "I've never forgotten it," he recalled. "That moment opened up a whole new world for me. Up until then, the theater had nothing to do with me. I was just after survival, after making a living for myself. That moment in the theater changed all that."

MGM wanted lanky dancer Buddy Ebsen for the Scarecrow, and even had Ebsen fitted for the Scarecrow's costume. But Bolger persisted, and eventually won the role, with Ebsen given the role of the Tin Woodsman. But, even though Ebsen said he would be happy with any role in the film, it was not to be. He developed an allergic reaction to the chemicals used in the Woodsman's silver makeup, spent two weeks in the hospital, and was replaced by Jack Haley. Bolger and Haley were also the highest-paid among the "Oz" actors, making $3,000 per week. Morgan, who played the Wizard, among several roles, and Bert Lahr, who played the Cowardly Lion, both received $2,500 per week. Judy Garland, who played Dorothy, received only $500 per week.

After "Oz," Bolger's film career stalled. He returned to the stage, starring in a lengthy run on Broadway in "Charley's Aunt," before returning to Hollywood to star in the filmed version of the play, "Where's Charley?" (1952). In 1953, Bolger starred in his own television sitcom, initially called "Where's Raymond?," but later re-titled "The Ray Bolger Show." He also made regular appearances on television variety shows and sitcoms, including several memorable guest appearances on "The Partridge Family" in the early 1970s, playing the grandfather of the musical clan.

Bolger is buried with his wife, Gwendolyn Rickard Bolger (1909 - 1997). They were married in 1929, and celebrated their 57th anniversary a few months before he died.

Bolger was born Raymond Wallace Bulcao on Jan. 10, 1904, in Dorchester, MA. He died on Jan. 15, 1987, in Los Angeles, CA.

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