Billie Burke

February 12, 2009 by: admin

Billie BurkeBiography

Billie Burke (1885-1970) was born in Washington, DC, and was given the name Mary William Ethelbert Appleton Burke. She was the only child of a British-born Barnum & Bailey circus clown, William “Billy” Burke, and his wife, Blanche. Her early years were spent touring with the Circus both in America and Europe until the family returned permanently to London.


It was there, in 1903, that she made her stage debut at the age of 17. She then appeared in several musical comedies with Charles Hawtry. A dainty redhead, she attracted popular attention although, at first, more for her beauty than her performances. In 1907, Charles Frohman took her back to the US where, in his Broadway production of My Wife, she played the innocent Beatrice Dupre opposite John Drew. Her acting career then really took off and, over the next seven years, she toured extensively in Frohman productions and was in another eight of his Broadway shows. After the last of these, Catherine Chisholm’s Jerry, closed in April 1914, she married the famous impresario, Florenz Ziefeld. The following year, Frohman died.


After a short break, she returned to the stage, appearing in in plays produced by her husband, including The Rescuing Angel (1917), A Marriage of Convenience (1918) and Caesar’s Wife (1919). Her husband’s considerable wealth provided her with having the luxury of be able to spick and choose her roles over the next decade.


The stock market crash of 1929 changed that, considerably reducing their substantial fortune. She returned to full-time acting and found new fame and fortune in films. The first was A Bill of Divorcement that came out in 1932, the year in which her husband died. Over the next 30 years, she appeared in 66 films. Without doubt, the best remembered of the many characters she played was the comparatively minor role of Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, in the ever-popular Wizard of Oz (1939).


After a career in films, TV and the theatre that had extended for over 50 years, she retired to Los Angeles in 1952 and died there in 1970, aged 84.

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