Billie Burke

From Academic Kids

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Mary William Ethelbert Appleton Burke (Washington, D.C., 7 August 1885 Los Angeles, California, 14 May 1970) was a pretty, delightful and funny actress primarily known to modern audiences for her role as Glinda, the Good Witch of the North in The Wizard of Oz.

Known as Billie Burke, she was just a pretty little girl when she toured the US and Europe with the circus because her father was employed with them as a singing clown. One could say that Billie was bred for show business. Her family ultimately settled in London where she was fortunate to see plays in London's historic west side. 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. There she caught the eye of theatre producer Florenz Ziegfeld, marrying him in 1914. In 1916, they had one daughter, Patricia Ziegfeld.

She was quickly signed for the movies, with her first movie, in the starring role, in Peggy in 1916. She continued to appear on both stage and screen, but when the family's savings were wiped out in the Crash of 1929, she began to concentrate on the movies. Ziegfeld died in 1932, worsening her financial situation. That next year, she starred in the delightful comedy Dinner at Eight, directed by George Cukor. This was shortly thereafter followed by the Topper series of films, about a man haunted by two alcoholic ghosts (played by Cary Grant and Constance Bennett), in which she played the tremulous and daffy Clara Topper. In 1939 she was the unforgettable Glinda, the Good Witch of the North in The Wizard of Oz, directed by Victor Fleming. Another successful series followed with Father of the Bride (1950) and Father's Little Dividend (1951), both of them with Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor.

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 also worked often in early TV, and co-starred in the notoriously short-lived sitcom Doc Corkle (1952). She wrote two autobiographies, With a Feather on My Nose in 1949 and With Powder on My Nose in 1959.

In 1960, when she retired from the show business, she said, "Acting just wasn't any fun anymore."

She died in Los Angeles, California, and was interred at Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, New York. For many years, her framed photo was displayed above the exit staircase at New York's Ziegfeld Theater.




  • The Billie Burke Show - 1943-1946


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