20 Facts About Oz’s Bewitching Billie Burke

This month, we present some interesting information about actress-comedienne Billie Burke, who portrayed Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, in the classic film.

Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, in The Wizard of Oz serves as Dorothy’s benevolent protector against the threatening danger of the Wicked Witch of the West. Here are 20 tidbits about Miss Burke that may surprise and amuse you.

  1. She was born on August 7, 1884. That makes her 54 years old at the time of making The Wizard of Oz, although her character looks ageless thanks to age-defying make-up tricks.
  2. She was a native of Washington, D.C. but received her schooling in London.
  3. Her given name was Mary but she was nicknamed Billie, after her father William “Billy” Burke, a famous circus clown from whom she learned the art of pantomime.
  4. Originally, she aspired to be a writer. Even at the time of The Wizard of Oz, she wanted to try her hand at newspaper journalism because she believed it to be the most romantic of all professions.
  5. She first appeared on stage in England doing impersonations of well-known British stars before playing in the musical-comedy operetta, The School Girl in 1903.
  6. Upon returning to the United States, Burke was cast in leading roles in Broadway productions and became one of New York’s outstanding stars and couture trendsetters.
  7. She was noted for her Gibson Girl good looks and melodious diction, which could slip in and out of an English accent at will. However, she was best remembered for her distinctive red hair.
  8. She was married to Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld, who founded the “Ziegfeld Follies” stage revue. They were wed in 1914 and remained married until Ziegfeld’s death in 1932.
  9. Burke made the transition from the Broadway stage to silent films, debuting in Peggy (1915). She enjoyed great success in the new medium and, later, in talking pictures.
  10. She reinvented herself as a dithering comedienne for Dinner at Eight in 1933. Burke was so effective that she became synonymous with playing upper-society matrons who seem detached from reality.
  11. She had hoped that her daughter Patricia, born in 1916, would have inherited Florenz Ziegfeld’s genius for the stage. But Patricia chose writing and radio reporting as her professions.
  12. In 1936, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios released The Great Ziegfeld, a biographical film about Burke’s husband. The film won the year’s Academy Award for Best Picture, with actress Myrna Loy portraying Billie Burke.
  13. Burke received an Academy Award nomination—her first and only—as Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her portrayal of society matron Mrs. Emily Kilbourne in the 1938 Hal Roach film Merrily We Live.
  14. Before co-starring in The Wizard of Oz, Billie Burke and Judy Garland appeared together in the film Everybody Sing (1938), playing mother and daughter.
  15. When scriptwriters on The Wizard of Oz blended the two good witches Dorothy encounters in the original novel, Burke was a physical match. One witch was handsome but elderly and the other, Glinda, was a timeless beauty with flowing red hair.
  16. When making The Wizard of Oz, Burke was perceived as aloof or unsociable according to the memories of some of the Munchkin players. In reality, however, Burke was considered to be extremely timid and shy.
  17. She was a health and exercise advocate and enjoyed tennis and swimming.
  18. Her numerous radio credits include The Billie Burke Show, a situation comedy that aired on Saturday mornings from 1943 to 1946.
  19. She fulfilled her writing aspirations and authored two memoirs (along with ghostwriter Camron Shipp) entitled With a Feather on My Nose (1949) and With Powder on My Nose (1959).
  20. Billie Burke passed away on May 14, 1970, having had a prolific career as a stage performer, Hollywood actress, radio personality, author, and wife, and mother.