25 Fun Facts About Ray Bolger – Guest Blog Post by Jay Scarfone & William Stillman

Thanks to the enthusiastic reception that Oz bloggers gave to our Q&A posting last month, we have graciously been invited back to host another feature that celebrates our favorite movie—The Wizard of Oz! In deciding upon an Ozzy topic about which to write, we thought it might be amusing to highlight a singular persona from the classic movie, inspired by the individual character portraits presented in our recent book The Wizard of Oz: The Official 75th Anniversary Companion. But which character to choose? Ultimately we decided to pay tribute to the actor who portrayed the friend that Dorothy herself admits she will miss “most of all” upon her departure from the Land of Oz. Like Dorothy, it seems that everyone has a special fondness for Ray Bolger as the straw-stuffed Scarecrow searching for a brain in The Wizard of Oz. But as much as Oz fans may know and love him, here are 25 tidbits about the wonderful Mr. Bolger that may interest and even surprise readers.

  1. His birthday is on January 10.
  2. While attending Dorchester High School in his hometown of Boston, Bolger specialized in English and economics and excelled in field hockey and track events.
  3. After graduating, Bolger tried working in banks and insurance companies. He also sold vacuum cleaners before joining the Bob Ott Musical Comedy Repertoire Company and toured New England.
  4. Early in his career, he starred in two two-reel silent films produced by the Red Seal Studios in New York.
  5. While performing on stage in a production of Life Begins at 8:30, Bolger was given a screen test and, when the show closed, he relocated to Hollywood and signed a contract with M-G-M Studios.
  6. Although The Great Ziegfeld (1936) was already in production at M-G-M, special scenes were added to showcase Bolger’s famous “rubber legs.”
  7. His favorite sport was golf.
  8. His new dance routines were said to have been inspired by his dreams. Upon awakening, he would practice the steps for the rest of the night. Seeing weird shadows in his home after midnight, his new neighbors thought the place was haunted.
  9. He played guitar and also sang, as we all remember from his heartfelt rendition of “If I Only Had a Brain.”
  10. After strenuous dance routines, it was reported that he was rubbed down with towels and brushes and covered in “horse liniment,” after which trainers walked him around the movie stage until he cooled down. This procedure earned him the nickname “Race Horse.”
  11. Bolger reportedly lost nine pounds during the filming of The Wizard of Oz. His most intensive scene, an elaborate dance to accompany the song “If I Only Had a Brain,” was cut from the finished film.
  12. He hated driving a car and his wife Gwen served as his chauffeur.
  13. Bolger had a Scottie—similar in breed to “Toto”—at home during the making of The Wizard of Oz.
  14. His chief complaint while filming The Wizard ofOz was that he couldn’t hear properly through his rubber mask, which covered his ears.
  15. Bolger was an amateur astronomer.
  16. There was uncertainty about which Oz character Bolger would play in the film. For two weeks in March 1938, it was publicly announced that he would be the Scarecrow. Then he was cast as the Tin Man before switching back to the Scarecrow role.
  17. Bolger was fond of Oz co-star Judy Garland, and for Christmas 1938 he gave her a copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven—inspired by the misbehaving raven in their cornfield scenes together.
  18. Bolger’s Scarecrow make-up initially was very minimal and reflected the idea that the character was merely a human dullard capable only of monitoring cornfields.
  19. The actor always maintained that he grew up enjoying the L. Frank Baum Wizard of Oz books. In 1965, he narrated a recording of Baum’s The Scarecrow of Oz, and in 1976 he recorded a version of Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
  20. Bolger played Shirley Jones’s father in several episodes of The Partridge Family in the 1970s.
  21. Also in the 1970s, Bolger played the Scarecrow in a Wizard of Oz-themed segment for The Donny and Marie Show. The segment also featured Lucille Ball as the “Tin Woman.”
  22. After The Wizard of Oz, Bolger retained his Scarecrow costume, including the jacket, trousers, boots, gloves, and hat. He later donated the entire ensemble to The Smithsonian Institution, where it remains to this day.
  23. Bolger’s rubber Scarecrow mask was glued to his face, and it sealed off his pores preventing him from properly perspiring. After dancing, he said his face got so hot it felt like it was about to explode!
  24. The Scarecrow’s face looks like a realistically-textured burlap sack stuffed with straw. After months of filming The Wizard of Oz, the checked pattern of Ray Bolger’s make-up actually transferred to his own skin!
  25. When asked whether he regretted not receiving residuals from The Wizard of Oz, Ray Bolger replied that he got something even better: immortality.