Mary William Ethelbert Appleton Burke, or “Billie” for short, began acting professionally in the early 20th century, but modern audiences primarily know her as Glinda the Good Witch of the North in the much-beloved film, The Wizard of Oz.
At the outset of her career, Billie appeared mostly on the Broadway stage. From 1907 until 1944, she appeared in two dozen shows on the Great White Way, as New York’s theatre district is often called. Billie also was the wife of Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr., of Ziegfeld Follies fame, and starred in three Ziegfeld Follies shows in 1934, 1936, and 1944. In addition, she performed on dozens of radio programs, which were a major form of entertainment in their day, as well as on numerous TV shows during the early days of television.
When Billie started acting in movies in 1907 there was no sound, (except for the piano playing along for the added enjoyment of moviegoers). Billie appeared in 16 of these silent films. When sound was introduced, she acted in approximately 60 talkies, which is what folks called sound pictures back then.
In 1938, Billie had the good fortune to be chosen to play Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, in The Wizard of Oz. Even with all of the parts she had on stage, screen, and radio, Billie is best remembered for her role in this iconic film.
She lived a rather full life. In fact, it was so packed that she wrote two autobiographies, both with Cameron Van Shippe, The first was published in 1949, and was titled, With a Feather on My Nose. Ten years later, her second, titled With Powder on My Nose, came out in print.
Billie Burke passed away in Los Angeles of natural causes at age 85, in 1970.