Stars of the Silver Screen

Profile of Billie Burke

Black and white photograph of Billie Burke, 1993

We all have seen Billie Burke as one of the characters in the notable film adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz. In the film, Burke had portrayed the role of Glinda, the good witch of the North, and the most powerful sorceress in the Land of Oz.

However, apart from that, Billie Burke has her own role in real life. Outside the Land of Oz, Burke was an American Actress who portrayed roles in several famous films. Aside from being a sound film actress, Burke was also known in Broadway, in radio, as well as in silent films.

Billie Burke in Broadway

Billy Burke in Arthur Wing Pinero’s The “Mind the Paint” Girl

Mary William Ethelbert Appleton Burke, known as Billie Burke, was born in Washington, D.C., on August 7, 1884. She was the daughter of Blanche Beatty and Billy Burke, a clown, and singer for the Barnum and Bailey Circus. Earlier in her life, Burke had traveled to the United States and Europe together with her father. Subsequently, her family chose to settle in London, where she had attended several plays in the West End.

In 1903, she then began her acting on stage and had her debut in an Edwardian musical play called The School Girl. Following that, she also appeared in other shows, including the 1903s The Duchess of Dantzic, The Blue Moon (1904), and several other Broadway musical comedies in America. From 1910 to 1913, Burke had also starred in plays, including Mrs. Dot, The “Mind the Paint” Girl, The Runaway, and Suzanne. After that, she also had a supporting role in Arthur Wing Pinero’s The Amazons. During that time, she met Florenz Ziegfeld, a producer whom Burke had married and had a child with. Her daughter, Patricia Ziegfeld Stephenson, later on, became an American author.

From 1919 to 1928, Billie Burke returned to stage acting despite her success in silent films. Some of the stage plays where she acted were in The Intimate Strangers, Caesar’s Wife, The Marquise, and The Happy Husband. However, she returned to screen acting in 1929, to aid her husband.

Billy Burke in Silent Films

Billie Burke in The Land of Promise (1913)

Following her Broadway appearances, Burke later signed for movies. She had her cinematic debut in the silent film, Peggy, in 1915. Her success at that time was phenomenal, in which Burke had earned the highest salary ever granted to an actress of a motion picture. After her success in 1915s Peggy, she also starred in the serial film Gloria’s Romance. In 1917, Burke had been one of the favorite silent film stars alongside Lillian Gish, Mary Pickford, Irene Castle, and Clara Kimball Young. Aside from that, she had also appeared in silent films, including The Mysterious Miss Terry, Arms and the Girl, Let’s Get a Divorce, Away Goes Prudence, The Frisky Mrs. Johnson, and Good Gracious, Annabelle in 1919.

Billy Burke in Hollywood

Despite her husband’s death in 1931, Billie Burke had continued acting in Hollywood a year later. She made her comeback in Hollywood and starred in an American pre-Code drama, A Bill of Divorcement, as Margaret Fairfield. In 1933,  Burke was cast in a comedy film along with Lionel Barrymore, John Barrymore, Marie Dressier, and Wallace Beery in Dinner at Eight, directed by George Cukor. The film was successful that it became a pivotal point in revitalizing her career as an actress.

In 1937, she also appeared in the first Topper films in which she portrayed the character of Clara Topper. After that, in 1938, Burke starred in Merrily We Live, which resulted in her only Oscar nomination. Also, in that year, she was chosen to portray the character of Glinda, the good witch in the notable musical film TheWizard of Oz, released in 1939. Following that, she was also offered the role of Aunt Pittypat in the movie Gone with the Wind, a role she had declined.Later that year, she had also appeared in the films Father of the Bride, Father’s Little Dividend, and The Man Who Came to Dinner.

Billie Burke in Radio and Television

Billie Burke in Eddie Cantor’s radio show

In her later years, Billie Burke can also be heard in several radio shows like The Billie Burke Show on CBS Radio. Her radio show was a Saturday morning show that aired from April 1943 to September 1946. This radio sitcom, sponsored by Listerine, was initially titled Fashions in Rations. Years after her radio show went off-air, Burke had appeared in the short-lived sitcom titled Doc Corckle.

In 1951, after her several guesting in radio and TV series, Burke had her own television series called At Home with Billie in 1951 that lasted until a year after. She also becomes a host in the talk show segment of And Everything Nice and Fashions on Parade. In the late 1950s, Burke retired from the show business because of her failing memory. However, in the 1960s, Sergeant Rutledge, directed by John Ford, Burke had made her final appearance.

A year later, on May 14, 1970, Burke died at the age of 85. She was buried in Kensico Cemetery in Westchester County, New York.

Tags
Back to top button
Close