Ray Bolger Had a Brain, as Well as a Brilliant Career

Raymond Wallace “Ray” Bolger was an American entertainer of stage and screen who, like virtually every other member of the cast of The Wizard of Oz, is best known for his work in that film. In Ray’s case, for his portrayal of the Scarecrow and Kansas farmworker Hunk.

Ray, like Jack Haley, the Tin Man, was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He caught the acting bug as a youngster after attending several vaudeville shows. The urge to perform was so great that Ray embarked on a career in show business and was soon one half of a dance act known as Sanford & Bolger, a Pair of Nifties. His dancing skills helped secure Ray an opportunity to perform at New York City’s legendary Palace Theatre, which at the time was the top vaudeville theatre in the country. His limber body and ability to improvise movement earned him numerous starring roles on Broadway during the 1930s.

Ray’s film career began when he signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1936. Less than two years later, Ray was given the coveted role of the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. Over the years when he was asked as to whether he received any residuals (payments) from telecasts of the 1939 film classic, Ray would reply: “No, just immortality. I’ll settle for that.” In addition to immortality, The Wizard of Oz gave Ray some lifelong friends. For instance, he was a good friend of Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West, until her death, and gave a eulogy at her memorial service in 1985. The late great Judy Garland often referred to Ray as “My Scarecrow.” Upon the death of his co-star Jack Haley in 1979, Ray said, “It’s going to be very lonely on that Yellow Brick Road now.”

Ray enjoyed a long and rich career after his appearance in The Wizard of Oz. There were countless roles in film, on stage, and on television. Toward the end of his career, he and Liza Minnelli, Judy Garland’s daughter, starred in That’s Dancing, a film scripted by Jack Haley’s son, Jack, Jr.

Ray passed away on January 15, 1987, in Los Angeles, five days after his 83rd birthday. Sadly, at the time of his death, he was the last surviving main cast member of The Wizard of Oz.