Los Angeles (AP) — On Thursday, Ray Bolger, who played the rubber-legged Scarecrow in the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz,” died of cancer. He was 83.
Bolger passed away at a nursing facility in Los Angeles, according to family spokesman Barry Greenberg. He was the last surviving member of the happy foursome that trotted along the Yellow Brick Road.
Who Played the Scarecrow in the Wizard of OZ
The six-decade long career of the lanky, languid Bolger on stage, movie, and television was more accurately described as that of a comedian than a dancer.
However, he will always be remembered for his portrayal of the Scarecrow in the classic 1939 film. Bolger, the man of straw, flailed around like a ragtag bundle of weeds and tattered clothing as he frantically scoured his surroundings for a brain, blissfully oblivious to his own well-stocked supply of common sense.
With Judy Garland as Dorothy, Jack Haley as the Tin Man, and Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion, this picture has remained a staple of television viewing for decades.
Jack Haley Jr., the producer whose father played the Tin Man, remarked of Ray Bolger, ′′Ray Bolger was a gentleman, a scholar, a tremendous wit and a terrific performer.
”In 1979, Ray spoke at my father’s funeral,” Haley recalled. When he described how sad he was to be on the Yellow Brick Road by himself, we were all moved. They’re all back together again; Dorothy and company.
In retrospect, Bolger has stated that he never imagined the film would go on to become a Hollywood classic.
In his own words, ′′I realised that I was taking part in a strange kind of journey. It was necessary to create all of the special effects, the soundtrack, and the Technicolor for this film. Totally novel. Reviews were overwhelmingly negative, however. The film was panned by critics.
As one critic put it, “The Wizard of Oz” was saved by the advent of television into households. The image then became part of a permanent structure. The moral of “The Wizard of Oz” is “There’s no place like home.”
Margaret Hamilton, the actress who originated the role of the Wicked Witch of the West, passed away in 1985. Actress Judy Garland, who played the teary-eyed Kansas girl, died in 1969 from an accidental overdose of sleeping pills. After Haley’s death in 1979, Lahr’s in 1967, and Frank Morgan’s as the Wizard in 1949, you have a trio of tragically early deaths.
Boston native Raymond Wallace Bolger was born on January 10, 1904, and his interest in dancing began after he failed to impress his prom date with his footwork. He was a regular at the theatre and learned some insider tips from the night guard at the bank.
He made his stage debut at an amateur performance put on by the insurance firm where he worked. Before long, he was fired for dancing in the halls.
Bolger continued his dance training and by 1924 was on the vaudeville stage, where he met Gwen Rickard, whom he married in 1929. He starred in “George White’s Scandals of 1931” for two years and received praise for his performance in “Life Begins at 8:40,” which ran in 1934 and 1935 on Broadway.
His wife, Gwendolyn, said on Thursday that he had a soft spot for the stage to CBS News. A greater portion of his career was spent on stage than on screen.
In 1936, he made his Broadway debut in George Balanchine’s final musical, ′′On Your Toes.′′ Bolger’s performance in the part, which included the tiring but critically acclaimed dance routine “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue,” was hailed as both strange and excellent.
After his success on Broadway, he moved on to Hollywood and starred in films including ‘The Great Ziegfeld,’ ‘Rosalie,’ ‘Sweethearts,’ ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ and ‘Sunny.’ However, Bolger discovered that he was limited in his ability to fully display his skills and potential. After moving back to New York City, he appeared in shows such as “Keep off the Grass,” “By Jupiter,” “Three to Make Ready,” and “Where’s Charley?”
He was instrumental in setting up USO tours of outlying bases for troops during WWII.
After being Asked if he was a Dancer, Bolger Replied that he was not.
For my first gig, a comedy club hired me, and to this day, that’s what I do. For my own safety, I trained as a dancer. To end my comic monologue, I broke into a dancing break. Since then, I’ve been pursuing a career in dance while maintaining my status as a comedian through comedy.
Nonetheless, he said, “The public appears to want me to dance, and so I dance.”
Both his pantomime humour and his unique dancing were hallmarks of his act. At 5-foot-10 and a half inches, he looked to be much taller due to his lanky, disconnected build. He would get so hot and sweaty performing that he’d need to be massaged down and cooled down afterward.
After reaching middle age, Bolger continued to perform soft-shoe and tap routines on the road for months at a time, much to the delight of audiences. He had previously performed in the NBC-TV music and comedy show ′′Washington Square′′ in the late 1950s.
In the same year that he was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame (1980), he played a gloomy dignitary of the Catholic Church in a play called “The Runner Stumbles.”
After performing in Coronado, California, one night in 1984, ′′I stepped down from the stage and there was nothing there. My right hip was bothering me. I was going to perform in another show, but I wasn’t feeling well enough, so I had to back out.
A doctor showed him X-rays of his hip – ″the cartilage was practically gone.″ An prosthetic hip joint was implanted in him.
While keeping up with the latest dancing fads, Bolger narrated a segment of the 1985 anthology film ′′That’s Dancing,′′ which included a Scarecrow dance that had been removed from ′′The Wizard of Oz.
When asked if he would ever dance again, he answered, “The doctor says there’s no reason I couldn’t.” His hip had been replaced. But I’m 80 years old; how much more dancing do I want to do?
Bolger married Gwendolyn Rickard in 1929, however they did not have any children together.
There will be a funeral Mass on Monday night at Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills, and the burial will take place at Holy Cross Cemetery on Tuesday. Thanks for read our Article Who Played the Scarecrow in the Wizard of OZ.