American entertainer, 1904–1987, best known for his role of the Scarecrow
movie, The Wizard of Oz
Funny thing, though. Bolger had been hired by MGM to play the part of the Tin Man. Buddy Ebsen got the part of the Scarecrow. Bolger lobbied hard to switch roles, arguing his dancing style was more appropriate for the man made of straw. So Ebsen took the part of the Tin Man, but would leave the film entirely when he developed an allergic reaction to the silver make-up.
Although today’s Oz fans consider Bolger the definitive Scarecrow, when he took the role, he had to live up to the then definitive Scarecrow, vaudeville star Fred Stone, who had originated the role on Broadway in L. Frank Baum’s 1902 stage version. Bolger himself credited a 1920 performance of Stone as inspiring him to take up dance in the first place. Bolger consulted with Stone on the character in 1939 as the film went into production, and invited him to the film’s grand opening.
A very large pair of pants came onto the stage and did some of the most fantastic gyrations I've ever seen.
Drama critic John Anderson
Born in Boston, Raymond Wallace Bulcao learned tap dance routines while he worked at a bank, taking lessons from the night watchman, an ex-vaudevillian. Bolger became a song and dance man on the Vaudeville circuit. While he had a flair for comedy, his rubber-legged dancing style got him to Broadway in the 1930s, where he appeared in revues such as Heads Up, George White’s Scandals, Life Begins at 8:40 and Rodger’s and Hart’s On Your Toes (the latter choreographed by George Balanchine). His style caught the attention of MGM, who put Bolger on a contract. You can see him in The Great Ziegfeld and Sweethearts as a featured dancer.
After The Wizard of Oz, Bolger left MGM to return to the stage. The 1940s found him in musicals such as Keep Off the Grass, By Jupiter, and Three to Make Ready. His biggest stage success came with the lead in Frank Loesser’s Where’s Charley (1948), a musical version of the popular play, Charlie’s Aunt. At a time when Broadway shows depended on recordings for publicity, the show opened during a musician’s union strike. During the show, Bolger broke the fourth wall and urged audiences to join him in singing "Once in Love With Amy," managing to spread the music and the show’s buzz around by word of mouth. Bolger won a Tony Award for his performance, and "Once in Love with Amy" (and its requisite singalong) became a signature tune for his appearances for many years.
In the 1950's Bolger had a brief sit-com on television called The Ray Bolger Show AKA Where's Raymond and he kept appearing on Broadway and in nightclub appearances. In the 1970’s, Bolger could be seen in a round of requisite cameos on television on The Partridge Family (he was Grandpa), The Love Boat, Baretta, Diff’rent Strokes, and even Battlestar Galactica.
If you’re interested in seeing more Bolger outside his Scarecrow persona, check out the all-star wartime film Stage Door Canteen (1943), where he performs a Rodgers & Hart specialty number, "The Girl I Love to Leave Behind, " his 1946 re-teaming with Judy Garland in The Harvey Girls, or the film version of Where’s Charley?
Bolger married Gwen Rickard, a songwriter he met in vaudeville, in 1929. They stayed together 58 years until his death in 1987. Thanks to the generosity of their estate, UCLA’s Department of Theater was able to fund a Musical Theater program, which is named after Ray Bolger.
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