Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! In celebration of The Wizard Of Oz (1939), which premiered 75 years ago this month, today’s entry is the first in a trio of posts highlighting the careers of Dorothy Gale’s three skipping companions down the yellow brick road: Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, and Bert Lahr. (There’s been plenty of Judy on past Wildcard posts, and rest assured, she’ll be back again.) Today, we start with Ray Bolger.
Raymond Bolger was born in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts in 1904. As a young child, Bolger knew he wanted to be on stage, and by the time he was 22, he was playing the Palace Theatre in New York. He made his Broadway debut in 1926 and would spend the next decade wowing New York audiences with his athletic dancing and limber legs. Among his most well known stage musicals are Heads Up! (1929), Life Begins At 8:40 (1934) and On Your Toes (1936). He landed his first Hollywood break in The Great Ziegfeld (1936), produced by M-G-M, which would go on to star him in his best known picture, The Wizard Of Oz (1939), in which he played the brain-seeking Scarecrow.
He spent the next decade alternating between the stage and the screen, finding time in between to entertain the troops on USO Tours. In 1948, Bolger starred in his biggest Broadway hit, Where’s Charley? (1948), in which he introduced the iconic “Once In Love With Amy.” In the early ’50s, he turned his sights to television, starring for two years in Where’s Raymond (1953-1954, ABC), which later became The Ray Bolger Show (1954-1955, ABC) in its second season. Aside from two less successful Broadway comebacks in the ’60s, Bolger spent the last three decades of his life making guest appearances on television shows and performing in the nightclub circuit. He was and will always be remembered for the pathos, humor, and charm he brought to the Scarecrow.
Because Bolger’s early Broadway career was before the age of cast albums, little audio or visual elements exist of the dancer in his prime. Here’s a photograph of Bolger and Doris Carson in Rodgers & Hart’s brilliant On Your Toes (1936).
I shared this radio recording of Bolger performing “Ev’rything I’ve Got” from By Jupiter (1942), in a past Musical Theatre Monday post. Here it is again. (Wish we had a video!)
Unfortunately, no cast album was made of the original Where’s Charley?, but Bolger did eventually record two numbers, and later starred in the 1952 film adaptation. Here’s his performance of “Once In Love With Amy.”
Interestingly, Bolger also performed the number live on a January 1951 episode of Tallulah Bankhead’s radio program, The Big Show (1950-1952, NBC).
Unfortunately, most of his sitcom work hasn’t been seen since the mid-’50s, but here’s an episode from the first incarnation of the show, Where’s Raymond? This episode, known as “Redecorate The Coffee Shop,” aired February 18, 1954, and involves Ray’s attempts to fix-up the coffee shop that he’s been charged to oversee for a day. (This is single camera.)
From the second incarnation, titled The Ray Bolger Show and shot with multi-cameras in front of a live audience, here’s a clip from the December 3, 1954 episode, “Ray Helps Young Married Couple,” in which Bolger performs a mad charleston to “Ain’t She Sweet?” with beloved character actress Verna Felton (then starring in CBS’s December Bride.)
Bolger penultimate Broadway show was Adams and Strouse’s All American (1962), in which he played an engineering professor who use s his strategies to bring the college’s football team to victory. Here’s Bolger with “I’m Fascinating” from the Original Broadway Recording.
To wrap up this post, here’s a clip from Bolger’s guest appearance on the March 1, 1964 episode of The Judy Garland Show (1953-1964, CBS), in which Judy and Ray reminisce and sing a bit from The Wizard Of Oz.
Come back next Wednesday for a post on Jack Haley! And tune in tomorrow for more Xena!