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 second 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.) We started with Ray Bolger; this week, Jack Haley!
John Joseph Haley, nicknamed Jack or Jacob, was born in Boston in 1897. Like Bolger, Haley’s career began as a song-and-dance vaudevillian, and he made his Broadway debut in 1924. He continued to work on the stage throughout the rest of the decade. His (at first) sporadic work on the silver screen — including Vitaphone shorts — began in 1927, but Broadway was his main concern, and he appeared in musical comedies like: Follow Thru (1929), for which he also starred in the film adaptation, Free For All (1931), a forgotten work by Hammerstein and Whiting, and Take A Chance (1932), alongside Ethel Merman in her third musical. He spent the rest of the ’30s in Hollywood, where his work included Poor Little Rich Girl (1936), an amusing Shirley Temple vehicle, Pigskin Parade (1936), which marked the feature film debut of future Oz co-star Judy Garland, and Alexander’s Ragtime Band (1938), a musical film that also featured Ethel Merman.
After The Wizard Of Oz in 1939, Haley returned to New York to star in Higher And Higher (1940), the latest Rodgers and Hart musical. For the next few years, he was once again back and forth between the coasts, finally settling down in Hollywood for the remainder of his career. His final Broadway musical was Inside U.S.A. (1948), a snappy Dietz-Schwartz revue that also starred Beatrice Lillie (and featured two youngsters: Jack Cassidy and Carl Reiner). Haley’s next two decades were spent in the real estate business, but still included the occasional television appearance. He returned to the silver screen in Norwood (1970), directed by his son Jack Haley, Jr. Haley’s final screen appearance was a cameo in New York, New York (1977). He passed away two years later, but thanks to Oz, he will never be forgotten.
Because Haley’s early Broadway career was before the age of cast albums, little audio or visual elements exist of the good natured comedian in his prime. Here’s a photograph of Haley with Ethel Merman in Take A Chance (1932), where they duetted together with “You’re An Old Smoothie.”
Miraculously, Haley recreated Follow Thru (1929) for the big screen, where he introduced “Button Up Your Overcoat” alongside Zelma O’Neal, who also appeared in the original production.
Here Haley serenades us with “You Do The Darndest Things, Baby” from Pigskin Parade (1936).
He’s joined by Ann Sothern for this really fun number, “Danger — Love At Work” from the 1937 film of the same name.
Haley was good friends with comedian Fred Allen, and appeared several times on the latter’s radio show. This particular episode aired on October 26, 1947.
The biggest hit from Inside U.S.A. (1948), and one of the few numbers recorded, was “Rhode Island Is Famous For You.” Here’s Haley’s original recording.
Next is a 45-minute radio interview from 1975, in which Haley discusses his radio career (among other things).
And of course, we must end on The Wizard Of Oz (1939). Haley reunited with Bolger and Margaret Hamilton in 1970. Here is a picture of the occasion.
Come back next Wednesday for a post on Bert Lahr! And tune in tomorrow for more Xena!