Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

Billie Burke

I love that google lets me track trivia so easily. Tonight I thought of Glinda the Good, the character in the Wizard of Oz. I wondered about the life of Billie Burke, who played her in the movie.

It turns out her father was a famous circus clown. Her first husband was Florenz Ziegfield. They lived in the Hudson River Valley, with a managerie which included an elephant, bears, lion clubs, many dogs and a herd of deer. When Ziegfield died in 1932, she found that he had placed them deeply into debt, so she returned to acting. She was in her 50s when she returned to Hollywood. But she herself said that age doesn't matter "unless you are a cheese". She made 80 movies.

Unlike all the other characters, nobody in Kansas served as the counterpart to Glinda the Good. I love the way her voice trills, because it seems to me that's a good thing for Glinda the Good to do. I also like that the actress Burke said that she did not mind that she often played a scatter-brained society matron "because I might as well confess here and now that I am not always saner than I seem."

While she was relatively young, the Ziegfield biopic was made. Billie Burke was played by Myrna Loy. As her husband Ziegfield despaired towards the end of his life, he embarked
upon a series of chorus girl affairs. He died of pneumonia soon after a revival of his best musical, "Showboat", debuted. Billie Burke worked for decades to repay their debts and keep his reputation intact.

I must admit that Hollywood wins me over so often, with tales that seem so alien and yet so human to me. Lives lived in excess, grand ascensions, tragic falls, and cinematic gestures off-screen. I like that Billie Burke did not write herself off when she was penniless and of an age when many actresses are written off. She became a character actress who lived in the real world. She seemed to lack any Sunset Boulevard illusions. She said, "A woman past forty should make up her mind to be young; not her face."

I watched the Wizard of Oz each year of my childhood. I found Margaret Hamilton's Wicked Witch unbelievably frightening. I found Billie Burke's Glinda unbelievably radiant and good. It's cool to know a bit more about her, elephants and all, so I thought I'd share her with all of you as well.
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