Billie Burke is most remembered for her role as Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz (1939), but in fact that was only one highlight in the life and career of this light-haired, lighthearted actress who had the odd distinction of seeing herself played on-screen by Myrna Loy when her own career had barely reached the halfway point (she was the widow of Florenz Ziegfeld; the film was the Oscar-winning The Great Ziegfeld 1936 , for which Burke coached Loy).
Billie Burke was born Mary William Ethelbert Appleton Burke on May 11, 1885 in Washington, D.C. As a child Billie toured the United States and Europe with her famous circus clown father. While in her teens she made her made her acting debut on the London Stage where she soon became a huge star which attracted Ziegfeld's attention. From 1916 to 1921, she starred in silent films, such as Gloria's Romance (1916),Peggy (1916), Arms and the Girl (1917), The Make-Believe Wife (1918), and The Education of Elizabeth (1921) before returning to Broadway.
When Burke's husband was wiped out in the Wall Street crash, she went back to Hollywood, and all but patented the role of the ditsy, fluttery, upper-matron. Among her numerous sound films are A Bill of Divorcement (1932), Dinner at Eight, Christopher Strong (both 1933), We're Rich Again (1934), Becky Sharp,, Doubting Thomas (both 1935), Craig's Wife (1936), Topper (1937), Parnell (1937), Merrily We Live (1938), Topper Takes a Trip, Zenobia (both 1939), Irene (1940), Topper Returns, The Man Who Came to Dinner (both 1941), In This Our Life (1942), The Cheaters (1945), The Barkleys of Broadway (1949), Father of the Bride (1950), Father's Little Dividend (1951), Small Town Girl (1953), The Young Philadelphians (1959), Sergeant Rutledge and Pepe (both 1960). When her career was at a low ebb in the late 1940s, she even starred in a couple of two-reel comedies for Columbia. She also worked often in early TV, and costarred in the notoriously shortlived sitcom"Doc Corkle" (1952). She wrote two autobiographies, "With a Feather on My Nose" in 1949 and "With Powder on My Nose" in 1959. Billie Burke died of natural causes on May 14, 1970 at the age of 84.
Copyright © 1994 Leonard Maltin, used by arrangement with Signet, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc.