Burke, Billie

Burke, Billie
   Mary William Ethelbert Appleton was born in Washington, D.C., but spent her childhood in England, where her father was a popular circus clown. On stage as Billie Burke, she made her first appearances with Charles Hawtrey and in a series of successful British musicals before producer Charles Frohman hired her to play opposite John Drew in My Wife (1907). She subsequently acted in a series of successful productions, including Love Watches (1908), Mrs. Dot (1910), The Mind-the-Paint Girl (1912), The Amazons (1913), The Land of Promise (1914), and Jerry (1914) for Frohman and remained under his management until his death aboard the Lusitania in 1915. In 1914, Burke married showman Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., but she worked for other producers in A Marriage of Convenience (1918), Caesar's Wife (1919), The Intimate Strangers (1921), and Rose Briar (1922). Finally, under her husband's management, Burke starred in her only Broadway musical, Annie Dear (1924).
   When Ziegfeld lost his fortune in the 1929 stock market crash, Burke went to work in motion pictures, becoming one of the best-loved character actresses from the dawn of sound into the 1950s, appearing in such classics as A Bill of Divorcement (1932), Dinner at Eight* (1932), and most enduringly as Glinda, the Good Witch, in The Wizard of Oz (1939), a role she said reminded her of the lighthearted parts she had played in her early stage career. Burke's final Broadway appearance was in Mrs. January and Mr. X (1944). She continued to act on tour, including the national company of The Solid Gold Cadillac,* in stock and on radio and television* until she retired.

The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater. .

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