BILLE BURKE Biography - Actors and Actresses


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Name: Billie Burke                                                                       
Born: 1885                                                                               
Died: 1970                                                                               
Billie Burke (1885-1970) was born in Washington, DC, and was given the name Mary         
William Ethelbert Appleton Burke. She was the only child of a British-born               
Barnum & Bailey circus clown, William "Billy" Burke, and his wife, Blanche. Her           
early years were spent touring with the Circus both in America and Europe until           
the family returned permanently to London.                                               
It was there, in 1903, that she made her stage debut at the age of 17. She then           
appeared in several musical comedies with Charles Hawtry. A dainty redhead, she           
attracted popular attention although, at first, more for her beauty than her             
performances. In 1907, Charles Frohman took her back to the US where, in his             
Broadway production of My Wife, she played the innocent Beatrice Dupre opposite           
John Drew. Her acting career then really took off and, over the next seven years,         
she toured extensively in Frohman productions and was in another eight of his             
Broadway shows. After the last of these, Catherine Chisholm's Jerry, closed in           
April 1914, she married the famous impresario, Florenz Ziefeld. The following             
year, Frohman died.                                                                       
After a short break, she returned to the stage, appearing in in plays produced           
by her husband, including The Rescuing Angel (1917), A Marriage of Convenience (1918)     
and Caesar's Wife (1919). Her husband's considerable wealth provided her with             
having the luxury of be able to spick and choose her roles over the next decade.         
The stock market crash of 1929 changed that, considerably reducing their                 
substantial fortune. She returned to full-time acting and found new fame and             
fortune in films. The first was A Bill of Divorcement that came out in 1932, the         
year in which her husband died. Over the next 30 years, she appeared in 66 films.         
Without doubt, the best remembered of the many characters she played was the             
comparatively minor role of Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, in the ever-popular     
Wizard of Oz (1939).                                                                     
After a career in films, TV and the theatre that had extended for over 50 years,         
she retired to Los Angeles in 1952 and died there in 1970, aged 84.