Actress Billie Burke was born in 1884 in Washington, D.C. Burke found success on stage and on screen; after the 1932 death of her husband, Florenz Ziegfeld, she focused on movies. Burke received an Academy Award nomination in 1938; in 1939, she starred in The Wizard of Oz as Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. A busy character actress for decades after that film, Burke died in California in 1970.
Billie Burke was born Mary William Ethelbert Appleton Burke on August 7, 1884, in Washington, D.C. The daughter of a circus clown, Burke was immersed in show business from her earliest years. She made her stage debut in 1902, performing as a singer in London's Pavilion Music Hall. Standing out with her red hair and good comedic timing, Burke soon made her back to the United States and on to Broadway in My Wife (1907).
On New Year's Eve in 1913, Burke caught the eye of Florenz Ziegfeld, an American impresario who had gained wide acclaim for his theatrical revues, the Ziegfeld Follies. The two wed on April 11, 1914. Though Burke was a talented actress, her star power was undoubtedly augmented by the marriage.
An accomplished stage performer, Burke also appeared in movies. In 1916, she made her big screen debut in the film Peggy, in which she played the lead role. Other films followed, but Burke was focused on the stage, not films, when her husband died in 1932. However, Ziegfeld left behind substantial debts, so financial considerations led to Burke making a return to the big screen in the early 1930s.
Director George Cukor cast Burke in her first movie after this career shift: A Bill of Divorcement (1932), in which Katharine Hepburn made her film debut as Burke's onscreen daughter. The next year, Burke co-starred with Lionel Barrymore, John Barrymore and Jean Harlow in Dinner at Eight, a comedic hit that was written by Herman Mankiewicz, Frances Marion and Donald Ogden Stewart. For the rest of the decade, Burke appeared in an array of films, receiving an Academy Award nomination as best actress in a supporting role for her work in Merrily We Live (1938).
The biggest hit for Burke came in the 1939 blockbuster The Wizard of Oz, in which she played the iconic role of Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. Based on the popular book series by L. Frank Baum, the film starred Judy Garland and went on to become one of the most successful movies in Hollywood history.
Over the next two decades, Burke was steadily employed as an actor. She found her niche in comedic films, often playing stumbling, aristocratic types. Her final movie was a John Ford-directed western, Sergeant Rutledge (1960). Burke died on May 14, 1970, at age 85, in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles, California.
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