Billie Burke (Mary William Ethelbert Appleton Burke)

Billie Burke

American Stage and Motion Picture Actress. She is best remembered in the role of Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, from the 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz”, and in the role of the scatterbrained Clara Topper, wife of stuffy banker Cosmo Topper, in the “Topper” series of films (1937-1941). She was married to the legendary Broadway showman, Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr, of the Ziegfeld Follies fame. Born Mary William Ethelbert Appleton Burke in Washington, DC, her father was a famed circus clown and singer who toured the United States and Europe with his family. Settling initially in London, she was introduced to the plays of London’s West End, and in 1903, she began to act on the London stage, making her original debut in “The School Girl.” She eventually returned to the United States to act on New York City’s Broadway, then considered the Stage Capitol of the world, in 1906, where she was critically well received. She began to make silent films, beginning in 1916 in the title role of “Peggy” (1916), while continuing to work the stage because she could get speaking parts. She considered herself an artist rather than just an actress. She married Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. in April 1914, with whom she would have one child, a daughter Patricia, born in 1916, and she retired in 1921 to raise her family, since the Ziegfeld family was wealthy from stock investments. When the Stock Market crashed in 1929, taking with it the Ziegfeld family fortune, she returned to acting. Her husband would die in 1932, which some biographers believe was due to his being broken after failing to achieve any return to the family’s previous level of wealth; she would not remarry. Her first major movie role was as Margaret Fairfield in “A Bill of Divorcement” (1932). She was noted for her magnificent acting in the role of Millicent Jordan in “Dinner at Eight” (1933), playing the part of a daffy wife of a New York society noted businessman whose shipping company was in financial trouble. This particular role helped to revive her acting career, and she would continue to find roles as a ditzy, feather-brained high society matron. Her role as the scatterbrained Clara Topper was warmly received, which helped the film spin off into two sequels. In 1938, she received her only Oscar nomination, for her role as Emily Kilbourne in “Merrily We Live” (1938). But in was in her role as Glinda the Good Witch of the North in 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz” for which is most remembered by audiences around the world. In the next decade of the 1940s, she made 25 films, but in the 1950s, this declined to only six films as she was unable to find as many older roles that fit her. She did make the transition to television, with her first appearance on that medium in 1952. She would continue to have small roles and make guest appearances in both films and television over the next several years. She made her final movie appearance at age 75, in the film “Sergeant Rutledge” (1960), after which she retired again, and spent the remainder of her life in Los Angeles, California. She died there of natural causes in May 1970, at the age of 85.

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  • August, 07, 1884
  • Washington, D.C.


  • May, 14, 1970
  • Los Angeles, California

Cause of Death

  • natural causes


  • Kensico Cemetery
  • Valhalla, New York

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