... he died on January 15, 1987 of bladder cancer five days after his 83rd birthday.
-----Raymond Wallace "Ray" Bolgera star of stage and screen, is best remembered for his portrayal of the Scarecrow and Kansas farmworker Hunk in the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz.
Bolger was born Raymond Wallace Bolger in Dorchester, a section of Boston, Massachusetts, He was inspired by the vaudeville shows he attended when he was young to become an entertainer himself.
He began his career by creating the act "Sanford & Bolger" with his dance partner. In 1926, he danced at New York City's Palace Theatre, the top vaudeville theatre in the country. His limber body and ability to ad lib movement won him many starring roles on Broadway in the 1930s. Eventually, his career would also encompass film, television and nightclub work.
Bolger's Broadway credits included Life Begins at 8:40, On Your Toes, By Jupiter, All American, and Where's Charley?, for which he won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical and in which he introduced "Once in Love with Amy," the song often connected with him. He repeated his stage role in the 1952 Technicolor film version of the musical.
Bolger's film career began when he signed a contract with MGM in 1936. His best-known film appearance prior to The Wizard of Oz was The Great Ziegfeld from 1936 in which he portrayed himself. But he also appeared in Sweethearts, the first MGM film in Technicolor, starring Nelson Eddy, Jeanette MacDonald, and Bolger's future Oz co-star, Frank Morgan - as well as the 1937 Eleanor Powell vehicle Rosalie, which also starred Eddy and Morgan.
But it all comes back to the Scarecrow. Bolger's M-G-M contract stipulated that he would play any part the studio chose; however, he was unhappy when he was cast as the Tin Man. The Scarecrow part had already been assigned to another lean and limber dancing studio contract player, Buddy Ebsen.
In time, the roles were switched. While Bolger was pleased with his role as the Scarecrow, Ebsen was struck ill by the powdered aluminum make-up used to complete the Tin Woodman costume. The powdered aluminum badly coated Ebsen's lungs, leaving him near death. Ebsen's illness paved the way for the Tin Woodman role to be filled by Jack Haley.
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Whenever asked as to whether he received any residuals from telecasts of the 1939 classic, Bolger would reply: "No, just immortality. I'll settle for that."
He was good friends with actress Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West, until her death, and gave a eulogy at her memorial service. Judy Garland often referred to Bolger as "My Scarecrow." Upon the death of Haley, Bolger said, "It's going to be very lonely on that Yellow Brick Road now."