John Joseph “Jack” Haley was an American stage, radio, and film actor best known for his portrayal of the Tin Woodman in The Wizard of Oz. He also portrayed farmworker Hickory, who appeared in the Kansas sequences, in the film.
Haley starred in vaudeville as a song-and-dance comedian. One of his closest friends was fellow vaudeville alumnus Fred Allen, who would frequently mention “Mr. Jacob Haley of Newton Highlands, Massachusetts” on the air. In the early 1930s Haley starred in comedy shorts for Vitaphone in Brooklyn, New York. His wide-eyed, good-natured expression landed him supporting roles in musical feature films like Poor Little Rich Girl with Shirley Temple, Higher and Higher with Frank Sinatra and the Irving Berlin musical Alexander’s Ragtime Band. Both Poor Little Rich Girl and Alexander’s Ragtime Band were released by Twentieth Century-Fox.
Haley returned to musical comedies in the 1940s. Most of his ’40s work was for RKO Radio Pictures. He surrendered the job in 1947 when he refused to appear in a remake of RKO’s old story property Seven Keys to Baldpate; Phillip Terry took the role.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer hired Haley for The Wizard of Oz after another song-and-dance comic, Buddy Ebsen, who was originally set to play the Tin Woodman, had a near-fatal reaction from inhaling the aluminum dust makeup. The makeup was switched to a paste, to avoid risking the same reaction by Haley. The new makeup did cause an eye infection which caused Haley to miss four days of filming, but he received treatment in time to prevent permanent damage. Haley did not take to the makeup or to the discomfort of the costume very kindly. When being interviewed about the film years later by Tom Snyder, he remarked that many people had commented that making the film must have been fun. Haley’s reply: “Like hell it was; it was work!” Haley’s natural voice was moderately gruff. For the Tin Woodman, he spoke more softly, à la “Mr. Rogers”, which he later said was the tone of voice he used when reading stories to his children. Oz was Haley’s only film for MGM.