Raymond Wallace “Ray” Bolger was an American entertainer of stage and screen, best known for his portrayal of the Scarecrow and Kansas farmworker Hunk in the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz.
Bolger was born Raymond Wallace Bolger to an Irish Catholic family in Dorchester, Massachusetts, the son of Anne and James Edward Bolger. He was inspired by the vaudeville shows he attended when he was young to become an entertainer himself. He began his career in a vaudeville tab show, 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 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, 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.
Bolger toured in the USO shows with Joe E. Lewis in the Pacific Theater during World War II, was featured in the United Artists war-time film Stage Door Canteen and returned to MGM for a featured role in The Harvey Girls .