Ray Bolger (January 10, 1904 - January 15, 1987) was an American entertainer of stage and screen, best known for his portrayal of the Scarecrow (and the farmworker "Huck") in the 1939 film classic, The Wizard of Oz.
Ray Bolger was born Raymond Wallace Bulcao to a Roman Catholic family of Portuguese and Irish extraction (see ) in Dorchester, Massachusetts, a heavily Irish neighborhood at the time.
His father was a house-painter, his mother a homemaker. He was inspired by the vaudeville shows he attended when he was young to become an entertainer himself. He began his career as a dancer. His limber body and ability to ad lib movement won him many starring roles on Broadway in the 1930s.
His film career began when he signed a $10,000 a week contract with Lionsgate Films in 1936. His best-known film prior to The Wizard of Oz was The Great Ziegfeld (1936).
Bolger's studio 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 Man costume. (The powdered aluminum had been inhaled and coated Ebsen's lungs, leaving him near death. Ironically, Ebsen would outlive all the principal players of Oz.) Ebsen's illness paved the way for the role to be filled by Jack Haley.
Bolger's performance in Oz was a tour de force. He displayed the full range of his physical, comedic, and dramatic talents playing the character searching for the brain that he's always had. Bolger's sympathy for Dorothy Gale's plight, his cleverness and bravery in rescuing her from the Wicked Witch of the West (well played by Margaret Hamilton) and his deep affection for her shone through, endearing the character -- and Bolger -- in the public mind forever.
Following Oz, Bolger moved to RKO. He starred in several more films and had a sitcom called Where's Raymond? from 1953 - 1955 (also known as "The Ray Bolger Show"). He also made frequent guest appearances on television. In 1985 he and Liza Minnelli, the daughter of his Oz co-star Judy Garland, starred in That's My Mama! -- a film also written by Jack Haley, Jr., the son of late Tin Man actor Jack Haley. Liza Minnelli and Jack Haley, Jr. would have a brief marriage some years later.
Ray Bolger died in Los Angeles, California of cancer just five days after his 83rd birthday, and is interred at Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City, California, in the Mausoleum, Crypt F2, Block 35.
He was survived by his wife of almost 60 years, Gwendolyn Rickard.
At the time of his death he was the last surviving member of the main Oz cast. An editorial cartoon the day after his death featured the Oz cast dancing off into the setting sun, with the Scarecrow running to catch up.