Ray Bolger (Raymond Wallace Bulcao) (January 10, 1904 - January 15, 1987) was an American entertainer of stage and screen, best known for his portrayal of the Scarecrow in the 1939 MGM film The Wizard of Oz.
Ray Bolger was born and grew up in Dorchester, Massachusetts, a middle-class neighborhood. 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 $3,000 a week contract with MGM 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 Tin Man in Oz. The 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.) 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's plight, his cleverness and bravery in her rescue from the Wicked Witch of the West 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? 1953. 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 Dancing! -- a film also written Jack Haley, Jr., the son of Tin Man actor Jack Haley.
Mr. Bolger died in Los Angeles, CA, in 1987 of cancer just five days after his eighty-third birthday and was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California. By the time of his death he was the last surviving member of the main Oz cast.