Certain Hollywood actors and actresses who have had long and successful careers are largely remembered for a single role.
Such might be the case for actress Billie Burke, whose career spanned over four decades. It began with a stage appearance in London where she had toured with her father, a clown for Barnum & Bailey Circus, and included Broadway shows, movies, and plays. Her final film was released in 1960.
In 1910 she made a trip to Ohio. More specifically, she came to Mansfield to appear at the Memorial Opera House, which was attached to the Soldiers and Sailors Building on Park Avenue West. One of her first Broadway plays, Mrs. Dot, had run at the Lyceum Theatre on 45th Street in New York City from January to March, after which the company appeared for a short time in Washington. D.C. at the New National Theatre.
Her appearance in Mansfield took place in early June, just two months after the close of the Broadway production.
The Mansfield News shared news of her impending appearance, starting its notice with “Miss Billie Burke, charming Billie Burke, comes to the opera house on Thursday evening, June 2…”
The reviews were glowing. The News shared, “Frisky, at times, risquee, to a degree, Billie Burke, “dainty, delicious, delightful”… unquestionably pleased a very large audience at Memorial last evening in Mrs. Dot, a three-act comedy by W. Somerset Maugham. The Daily Shield had this commentary – “Dainty, vivacious, fascinating Billie Burke was the star attraction at the Memorial last evening and despite the distressing weather conditions the house was crowded.”
Leaving the very next morning, the company could well have run into President William Howard Taft, who made his first-ever appearance in Mansfield during a short layover on way to give a speech at Ohio Northern in Ada.
Of course, Burke’s career includes a wonderful turn as Glinda, the Good Witch of the North in the 1939 blockbuster, The Wizard of Oz, perhaps her best-known role. She went on to marry the renowned Florenz Ziegfled, Broadway impressario.
When the movie opened at the Ohio Theatre on September 16, 1939, it was in essence Burke’s return to Mansfield.
A video photo collage of Billie Burke can be viewed here.
Photo: Public Domain