Burke, Billie, 1885-1970

Alternative names
Birth 1885-08-07
Death 1970-05-14

Biographical notes:

American actress of stage and screen.

From the description of Billie Burke collection, 1910-1957. (Boston University). WorldCat record id: 70965264

Florenz "Flo" Ziegfeld was a theatrical impressario who perfected a form of the musical comedy revue, the Follies, regarded as the pinnacle of the field, while he himself became a legendary figure, making and losing several fortunes, and marrying two of his biggest stars, Anna Held and Billie Burke.

Born in Chicago in 1869, son of a classical musician and a music teacher, "Flo" Ziegfeld chose a career in popular entertainment, first as a booker of vaudeville acts and later as a producer of plays designed mainly to showcase the talents of his first wife Anna Held. He found his niche as producer of the Follies, beginning in 1907 and offering new editions annually or semi-annually until 1931. Although the Follies was best known for its lavish sets and beautiful women, Ziegfeld was adept at discovering and developing comic talent, and presented such top comedians as Fanny Brice, Bert Williams, Will Rogers, W.C. Fields, Eddie Cantor, and many others.

Ziegfeld's second wife, Billie Burke, was born into a theatrical family in Washington, D.C., in 1885, and made her stage debut at 18. Soon astar, Billie Burke alternated between the stage and films, and married Florenz Ziegfeld in 1914. She retired from acting in 1921 to raise their daughter Patricia, but resumed work after her husband was wiped out in the 1929 stock market crash, appearing in such films as DINNER AT EIGHT (1933), TOPPER (1937), and THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939), as Glinda. Billie Burke died in 1970 at the age of 85.

From the description of Flo Ziegfeld-Billie Burke papers, 1907-1984. (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 122533473

Florenz Ziegfeld (1867-1932) has become a mythical figure in the annals of American show business. Born in Chicago, the son and namesake of a classical musician and music teacher, he opted for a career in popular entertainment, first as a booker of vaudeville acts and later, as the producer of a number of plays mainly to showcase the talents of his first wife Anna Held. He found his true niche as the synthesizer of a form of revue which became known as the Follies . Produced without a thought to expense, the Follies were the benchmark against which other producers' revues were measured. From the first Follies in 1907 to the last lavishly produced under his aegis in 1931, he succeeded in perfecting the form and making his shows the launching pad for such talented performers as Nora Bayes, Marilyn Miller, W. C. Fields, Will Rogers, Eddie Cantor, Bert Williams, Fanny Brice, amid countless others. In addition to the Follies, Ziegfeld presented a number of book musicals, the most famous of which was Show Boat, long considered the watershed in the development of the American musical form.

Billie Burke (1885-1970) was born Mary William Ethelburt Burke in Washington, D.C., the daughter of a charismatic singing clown with the Barnum and Bailey Circus named Billy Burke and a fortyish widow with four children. Their only child was a red-headed girl, who was nicknamed "Billie" for her father. Mrs. Burke became the quintessential stage mother, pushing her daughter on the stage at an early age. After attending school in England and France, Billie made her debut at the age of 14 in a London musical titled The School Girl . Gradually getting more and more substantial parts, she was spotted by American producer Charles Frohman, who lured her and her mother to New York with an offer to play opposite the matinee idol John Drew in the play My Wife . From this point on, she starred in a number of Broadway productions under Frohman's management, but after her marriage to Florenz Ziegfeld in 1914, her husband became her manager. In 1916, she began a movie career simultaneously with her stage performances and by the arrival of talking pictures, she shuttled back and forth from the movies to the stage during the rest of her career. Her most famous movie roles were as Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz and as the wife of Cosmo Topper in the famous film series Topper . She wrote her autobiography With a Feather on my Nose in 1949 and a book of self-improvement With Powder on My Face in 1959.

From the guide to the Flo Ziegfeld-Billie Burke papers, 1907-1984, (The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.)

Anna Held was born March 8, 1873 in Warsaw, Poland. At about seven years old she immigrated to Paris, France with her parents. After the death of her father, Anna and her mother moved to London, England where she soon began her career on the stage. Anna Held's first husband was Maximo Carrera, a South American businessman whom she met in Paris. By that time she was already a musical comedy star and had attracted the eye of Florenz Ziegfeld, who signed her to a contract to tour America. She moved to the United States leaving her husband and daughter, Liane in Paris. After completing the tour she starred on Broadway for Ziegfeld.

In 1897 Anna Held divorced her husband and married Ziegfeld. In 1912, she divorced Ziegfeld who then married Billie Burke. Anna Held died on August 2, 1918 leaving her entire estate to her daughter Liane.

In 1976 Liane Carrera opened the Anna Held Museum in San Jacinto, California. She devoted the rest of her life to telling the story of Anna Held. Liane Carrera died in 1988.

From the guide to the Anna Held Museum papers, 1897-1987, (The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.)


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  • Motion pictures--California--Los Angeles
  • Theater--United States
  • Motion picture industry
  • Theater
  • Motion pictures
  • Theater--New York (State)--New York
  • Musical theater
  • Radio scripts


  • Actresses--United States
  • Motion picture actors and actresses--United States
  • Actors


  • New York (State)--New York (as recorded)
  • California--Los Angeles (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)