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I have mixed feelings about Ray Bolger. He was an extremely talented
dancer, who incorporated very witty physical comedy into his dance
routines. He was also quite talented as a verbal comedian. I always
enjoy watching him in a movie or in one of his rare TV appearances.
Unfortunately, as a human being, Ray Bolger was a real S.O.B. Many,
many people who worked with him had war stories about Bolger. In 'The
Wizard of Oz', Bolger was originally cast as the Tin Woodman (a more
appropriate choice than the Scarecrow, given Bolger's Massachusetts
accent) and Buddy Ebsen was cast as the Scarecrow (an excellent choice,
given Ebsen's folksy accent and his loose-limbed dance routines). When
Bolger saw the stiff costume he was required to wear as the Tin
Woodman, he bullied Ebsen into switching roles with him ... and Ebsen
nearly died when he developed an allergic reaction to the Tin Woodman's
metallic make-up. When Ray Bolger starred in "Where's Charley?" on
Broadway, one night he blew a cue onstage in a dance number, in front
of an audience ... so he deliberately tripped his leading lady,
Beverley Bozeman, sprawling her on the stage and leaving her to figure
out how to save the number with the audience watching. During a guest
appearance on the TV show 'Nanny and the Professor', Bolger angrily
berated a child actor who blew a cue, reducing the child to tears in
front of the entire cast and crew. On the closing night of Bolger's
last Broadway show 'Come Summer', Bolger delivered an angry curtain
speech to the audience that is still remembered for its
mean-spiritedness. In fairness to Bolger, one person who has spoken
well of him was his friend William F Buckley Jnr, who knew him socially
... but Mr Buckley never worked with Bolger.
(I will give Ray Bolger fair credit where it's due. During World War Two, he quit his starring role in the hit Broadway musical 'By Jupiter' and went to the south Pacific war zone, where he risked his life entertaining US army troops under fire.)
The early TV show "Where's Raymond?" was a star vehicle for Ray Bolger, its title deliberately chosen to echo Bolger's triumph in his hit stage musical "Where's Charley?" (and the film version). "Where's Raymond?" was something of a blend between a variety show and a situation comedy: each episode was a build-up to one of Bolger's glorious dance numbers, but a flimsy plot was built around this. Bolger played Raymond Wallace, a dancer-comedian who starred in his own live TV show (this was the fictional show within the show). To justify the title "Where's Raymond?", Bolger's character had a penchant for being late, never showing up at the TV studio until just in time to do his performance without getting any cues. The director and the floor manager (i.e., the actors playing those roles in the show within the show) went into conniption fits every week, invariably convinced that this week Raymond wouldn't show up in time to go on. But of course he always did. The real director of this series was John Rich, who later did significant work as producer of 'All in the Family'.
Bolger's dance routines are so enjoyable that I can overlook all the unpleasant stories I've heard about him ... but then I never had to work with him. I'll rate "Where's Raymond?" 5 points out of 10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I recently viewed an episode of this unusual series. The episode was Christmas-themed and has the thinest of plots: Ray's character decides to give a few presents around, and on the way, meets a young female friend who tells Ray what life would be like if everybody was "Ray". This allows for a interesting dream sequence that includes Ray doing an amusing dance, a dance slightly ruined by his use of black-face. Ray manages to just-about pull-it-off. The lead character is a bit on the overly-happy side. The episodes ends with a musical performance by Bolger and a group of young male children. Judging by this episode (found on a old-time TV compilation), the show was acceptable and watchable, if a little weak in the writing department. My copy is incomplete but has fine picture and sound.
Ray Bolger was an excellent dancer, as this is surely obvious. This could
also be understatement of the year. He was never given the status he
deserved, but was never bothered by it, and truly enjoyed just doing what
did best - dancing, singing and acting. However, many rumors have surfaced
over the years about him. I had the opportunity to work with him as an
in many movies. We were very close, and he was never unkind to a single
It has been said for example, that he bullied around other cast members in the Wizard Of Oz. This could not be farther from the truth. A fellow colleague who was in the Wizard with him remarked 'Mr. Bolger was always the first to make one of us laugh, and always helped others out when we had trouble with our scripts or we had trouble learning our dance routines. He sometimes even took extra time out just to sit down and work things out with us, or teach us our routines. He was like the big brother who was always there for everyone. In particular, he and fellow actor Buddy Epson were very good buddies, and he was saddened when Epson was hospitalized. He even came to visit Epson a few times. Bolger was switched parts soon after Epson's hospitalization,though happier to be the scarecrow, he felt terrible about taking the part from his friend [Epson].'
In addition, During the production of the great Broadway 'Where's Charley?', it has been rumored that he had tripped a fellow cast member. I was a very young extra who got to see all of Mr. Bolger's performances, and he had never intentionally tripped anyone. He apologized profusely if he so much as sneezed on someone by accident. He was the most kind and gentle creature around. He loved children, and would always be tweaking a nose or pulling pennies out of your ear, sometimes trying to teach you how to work your legs like he did (because all of us youngsters would beg so much!) He was a doll. A true dear doll.
We had also done a few more movies together later. He has never been anything but a fantastic teddy bear. Please, do not believe any disheartening rumors you may hear. Mr. Bolger will always remain dear to me, has always been a fantastic mentor and friend, and I hope that no rumor will allow you to form a false opinion about him.
"There are those who shall believe anything in what they hear or see around them, and there are those who believe what is in their hearts. Those who see with their hearts will never be blind, for they see with true honesty."
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