Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Birthday Girl: A Very Good Witch
Life is mad these days, darlings, but just getting under the wire this evening to wish a very happy birthday to this fetching creature - dear Miss Billie Burke is 129 today.
A natural on stage, Burke rose quickly to theatrical stardom, and by the time she was in her mid-20s, she was the darling of Broadway. She came by her distinctive transatlantic lilt courtesy of a lengthy stay as a girl in London, although the added trills and gurgles that make her voice so entirely her own are doubtless her own invention. While it's true that marrying the greatest impresario of the day, no less than Ziegfeld himself, raised her star even higher in the theatrical firmament, she remained very much her own woman, and when hard times hit the Follies business, she once again became the breadwinner, emerging in the early 30s and achieving screen immortality as that invaluable figure in screwball, the dizzy matron.
Today she's remembered en masse for her turn in pink ballgown and coordinating bubble in The Wizard of Oz, but for some of us she'll always our favorite silly socialite, fussing about her dinner party (at eight, you know) or leavening the potentially turgid atmosphere around the house of that daunting housewife to have next door, Mrs. Walter (Harriet) Craig.
Billie Burke's kind of stardom is unimaginable today. Pretty, dressy, and with a clever way with clever lines, she enchanted audiences relying on something that amounts to a lost virtue: charm. I know it's something of a refrain around these parts, but who today could pull that off, and for half-a-century or so?