A active character performer for decades next movie, Burke died in California in 1970. The daughter of a circus clown, Burke was immersed in show business from her first years. She made her stage debut in 1902, performing as a vocalist in London’s Pavilion Music Hall. Standing out with her reddish hair and great comedic timing, Burke shortly made her back to America and on to Broadway in My Wife (1907).
On New Year’s Eve in 1913, Burke got the attention of Florenz Ziegfeld, an American impresario who’d gained wide acclaim for his theatrical revues, the Ziegfeld Follies. The two wed on April 11, 1914. Though Burke was a gifted performer, her star power was certainly augmented by the union.
An accomplished stage performer, Burke also appeared in films. In 1916, she made her big screen debut in the movie Peggy, where she played the lead character. Other movies followed, but Burke was focused on the stage, not movies, when her husband died in 1932. Nevertheless, Ziegfeld left behind large debts, so monetary concerns led to Burke making a return to the big screen in the early 1930s. For the remaining decade, Burke appeared in numerous pictures, receiving an Academy Award nomination as best actress in a supporting part for her work in Merrily We Live (1938).
The largest hit for Burke came in the 1939 smash The Wizard of Oz, in which she played the iconic character of Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. On the basis of the favorite book series by L. Frank Baum, the movie starred Judy Garland and went on to become one of the most successful films in Hollywood history. During the following two decades, Burke was steadily applied as an actor. She found her niche in comedic movies, frequently playing stumbling, aristocratic kinds. Her final film was a John Ford-directed western, Sergeant Rutledge (1960).