14 December 2002 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Great dancer, lousy human being.
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.