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Billie Burke Glinda the Good Witch actress had an unusual voice during The Wizard of Oz.

This distinctive sound was specifically her own although a few other women came close.

By Cheryl E PrestonPublished 3 years ago Updated 2 years ago 3 min read

If the name Mary William Ethelbert Appleton Burke does not ring a bell, perhaps the name Billie Burke will. She was an actress born on August 7, 1884 and died on May 14, 1970. Her father’s name was William Billy Ethelbert Burke and her mother was Blanche Beaty Burke. There is no record of why she put Appleton in her name. Billy Burke was Blanche’s second husband so perhaps Applebee was her maiden name. “ Bille” was famous in silent and sound films as well as radio and Broadway. She was married only once to Florenz Zigfield Jr.

The couple were wed in 1914 they remained together until he died in 1932. They had one child, a daughter, Dorothy Zigfield. Billie Burke had many male suitors and was also said to have been in a lesbian affair with director Dorothy Arzner. Burke’s noteriety came from having 2 specific distinctions. She is widely known for her role as Glinda in the 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie musical The Wizard of Oz. Burke was also recognized for her odd, yet unique high pitched voice that often sounded as though she were quivering.

This speech pattern was common in actresses during Burke’s heyday but she took it to an extreme with her portrayal of Glinda in The Wizard of Oz. Her “ twang” is most noticeable when she uttered the famous line, “ Are you a good witch or a bad witch?” I wonder if Burke ever heard herself when she utilized this cagurated pattern of speech. I also ponder if anyone ever told the actress just how annoying this was?

. have been watching a lot of older black and white films lately and each time I hear that annoying voice I check to see if Billie Burke is speaking. .On a few occasions, Burke has been in a movie that I was watching and I recognized her voicr immediately. In several other films there were different women, usually blonde and who resembled Burke who were speaking and sounded a bit like her.

I am curious as to why certain speech patterns for women seem to be related to specific decades. Harriet Macgibbon who portrayed Margaret Drysdale in The Beverly Hillbillies was born in 1905 and sounded like Bette Davis who was born in 1908. Davis at times changed her voice depending on the role she was playing. For the most part, however, she, like Macgibbon sounded aristocratic, snooty, and snobby.

There also was a time when you could tell whether an actor was black or white based on their voice but today this is no longer necessarily true. Voice patterns seem to evolve over time but there has been no one to come close to being mistaken for Billy Burke as Glinda. In the 1939 film The Women which had an all female cast, Norma Shearer who portrayed Mary, had that twang when she spoke. For me it’s like someone scraping nails on a chalkboard when I hear that sound. No has close to sounding exactly like Glinda the Good Witch of the North but the similarity was there.

Burke received one nomination for an Academy Award during her career. This was for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Emily Kilbourne in In 1938 for Merrily We Live. The actress is also remembered for her appearances in the Topper film series. Her “trademark high, wavering, aristocratic speaking voice” made Burke a frequent choice for roles as spoiled dimwitted, socialites.

She was the original dumb blinde before the term was utilized on a regular basis. I’m not sure why women during that period of time all seemed to sound alike. Burke, however, will always stand alone for her portrayal as Glinda the good witch as well as her distinctive way of talking.


About the Creator

Cheryl E Preston

Cheryl is a widow who enjoys writing about current events, soap spoilers and baby boomer nostalgia. Tips are greatly appreciated.

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