Ray Bolger — Rubber Legs (1938) 🇺🇸
Ray Bolger, dancer, is taking an awful beating from Ray Bolger, actor, these days — and both seem to be very happy about it. All his life Ray Bolger has wanted to be an actor. He started his theatrical career as an actor. He achieved his greatest success as a dancer. It was while he was making a sensational hit as a dancer in “On Your Toes,” (The Broadway musical) that M-G-M signed him for a Hollywood contract.
by Don Burr
In The Great Ziegfeld, his first picture, he danced his way into the motion picture audience’s attention.
But in Rosalie, which he recently completed he does more acting than dancing. And that makes him very happy. He sees ahead a whole new future — as an actor, despite the fact that he is known as one of the best dancers in show business.
“I consider my part in Rosalie the first important part I ever played in pictures,” he says seriously. “In playing Nelson Eddy’s buddy at West Point I realized you could make the guy look good or bad. It was a terribly important role in that respect. I hope I made him look good.
“Before I went into that picture, I hadn’t had to worry about acting problems for nearly ten years. All the intervening time was just one big hoof and mouth epic. I did the hoofing and there were always a couple of singers to do the mouthing.
Bolger owed his selection for the Rosalie part, he admits, to William Anthony McGuire, author and producer. Years ago when McGuire, then with Ziegfeld, tried to get him to hire Bolger, the great glorifier voted thumbs down. Still sold on Bolger, McGuire met him on the M-G-M lot last year. When he found the dancing comedian had just been signed by the studio, he immediately ordered a part especially for him in The Great Ziegfeld.
From this picture McGuire, more than ever sold on Bolger, moved him into Rosalie and the part he considers his most important cinema venture. The picture had many added inducements.
“For one thing,” Bolger explains, “I had always wanted to do a dance routine with Eleanor Powell. I have been sold on that girl ever since I first saw her dance. When I was in England several years ago I bought an option on a show called Mr. Cinders, for the sole reason that I saw in it a chance for a Bolger-Powell routine. Somehow or other the negotiations fell through, and I didn’t get the routine.
“But in Rosalie I did my first routine with her. And it happened to be the same routine I had planned out back in England. We made modifications, of course. But it was just about the same routine.”
Bolger is a Bostonian, who bounced into the world a few odd thirty years ago. After completing his education he bounced around New England selling vacuum sweepers. His ability as a salesman was somewhat hampered by his angular awkwardness — a characteristic which he has developed to make his personality and dancing unique on the screen.
At one time Ray had dreamed of becoming a bank president. This was when he was trying to make New England housewives vacuum-sweeper-conscious. But he couldn’t make his feet behave and so we find him joining a musical comedy repertoire company — which continued to take him into Maine, Vermont, etc. This theatrical apprenticeship led him into big time vaudeville — and eventually on the New York stage in hit musical shows.
And now his feet are taking him places on the screen. Like Fred Astaire (Ray has more eccentric steps in his routine than Fred) he dances in his sleep — and while dreaming of dancing he climbs out of bed to practice the steps that come to him in the dream world.
After giving us a bit of his background, Ray continued: “Rosalie gave me my chance to handle a football and play on a real team. It was a real team, all right. The only trouble was that the first time they gave me the ball, I got buried at the bottom of the pile, Nelson Eddy kicked me in the jaw — and sprained his ankle!
“I don’t know how he did it. He tripped or something. It didn’t hurt my jaw much. But it left Nelson limping a little. This proves without a doubt that I would have been a success in football.”
Much of the success and fun he had in the picture, Bolger attributes to Director W. S. Van Dyke. “We were sitting around on the set one night,” Bolger recounted, “and there were still six pages of script and dialogue to shoot. It was six-thirty p. m. Fifteen minutes later it was dark enough to suit Van. We started shooting on those six pages at a quarter to seven — and at seven-thirty, mind you, I was on my way home!
Finished! They tell me it takes ordinarily at least four days to shoot that much script! And he’s a million dollars worth of fun to work with, too. You never know when he is going to pull a gag on one of the cast. But he can take it as well as dish it out.
“Van is the only director in Hollywood who makes you show up for work a half hour early. In a Van Dyke picture you get on the set at eight-thirty every morning — but when the end of the week comes, you’re the only players in town who get off to see the tennis matches or football games or races — or what have you.
“The first football game I saw in seven years was a present from Van. While I was in New York, playing on the stage, I used to have to dash back to my dressing-room between scenes to listen to touchdowns over the radio.”
“At first I got to going to so many parties it made me dizzy,” he explained, “and anyway I got tired of sitting in a corner while the talk went on over my tired head.
“But I like this Hollywood. McGuire had a part written for me in The Girl of the Golden West, and I’m back to dancing again. It’s only temporary, though. Any day, now, they’ll have me back acting again as I did in Rosalie. Then you’ll see a new Ray Bolger!”
He did a brisk dance step. “I’m so happy,” he concluded, “I could dance!”
Collection: Motion Picture Magazine, April 1938