Did Billie Burke Really Talk Like That?

Most of us know her as Glinda the Good Witch in the movie “Wizard of Oz,” and have noticed her unusual voice.

I was wondering did she talk like that in real life? I realize that in those golden years of movies that actors/actresses often used a exaggerated accent here and there or for effect but I noticed reviews at the time always comment on her unusual voice.

Here is a sample of the OTR show “The Billie Burke Show

(the click leads you to a page where it says “listen to a sample episode” and you can here her to see what I mean, in case you don’t know.

So my question was that her normal way of talking? Or was it a put on for movies? And if it was where did the accent come from?

I noticed from listening to old time radio, for instance, Gracie Allen talks much different in real life. She clearly is using a squeaky higher voice. And Arthur Q. Bryan (Elmer Fudd) has only a very slight speech problem in radios shows I’ve heard him in.)


Here’s a clip/monologue by here and you can pretty clearly here that distinctive crack in her voice that was present in The Wizard of Oz as well. Especially towards the end of the clip when she’s more worked up and probably in less control of her voice. Listen to the second time she says the word ‘Florida’.

FTR, I’ve never seen that movie and have no idea what she sounded like outside of those 40 seconds.

She has the “elocution lessons” accent that most actors and actresses had in the 30s (cf. Irene Dunne, Katharine Hepburn, et al.), unless they were playing gangsters, or something. In the radio show, she was already in her 60s, and was supposed to be a little ditzy, and so I think she’s going for a character voice. It sounds a little like Glinda, but not exactly. Glinda is definitely more affected than her usual movie voice. I’ve seen Topper, A Bill of Divorcement, Dinner at Eight, and Becky Sharp, and the affectation isn’t the same. She still has a high voice, but the Glinda “character” voice isn’t there. It’s like comparing Melissa Rauch’s normal, high voice, with her affected, and even higher, character voice she does for Bernadette (I thought that had two Rs, but spell-check says no) on The Big Bang Theory.

Thank you for the link. That’s now my favorite clip ever.:smiley:

I liked it too. Never seen that movie, no idea what the context is, but it reminded me why I like old movies. It makes me want to go home and watch All About Eve.

ETA looking at the part of my post that you quoted, you’ll have to pretend that I know the difference between here and hear…and her.

Burke had a small role, as the mother of the groom, in the 1950 version of Father of the Bride. I didn’t notice odd speech in the few lines she had.

Apparently she sang like that that as well, and was the inspiration for Herbert Khaury’s “Tiny Tim” persona:

Dinner at Eight is awesome. You really should watch the whole movie sometime. The clip that was linked is the culmination of days of having all of her carefully made plans to pull of an elegant dinner for English nobility fall down around her as guest after guest either has something happen to them or just cancels.

Another great line (not from Burke): “I never understood why the numbers have to be even (men and women)…they’re coming for dinner, not for mating.”

That “old-timey movie accent” that I think is at least part of the explanation for her Glinda voice is the “transatlantic” accent that was taught to stage and later movie actors a that time. As the name implies, it’s kind of a cross between an upper-crust British and an American accent.

An actor named Paget Brewster does a great spot-on Transatlantic accent to nice comedy effect in the “Beyond Belief” segments of the “Thrilling Adventure Hour” podcast. The Beyond Belief “White Hunter, Drunk Heart” episode is a great example- hearing how she pronounces “Safari” and a list of all the African animals she wants to shoot is amusing. Probably my favorite episode of a funny podcast.

So am I correct to assume Billie Burke talked like that in everyday life?

Like what? we’ve had clips of several different character voices at different times in her life. She probably did have an “elocution lessons accent,” and sounded more or less like she did in the Dinner at Eight clip, except that is a rehearsed rant. She didn’t normally speak that quickly, and had the usual “Umms,” and “Ahs,” that people have when they speak spontaneously.

She didn’t speak like Glinda in real life, I’m pretty sure of that.

Yes, watch the whole movie. It has Jean Harlow (at her best), Wallace Beery, John Barrymore and Marie Dressler. Very funny and poignant, too.

The exchange between Harlow and Dressler at the end of Grand Hotel is still one of the funniest in film, and Dressler’s double take is the greates in the history of film.

But that’s something you need never worry about.

Here’s the clip, BTW.

I’ve watched the 1937 movie Topper a couple of times and I’ve never noticed her having more than the normal amount of 1930’s speech affectation in that.

She was much older than she looks when she played Glinda. She was born in 1884. Her speech pattern is of a late 19th/early 20th century stage actress, much like Margaret Dumont of the Marx Brothers movies. They were trained to enunciate clearly and project to the back of a theater in the days before microphones.