There’s a New Wizard of Oz Mural in Dorchester
— Brett (@wellmabk) July 25, 2016
A new mural finished last week honors the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz. Why? Because that brainless, straw-studded character was a local.
Ray Bolger, the actor who played the scarecrow in the original 1939 film, hailed from Dorchester. According to the Dorchester Reporter, Bolger grew up in Codman Square and attended Oliver Wendell Holmes grammar school. He graduated from Dorchester High in 1920.
The mural was painted by the Mayor’s Mural Crew on the wall of Romel Dry Cleaners at the corner of Saint Marks Road and Dorchester Avenue. The Mural Crew is a group of young local artists who work with professional painters to design and execute large-scale murals around the city.
Before Bolger became the scarecrow in search of a brain, he was a vaudeville star. And before that, he was just a lanky kid from Dorchester working multiple jobs. The Reporter cites his obituary in the Boston Globe, which listed a few of those odd jobs. Bolger once worked for a peanut company, as a bank messenger, and for the New England Mutual Life Insurance Co. He was dismissed from the insurance company after being caught dancing in a hallway.
Previously, Bolger had talked to the Globe about his childhood.
“I was a lonely kid. I didn’t know many people because I was always working,” he said.
The funny, long-limbed man seemed to find his calling after the hallway episode. He performed in a few local Shakespeare shows, then got his first paid acting job with a repertory company. Soon after, he performed vaudeville, and then on Broadway. Broadway led him to Hollywood, where he landed his arguably most famous role in the Wizard of Oz. Bolger returned to Broadway after his stint on the silver screen, and ultimately referred to himself as a comedic dancer from then on.
Bolger’s New York Times obituary elaborates:
Mr. Bolger, who was 5 feet 10 1/2 inches tall, was so thin that in his solo performances in the spotlight he appeared to be much taller. His legs were so flexible he appeared to be disjointed—even disembodied—as he leapt into the air to punctuate a song-and-dance number. Indeed, many who watched him in later years were unable to shake the image of the straw-stuffed Scarecrow flopping about on boneless legs as he lurched down the Yellow Brick Road.
Bolger happens to have starred in the Wizard of Oz alongside a few other Bostonians. Jack Hanley, better known as the tin man, was a second-generation Irish American from South Boston. Clara Blandick, the actress who played Aunt Em, was born on a ship near Hong Kong but grew up in Quincy. A Maynard music teacher once recalled an annual reunion of the munchkins in Provincetown. The last surviving munchkin, lollipop guild member Jerry Maren, is from Roxbury. Maren is 96 years old.
The freshly painted mural can be found, as Universal Hub put it, somewhere over the rainbow tank.