With a Feather on My Nose by Billie Burke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The early part of this memoir just sparkles with effervescence, warmth and gaiety! I do have the feeling I would have liked Miss Burke very much if I had met her in real life. It sounds like she had a very happy childhood. Daughter of a famous clown, Billy Burke, young Billie also wanted to act and her mother (a stage mama, but a loving one!) helped her achieve her ambitions. Pretty & vivacious, Billie enjoyed many lighthearted romances and mixing with the famous people of the time (although not all the names were familiar to me) W. Somerset Maugham introduced Billie to impresario & philanderer Flo Ziegfeld. They fell in love (or at least Billie did!) and with the approval of her mother, they were married.
Our minister was as confused as we were. “And now Flo,” he would say to me, “you stand here’
“He’s Flo, I’m Billie,” I would say.
“Oh, all right, then, you stand here, Bill,” he would say to Flo, and Flo would correct him.
“I’m Flo, she’s Bill – I mean Billie.”
But he married us and I am quite sure it was legal.
The story continue’s with Billie’s ditsy charm and I appreciated her honesty about Flo’s great love, the now forgotten Lillian Lorraine. (and a number of other actresses) But to me, a lot of the joy went out of this memoir after the marriage, no matter how often Billie said she was happy. I may be projecting a bit but how can one be truly happy with someone who continues to have affairs and where your career goes on the back burner?
Ziegfeld lost his money, then died not that long after Billie went back to work to support him and their young daughter. If you are wanting to read detail about her film career you will be disappointed – very little is mentioned, even about her most famous role as Glinda the Good Witch in the Wizard of Oz. By the time Billie started to work with Cameron Shipp on this memoir I suspect her memory was already becoming hazy and the distant past was more vivid for her.
But if you like reading mostly kindly memories of theatre folk from the first half of the twentieth century, this could well be the book for you!