This whimsical illustration below from the 1921 film, The Education of Elizabeth, perfectly fits the image of silent film star Billie Burke.
Although she came to prominence on the stages of London and New York,
Burke first appeared on screen in 1916 and is perhaps best known for her
role as Glinda in The Wizard of Oz (1939). The same appeal that she brought to that character is evident
in this charming print, which depicts Burke at the height of her career.
Burke was a fan favorite in part because of her stylish dress sense,
which is seen here to great advantage.
Burke’s star image relied heavily on her lifestyle. Married to
theatrical showman Florenz Ziegfeld, she was an avowed clotheshorse who
frequented the New York salon of couturier Lucile. The roles that she
played in the Teens and Twenties took advantage of her personal style
and wardrobe, to which she partially attributed her success. Signed to a
Hollywood contract with Jesse L. Lasky in 1915, Burke had the good
fortune to be at a studio that supported her glamorous image with
leading roles as modern day heroines. At the time she was the
highest-paid actress in Hollywood and became a fashion trendsetter.
Although we don’t know the illustrator of
this drawing, their highly decorative design style captures Burke’s
charm and modern sensibilities, which were the focus of the film’s
admittedly thin plot. Playing a showgirl wooed by an aristocrat, Burke
eventually falls in love with his younger brother, who initially seems
interested only in books. Propped up on cushy pillows on a sumptuous
chaise lounge, with her thoroughly modern bobbed illusion hairstyle,
Burke is reading a book so enjoyable that she imagines herself as its
protagonist, clad in the fabric on which she lays. Despite the decadence
of the setting, she’s completely at ease.
seen in the poster, Elizabeth’s endearingly playful nature is in stark
contrast to that of the younger brother, Harry, who is seen here in the
title card that introduces him. The desk covered in books and the
acknowledgment that Harry is a professor of literature cast him as a
serious and erudite character. Based on the contrast between the images
of Elizabeth and Harry, it would seem that the film employs a beloved
staple of romantic comedies: when opposites attract.
In the sound era, Burke had a significant comeback as Katharine Hepburn’s mother in the George Cukor film A Bill of Divorcement (1932), after which she reteamed with Cukor for the all-star comedy Dinner at Eight (1933). The late Ziegfeld was the subject of an Oscar-winning biopic, The Great Ziegfeld
(1936), for which Burke was turned down for the role of playing herself
in favor of Myrna Loy (incredibly, because she wasn’t deemed young
enough). Burke’s career continued on the big screen into the 1950s, and
she even transitioned to radio and television; in the latter format she
became one of the earliest talk show hosts with the program At Home with Billie Burke.