This year marks the 80th anniversary of the premiere of “The Wizard of Oz.”
To pay homage to the classic film based on L. Frank Baum’s children’s book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” and to Billie Burke, one of the most famous residents of Hastings and the actress who created of the iconic role of Glinda the Good Witch of the North, the Hastings Village Arts Commission has joined with the Hastings Historical Society to present a series of art, photography, film, and family events.
The festivities begin Thursday, Sept. 12, from 6 to 8 p.m., with an opening reception at the Village Hall Gallery for “We’re Not in Kansas Anymore: Journeys to Places Real and Imagined.” The exhibition includes material from the historical society’s collection on Burke and her husband, impresario Florenz Ziegfeld, and life at their Hastings estate, Burkeley Crest (now the site of Hastings High School’s athletic fields between Broadway and Farragut Avenue).
It also includes a juried art show featuring works in various media by artists from throughout the area, all responding to the question, “Where does your art transport you?”
Lisa Oswlad, the Hastings Village Arts commissioner and chief curator of the show, said, “We have 29 artists from New York and New Jersey who have artworks about places that mean something special to them. They’re real places or places people have conjured in their imagination. Alongside each artwork we have the artist’s description of why the place is important to them. They’re varied in their subject matter and technique; that’s what makes the show so compelling, because it speaks to people in so many different ways.”
Mary William Ethelbert Appleton “Billie” Burke (1884-1970) was already a star of stage and screen when she bought the Kirkham estate in Hastings in 1910 and renamed it Burkeley Crest. When she married Ziegfeld in 1914, the couple moved temporarily to Manhattan. But when their daughter, Patricia, was born in 1916, they moved back to Burkeley Crest.
The mansion was decorated with Italian and English antiques, and it had a fully equipped projection room. Burke and Ziegfeld installed a miniature version of George Washington’s Mount Vernon on the grounds as a playhouse for Patricia. A staff of 17 worked on the 22-acre estate as servants, gardeners, and keepers of the family’s large menagerie.
Natalie Barry, president of the Hastings Historical Society, said, “We have some great photos of their time at Burkeley Crest, and we have some documented anecdotes from local townspeople, recorded in the ‘70s, of old-timers talking about what it was like when Flo Ziegfeld and Billie Burke lived in the village.”
Barry called Burkeley Crest “a kind of a crazy, Xanadu kind of place, exotic and out of this world.” The resident collection of both domesticated and wild animals was the talk of the village, with 15 dogs, rare birds, a cow, a ram, a polo pony, a tiger and two lion cubs.
During their time in Hastings, Burke and Ziegfeld would have a display of fireworks and sparklers on the Fourth of July. “People from the village would congregate on Farragut,” Barry said.
Burke appeared downtown and interacted with villagers more frequently than Ziegfeld did. “She supposedly went to a local bakery and would buy an éclair for her dog and a pastry for herself,” according to Barry. A local barber arrived each morning to shave Ziegfeld.
After Ziegfeld lost his money in the stock market crash of 1929, the family rented out Burkeley Crest and moved to Hollywood, so Burke could support them with her acting. Ziegfeld died in 1932, and Burke sold the estate in 1940. The new owner, French industrialist Jacques Gerard, bought the property for $36,000 and tore the house down, building a French-style mansion in its place. After many changes of ownership, the property was bought by the school district in 1967.
Burke lived in Los Angeles for the rest of her life, and appeared frequently in film and TV until she was no longer able to memorize her lines. She died in 1970.
Frank Morgan, who played the wizard, lived with his family on Calumet Avenue in Hastings. “The family’s last name was Wuppermann,” Barry said. “He changed his name to Morgan because it was more show business friendly.” Barry added that despite persistent rumors that some of the Munchkins had lived in the nearby Shado-Lawn neighborhood, “That is totally unsubstantiated.”
A series of events is planned around the exhibition, including an outdoor screening of “The Wizard of Oz” at Fulton Park adjacent to the Hastings Library. For information, visit facebook.com/HastingsHistoricalSociety/.