The Pursuit of Magic: Portrait of the Artist as a Dancer in Flight

Ray Bolger dancing, 1940.
Gjon Mili—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Ray Bolger dancing, 1940.
Celebrity
'40s

Elegant and airborne in tuxedo and top hat, a white-tipped cane held gracefully above his head, this gentleman—as captured by LIFE photographer Gjon Mili—might well be a flying magician. In reality, though, the man in the picture does not pull rabbits from his hat. He offers the world far greater magic than that.

This, after all, is none other than Ray Bolger, the legendary Hollywood song-and-dance man best known for his role as the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz. In the film, as everyone knows, the characters—Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow—embark on a quest, each hoping that the mysterious wizard in the Emerald City will use his magic to grant them the one, essential thing—or trait—missing from their lives.

We’re all searching for something. We all want a bit of magic, but yellow brick roads to show us the way are in short supply. Instead, we turn to the arts, where the talented and imaginative create magic with rhythmic footsteps, or bring characters to life on the stage or screen . . . or, as in Mili’s case, capture the very moment when the creative spark ignites. And even we, as spectators reveling in the marvelous, partake in the magic that makes life worth living.
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Katie Yee is a native New Yorker, an undergraduate studying Literature and Psychology at Bennington College, and an editorial assistant at Tweed’s Magazine of Literature & Art.
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