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Student writes biography on Ray Bolger

As Holly Van Leuven ’12 nears the end of her undergraduate career, she takes with her an impressive BFA thesis project; she’s writing the first biography of American entertainer Ray Bolger, who is most famous for playing the Scarecrow in the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz.

“When I reflect on it now, many people agree that this could only have happened at Emerson,” Van Leuven said.

Van Leuven is a Writing, Literature and Publishing major who spent the fall working on her thesis alongside Senior Writer-in-Residence Richard Hoffman.

Van Leuven recounts pitching the idea of writing a book on Bolger – who was born in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood in 1904, and died in 1987 at age 83 – as part of an assignment in her Book Publishing Overview class with Senior Editor-in-Residence Dan Weaver. “I was so embarrassed to present my idea to the whole class,” she said.

Holly Van Leuven

Holly Van Leuven '12 is writing a biography on entertainer Ray Bolger, who played Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz.

Nonetheless, Van Leuven made her proposal for the first-ever Bolger biography.

“I made my case when it was my turn to present,” she said, “and I remember Dan just saying very nonchalantly, ‘Bolger doesn’t have a book? He’s famous. You should do it.’ That was all it took.”

Van Leuven spent last summer in Los Angeles interviewing Broadway historians and even members of Bolger’s family. She also uncovered documents containing information about Bolger that had been untouched for nearly two decades at the Performing Arts Special Collections Library at the University of California Los Angeles.

Van Leuven was recently hired by MIT Press as the fulfillment assistant for journals and digital products, but still plans on working on the Bolger biography.

She credits a long list of Emerson faculty and staff for assisting with her project, including Professor Murray Schwartz, Electronic Publisher-in-Residence John Rodzvilla, and Assistant Professor Megan Marshall.

“That’s the beauty of Emerson,” Van Leuven said. “You arrive with some sort of out-of-the-ordinary insight or skill and if you have the courage to pursue it, a lot of talented people will stand at your back.”


Ray Bolger, who died in 1987, played Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. Bolger was a native of Boston's Dorchester neighborhood.
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