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Ziegfeld and His Follies

Ziegfeld and His Follies: A Biography of Broadway's Greatest Producer

Series: Screen Classics
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 576
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  • Book Info
    Ziegfeld and His Follies
    Book Description:

    The name Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. (1867--1932) is synonymous with the decadent revues that the legendary impresario produced at the turn of the twentieth century. These extravagant performances were filled with catchy tunes, high-kicking chorus girls, striking costumes, and talented stars such as Eddie Cantor, Fanny Brice, Marilyn Miller, W. C. Fields, and Will Rogers. After the success of his Follies, Ziegfeld revolutionized theater performance with the musicalShow Boat(1927) and continued making Broadway hits -- includingSally(1920),Rio Rita(1927), andThe Three Musketeers(1928) -- several of which were adapted for the silver screen.

    In this definitive biography, authors Cynthia Brideson and Sara Brideson offer a comprehensive look at both the life and legacy of the famous producer. Drawing on a wide range of sources -- including Ziegfield's previously unpublished letters to his second wife, Billie Burke (who later played Glinda the Good Witch inThe Wizard of Oz), and to his daughter Patricia -- the Bridesons shed new light on this enigmatic man. They provide a lively and well-rounded account of Ziegfeld as a father, a husband, a son, a friend, a lover, and an alternately ruthless and benevolent employer. Lavishly illustrated with over seventy-five images, this meticulously researched book presents an intimate and in-depth portrait of a figure who profoundly changed American entertainment.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6090-0
    Subjects: Performing Arts, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction: “A Man of Triple and Quadruple Personalities”
    (pp. 1-6)

    Before and after his death in 1932, Florenz Ziegfeld’s friends, employees, and lovers, as well as critics, historians, and screenwriters, have conjectured and written exhaustively about him—as an institution, that is. There has been far less written about the man behind the institution. The elusive Broadway producer was, in the words of his second wife, Billie Burke, a man of “triple and quadruple personalities.”¹ If one were to read every bit of literature available on the man, one would find him to be a mass of contradictions.

    His press agent, Bernard Sobel, wrote, “In dealing with his girls, stars,...

  4. Part 1: Anna and Flo… and Lillian, 1867–1913

    • 1 The Showman, the Strongman, and the Girl with the Eyes
      (pp. 9-32)

      In 1867 a man with the impressive title of Herr Doktor Florenz Ziegfeld Sr. opened the Chicago Musical College. If one were to step into the professor’s hall at any time of the day-morning, afternoon, or night—one would hear young pupils tapping out the melodies of Beethoven, Mozart, and Schubert. Herr Doktor would be standing behind his students at the piano, beaming with pride that the compositions the students were playing had been written by grand maestros from his native Germany. The classical tunes rang out in stark contrast to the city noise outside: the roar of intersecting railroad...

    • 2 Gloomy Gus and the Petit Bourgeois
      (pp. 33-60)

      Thanks to Ziegfeld, the dairy business was booming in the fall of 1896. But what possible connection could there be between the showman and milk?

      Ziegfeld, though an ingenious promoter, needed help coming up with a publicity stunt that would make Anna as well known as the president of the United States. He offered a handsome sum to the individual who presented him with the most tantalizing promotional idea. A man named Max Marcin was the lucky recipient of that reward. At Marcin’s suggestion, Ziegfeld announced to the press that Anna had forty gallons of milk delivered to her suite...

    • 3 “It’s Delightful to Be Married”
      (pp. 61-73)

      Like Anna, the Shubert brothers had lost trust in Ziegfeld. When Ziegfeld returned to New York from his excursion to Paris in the summer of 1906, he brought with him none of the new talent he had promised to recruit. This was not the only way he double-crossed the brothers. Despite having an unofficial agreement with the Shuberts to book his next show, he went directly to Klaw and Erlanger with a proposal for a different production. Klaw and Erlanger, along with other powerful men of the Broadway Syndicate, including Charles Frohman and Alf Hayman, had recently formed the Theatre...

    • 4 A Maelstrom of Mirth
      (pp. 74-95)

      Ziegfeld knew he needed more than a thirteen-letter title to ensure that theFollies of 1907was a lucky endeavor. To increase the likelihood of the show’s success, he gathered as much backstage talent as his wallet allowed. He assigned Julian Mitchell (director ofThe Parisian Model) plus three other colleagues, John O’Neill, Herbert Gresham, and Joe Smith, to direct. He employed so many songwriters to create the eighteen numbers in the show that the program ultimately read: “Music by Everyone.”¹ The bestknown songwriter of the bunch was Gus Edwards, the mind behind “I Just Can’t Make My Eyes Behave.”...

    • 5 Entrances and Exits
      (pp. 96-114)

      “Anna, I thought you should know… most every night Flo and that Lorraine girl dine at Rector’s or Delmonico’s… together.” While in Paris in June 1909, Anna heard little else but this kind of news from numerous friends, including Lillian Russell and Harry B. Smith and his wife, Irene. Another reported, “I don’t know what it will do to Flo’s name if he remains involved with Lorraine. Have you heard the latest? She and her chauffeur have been carrying on and she’s accusing him of taking her $3,000 necklace and now he’s in jail. It’s in all the New York...

    • 6 The Girl at the Top of the Stairs
      (pp. 115-136)

      Anna Held was not the only woman Ziegfeld lost in the spring of 1912. During the run ofOver the River, Lillian Lorraine disappeared. Ziegfeld discovered her whereabouts after seeing a bold headline announcing her marriage to Freddy Gresheimer. Upon reading the news, Ziegfeld could not contain the intense feelings he had for this “slip of a chorus girl.” He burst into tears and cried, “She married someone!”¹ TheNew York Reviewpoked fun at the producer’s reaction in a melodramatic headline: “Ziegfeld Faints at News of His Star’s Wedding.”² TheReviewwas no kinder to Lillian. Its writers emphasized...

  5. Part 2: Billie and Flo… and Marilyn, 1914–1923

    • 7 Taming an Incorrigible Bounder
      (pp. 139-152)

      Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. may have had doubts about the prospective success of every show he produced, but he showed no hesitation once he made up his mind to pursue a woman. Billie Burke, however, initially had some questions about Ziegfeld’s intentions toward her. On January 1, 1914, only one day after their first meeting, those intentions became clear: he was interested in her not as a star but as a woman. Upon entering her dressing room after a matinee performance ofJerry, she found orchids, roses, and chrysanthemums from Ziegfeld filling every corner. Billie was flattered, but she still hesitated...

    • 8 Lively Productions
      (pp. 153-168)

      Ziegfeld spent increasingly more time at the Ansonia Hotel in New York City and less time at Burkeley Crest as he poured all his energy into lifting theFolliesfrom their rut. By 1914, Ziegfeld’s revue had become formulaic. After the June 1 opening of theZiegfeld Follies of 1914at the New Amsterdam Theatre, critic Channing Pollock confirmed that the series was in danger: “Mr. Ziegfeld’s worst fault is that he imitates himself. Every year’s performance is pretty sure to contain an altered version of something that made a hit another year.”¹ The 1914 edition indeed included many “altered...

    • Photographs
      (pp. None)
    • 9 The Past Becomes Ashes
      (pp. 169-179)

      In 1916 every musical producer on Broadway was determined to outdo his competitors—primarily to see who could create the most American revue. As the United States drew closer to war, American composers worked harder than ever to crystallize the sound of American music. Irving Berlin had pioneered the American sound through ragtime, but two new composers—Cole Porter and George Gershwin—continued the quest to set America’s voice to music. Porter made his debut inSee America First(1916), while Gershwin got his start in the Shuberts’Passing Show(1916). Competing with the latter was theCohan Revue of...

    • 10 The Ziegfelds’ Xanadu
      (pp. 180-195)

      Was it a princess’s mansion, a spectacular circus, a menagerie, an exotic garden, or an exclusive resort? In a sense, the twenty-acre Burkeley Crest estate was all these things rolled into one. Patricia captured the essence of the place in her memoir: “Burkeley Crest was, technically, a country estate, but it suffered from a severe case of split personality. It had some of the characteristics of a zoo and some of the characteristics of a medieval fief.”¹

      Burkeley Crest might have buckled under the weight of its own grandeur. However, in 1917 the country was on the verge of an...

    • 11 The Greatest Victory Party America Has Ever Known
      (pp. 196-212)

      “She is the incarnation of freshness, of youth, of vitality.¹” Marilyn was always smiling onstage and off. She seemed so happy and comet-like.”² These statements could have been written by Ziegfeld himself as the definition of the perfect Ziegfeld girl. Marilyn (she reluctantly agreed to drop the secondn) Miller’s youth and charisma made her the ideal girl to move his productions into the modern era, which seemed to be made for Ziegfeld heroines. As the 1910s transitioned into the 1920s, women became the cultural focus. They achieved liberation not only by winning the right to vote but also by...

    • 12 Dear Old Zieggy and Company
      (pp. 213-231)

      “A token of love and esteem presented to Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. by the members of his companies and executive staffs at the Follies Frolic Ball May 18, 1919.”¹ So read the inscription on a fifteen-inch-high silver loving cup that Ziegfeld’s dedicated employees gave to their boss. Despite Ziegfeld’s perfectionism, his fits of temper, his jealousies and flirtations, he invoked fierce loyalty and affection from his staff. Many referred to him as “dear old Zieggy.” Lucile (Lady Duff Gordon) had nothing but fondness for him and was seemingly never on the receiving end of his occasional rages. “I found him delightful...

    • 13 A New Normalcy
      (pp. 232-251)

      “America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment… not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality.”¹ Thus spoke presidential candidate Warren G. Harding during his 1920 campaign. Harding’s words won him 50 percent of the popular vote. Americans did indeed want a return to “normalcy” and “triumphant nationality.” But what did normalcy mean in the theater? The musical had been changing for a generation, slowly maturing from a European form of entertainment into an American institution. The theater was creating a new normalcy that matched Harding’s sentiments...

    • Photographs
      (pp. None)
    • 14 The End of the Glory Days
      (pp. 252-270)

      By summer of 1922, there were no signs that the Jazz Age was becoming more pleasant for Ziegfeld. Marilyn Miller had launched another attack on him, but this time, the fight was not a private duel. All of New York was aware of it.

      The trigger for Marilyn’s attack had taken place shortly before Ziegfeld left for Europe to make good on his promise to bring theFrolicto London and Paris. Marilyn had entered her satin and velvet dressing room to find a lengthy telegram from Ziegfeld lying on her vanity table. In it, he informed Marilyn that he...

  6. Part 3: The Darkest Hour of Success, 1923–1932

    • 15 Little Boy Blue
      (pp. 273-286)

      Though theZiegfeld Follieshad made Ziegfeld his own greatest star on Broadway, he knew that his professional future lay in musical comedy. Nothing better convinced him of this fact than the critical reaction to hisFollies of 1923, which opened at the New Amsterdam Theatre on October 20, 1923. One reviewer declared that the show was “smothered under general mediocrity.”¹

      Like the 1922 edition, theFollies of 1923had little in the way of innovation. Ziegfeld did his best to please audiences, however, featuring favorites Fanny Brice and Eddie Cantor to liven up the show. On opening night, Eddie...

    • 16 Vacations from Reality
      (pp. 287-305)

      The New Brunswick camp had always worked its magic on Ziegfeld; there, he was not a harried producer but a simple family man. Patricia took after her father and thrived in the rustic environs. Billie, however, like Anna Held and Lillian Lorraine before her, suffered in silence at the Canadian retreat, particularly during the family’s last trip there in the summer of 1923. She had little tolerance for the twelve-mile hike to camp or the lack of indoor plumbing. Nor did she relish the lack of privacy in the cabin, which consisted of one large room with beds on one...

    • 17 A Shot in the Arm
      (pp. 306-325)

      Initially, Palm Beach seemed like the ideal place for the Ziegfelds to escape from the demanding, tumultuous life of New York City. Ziegfeld saw it as Camp Patricia’s regal sister, offering luxury rather than rusticity. However, Billie saw Palm Beach as a playground for uncouth, hedonistic heirs and heiresses. With its growing population of young people, Palm Beach was infused with the reckless spirit of “flaming youth” synonymous with the Jazz Age. Biographer Ethan Mordden described it as “a younger resort than most because it had no reputation to uphold. Elsewhere, divorce was hush-hush, a scandal; in Palm Beach it...

    • 18 Splendor and Intelligence
      (pp. 326-341)

      “Last night I heard the first act ofShow Boat….This is the best musical comedy I have ever been fortunate to get hold of; it looks wonderful… this is the opportunity of my life.”¹ Ziegfeld wrote this on November 26, 1926, immediately after Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II presented their adaptation of Edna Ferber’s novel to him. Though a common theatrical myth persists that Ziegfeld was hesitant to produceShow Boatbecause of its heavy themes and scant opportunities to present chorus girls, these words prove otherwise. Only two days later, theNew York Telegraphalready contained an...

    • 19 Ziegfeld Laughs… and Cries
      (pp. 342-362)

      Ziegfeld’s boldness was at an all-time high in March 1928 when, only two months afterRosaliepremiered, he chose to produce a show that, by all accounts, should have been a flop—an operetta. Ziegfeld had loathed this form of musical since he had worked as a boy at his father’s conservatory, and he still disliked the genre. One would assume that audiences shared Ziegfeld’s disdain. After all, hadn’t much ofRosaliebeen about the triumph of musical comedy over operetta? But Ziegfeld saw staging an operetta as a prime opportunity to surprise audiences and give an outmoded genre a...

    • 20 “I Can’t Do This Anymore”
      (pp. 363-380)

      After twenty-three years of working to become the top producer on Broadway, Ziegfeld did not relish the prospect of doing it all over again in Hollywood. Will Rogers had claimed that Ziegfeld could “out-glorify all those glorifiers” in California; however, Ziegfeld’s heart was not in filmmaking, and he knew he could not bring the integrity to movies that he brought to his beloved theater productions.

      In contrast to Ziegfeld, Eddie Cantor was eager to work in Hollywood. Sam Goldwyn offered Eddie a contract to re-create his stage successes on screen. He had done well in Hollywood years before with the...

    • 21 Going Home
      (pp. 381-400)

      “Show business has changed so much,” a tired Ziegfeld confided to his daughter upon his return to Broadway in November 1931.¹ Judging by this statement, he still felt, as he had told Goldie months before, that he could not “do this [produce shows] anymore.” However, due to his dwindling bank account, he had no choice but to keep on creating shows he hoped would be successful. Also, no matter how defeated he felt, he found it impossible to stop thinking about the theater and ideas for new shows that could restore his former glory.

      An idea for a potential hit...

  7. Part 4: The Legacy of Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., 1932–

    • 22 Going Hollywood
      (pp. 403-411)

      “Oh Goldie I loved him so. I don’t think anyone knows what his going has meant to me. He was so wonderful. With all his faults, so wonderful.”¹ So Billie Burke confided to Ziegfeld’s loyal secretary, Goldie, only two weeks after his death. Ziegfeld’s passing left a hole in the theater world that would not soon be filled, if ever. But the hole he left on Broadway was not as immense as the hole he left in his family. When Billie returned to work onA Bill of Divorcement, the makeup artist had difficulty dealing with the tears that relentlessly...

    • 23 His Shows Must Go On
      (pp. 412-426)

      If Ziegfeld had lived, he likely would have moved to California and conquered Hollywood, just as he had Broadway. With the maturation of the film musical in the 1930s, studios were better equipped to create Ziegfeldian production numbers on the big screen. Had Ziegfeld recovered and relocated to the West Coast, he would have had access to the best creative talents in show business to help make his films as splendid as his theatrical productions. Hollywood in the 1930s was the location of choice for many of Ziegfeld’s most gifted former employees. Eddie Cantor, Will Rogers, Fanny Brice, W. C....

    • 24 Beauty Slain
      (pp. 427-434)

      Ziegfeld has been immortalized on both the stage and the screen thanks in part to the creative team that made his visions possible. He may have missed his chance to be a great showman in Hollywood, but many of the actors, musicians, and writers he knew and employed found greater opportunities in film than on the legitimate stage.

      Eddie Cantor was among the most successful of the Ziegfeld stars. He appeared on radio, stage, and film even during the bleakest years of the Depression. On his radio show, which centered largely on his family, he invited guests into his “home,”...

  8. Epilogue: “You Can’t Ever Kill Magic”
    (pp. 435-438)

    Americans experienced Ziegfeld’s death as both the end of an era and the close of an institution. Few experienced it as the passing of a man, a father, a husband, or a friend. Modern historians and playgoers still associate Ziegfeld’s name with an institution—theFollies—but not many know his first name. Even fewer can describe his appearance. The fact that Ziegfeld remained largely unseen during his lifetime only heightened his status, then and now, as a legendary establishment rather than a human being. Biographer Charles Higham asserted: “Ziegfeld seems unreal to us because he never was real, probably...

  9. Appendix: Shows Produced and Coproduced by Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.
    (pp. 439-464)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 465-500)
  11. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 501-504)
  12. Index
    (pp. 505-516)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 517-520)