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The Amazing Showman of the 1900's, Florenz Ziegfield

Updated on February 11, 2018
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Florenz Ziegfield

Florenz Ziegfield 1932
Florenz Ziegfield 1932 | Source

How little the public realizes what a girl must go through before she finally appears before the spotlight that is thrown upon the stage.

Florenz Ziegfeld

The Greatest Showman The Theater Will Ever Know

His name was synonymous with fame. He searched high and low to find the most beautiful women in the world for his extravaganzas - and found them.

He glorified the American Girl and royally earned a reputation as one of the greatest showmen the theater will ever know. His name - Florenz Ziegfeld.

My Introduction To Florenz Ziegfeld

The first time I heard the name,Florenz Ziegfeld, was when I was a little girl. I remember my mother telling me about this famous musical producer who had the most beautiful girls in the world in his shows. She would sit me down, open a magazine and together, we would "oo" and "ah" as we looked at pictures of these gorgeous girls dressed in lavish costumes.

Soon after, my mother took me to the movies to see a film with all of the gorgeous Ziegfeld girls. I came away imagining what it would be like to be so glamorous with such beautiful clothes. I fantasized, as a little girl, that I would grow up and that the great Mr. Ziegfeld would find me and make me a star.

During my high school years, I offered to do a report on Florenz Ziegfeld and the follies. My report began with his birth date, March 15,1867. I found it interesting that his father, a German immigrant, was talented and educated enough to run a college of music, which allowed him to support his family in a comfortable style.

I had heard of a nightclub called "The Trocadero", from watching television's "I love Lucy"), but didn't realize that Lucille Ball had been a former Ziegfeld girl. I also learned that this nightclub was designed to capitalize on the city's upcoming " World's Fair".

Bert Williams

Bert Williams is famous for being the first black man to star on Broadway.  He was a sensation.
Bert Williams is famous for being the first black man to star on Broadway. He was a sensation. | Source

Bert Williams - The First Black Man To Star On Broadway

As I continued my research on Florenz Ziegfeld I learned something about him that to this day has given me great respect for him. During his production of the 1910 Follies he hired a talented singer, dancer and actor by the name of Bert Williams.

Even with numerous protests, Ziegfeld not only hired him to be in his show but cast him along with other great talent such as Fanny Brice, a key figure in his productions.

Bert Williams was the first black man to co-star on Broadway with white performers. Back in those days that was a very brave move to make.

Williams accepted an unprecedented offer to join the Ziegfeld's Follies. The idea of a black-featured performer amid an otherwise all-white show was a shock in 1910.

Williams' initial reception was cool, and several cast members delivered an ultimatum to Ziegfeld that Williams be fired. Ziegfeld held firm. "I can replace every one of you, except Williams".

The show's writers were slow to devise material for him to perform, forcing Williams to repeat much of his vaudeville act. But by the time the show finally debuted in June, Williams was a sensation

Lucille Ball - The most Famous Ziegfeld Girl

Lucille Ball started out as a Ziegfeld Girl.
Lucille Ball started out as a Ziegfeld Girl. | Source

Ziegfeld's First Broadway Review

Ziegfeld produced his first Broadway revue along the lines of the Parisian Folies Bergere . The show opened on July 8, 1907 at the New York Theater's rundown Roof Garden, and was not the best of settings.

Ziegfeld had an amazing talent for production details and a sense of knowing what an audience wanted in a show. The winning combination of a creative visual spectacle, topical comedy, and beautiful girls was a huge success. Florenz soon realized the potential of box office earnings making big profits.

Ziegfeld knew none of the standard theatrical arts and techniques. He did not compose music, nor could he write, design, or direct. But he knew how to showcase the female form to its best advantage, and always insisted on the best talent and materials regardless of cost.

This combination empowered him to redefine theatrical glamour and professionalism.

Marion Davies, Ziegfeld Girl and Movie Star, 1924

Marion Davies, popular film star, and former Ziegfeld girl.
Marion Davies, popular film star, and former Ziegfeld girl. | Source

Marion Davies Former Ziegfeld Girl

Marion Davies was born Marion Cecilia Douras in the year 1897. She appeared in both film and Broadway Musicals.

Newspaper tycoon, William Randolph Hearst (Hearst Castle) managed her career and financed her pictures. The two had an intense romantic relationship and during Hearst's last years Davies provided financial and emotional support.

After his death she married Horace G. Brown. Davies died in 1961 at the age of 64 from stomach cancer.

Davies was involved with charity work during her later years. In 1952, she donated $1.9 million to establish a children's clinic at UCLA, which was named for her. In 1998 the clinic's name was changed to The Mattel Children's Hospital.

She also founded the "Marion Davies Foundation" to help fight childhood diseases.

Billie Burke, Glinda, in The Wizard of Oz

Billie Burke is best remembered for her role as Glinda in The Wizard of Oz.
Billie Burke is best remembered for her role as Glinda in The Wizard of Oz. | Source

Billie Burke - Ziegfeld's Wife

You could have knocked me over with a feather, when I learned that Billie Burke, immortalized forever for her role as the good witch in the classic movie, "The Wizard of Oz", was a former Ziegfeld Girl. She was married to Ziegfeld for 18 years. He always had her photo on the shows' playbill.

Billie Burke, Mary William Ethelbert Appleton Burke, grew up in the circus, touring the United States and Europe. Her father was the internationally famous clown, Billie Burke, who came to the United States with the P.T. Barnum circus.

Billie Burke. A red-haired beauty, became the toast of Broadway and married promoter Florenz Ziegfeld.

The Follies Thrive

The amazing Ziegfeld Follies featured such stars as singer, Eddie Cantor, comics W.C Fields and Ed Wynn, and the rope twirling humorist, Will Rogers.

I remember the art deco look that was used in the follies from films I had seen as a child. Evidently, this was an ingenious move by Ziegfeld's set designer, Joseph Urban. This particular look goes hand-in-hand with the beautiful girls and many stars featured in his productions and movies.

There is no doubt that the key to the Follies success was Ziegfeld himself. I read that his sometimes maddening attention to detail gave every edition his personal stamp. In an interview, he explained his approach this way: "Details are what makes a show's personality. . . . I hunt for chances of putting in a laugh or taking out a slow bit. I keep my shows combed, polished and groomed."

Ziegfeld was a demanding boss but he drove himself harder than anyone else in his drive to make each of his revues an audience pleaser.

In conclusion...

I have only presented a very small look into Mr. Ziegfeld and his ground-breaking Ziegfeld Follies.

My hope is that he will not only be appreciated but also that he may never be forgotten.

Thank you Mr. Ziegfeld.

They all hope I will go broke and I wouldn't like to cause them displeasure.

Florenz Ziegeld

© 2010 Audrey Hunt


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    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      5 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Hello Robert - I am overjoyed to see you here. It's been awhile since I've seen a comment here:)

      Imagine - your stepdaughter's great aunt being a Ziegfeld girl! Marvelous. Thanks so much for sharing this and I know now how the fountain of youth works.:)

    • ROBERTHEWETTSR profile image

      rOBERT hEWETT SR. 

      5 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

      Great story, my stepdaughter's great aunt was a Ziefeld girl as a dancer and comedienne. She toured with Bob Hope in WWII. At age 60 she looked to be 30. She taught me a finger exercise to keep your hands numble and it works. She lived to be 98, her real name was Isabelle

      Gannon, but she went by many stage names. Thanks for sharing this info.

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      7 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Why, thank you Teresa! And welcome - it is so very nice to see you here. My mom also loved and introduced me to the follies. I am so glad you find my articles enjoyable to read. I think I will now, visit one of yours. :)

    • eventsyoudesign profile image


      7 years ago from Nashville, Tennessee

      My mom loved the Follies. We use to watch old movies together often. Your articles are enjoyable and easy to read. Teresa

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      7 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      jayababy - Thank you, my new friend for the kind comments and for voting up!

    • jayababy profile image


      7 years ago from Visakhapatnam

      B'ful pics and very informative article. Voted up.

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      7 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Dolores - The Follies were absolutely amazing, with the combination of Great scenic sets (which Hollywood borrowed), wonderful music, talent and of course the most beautiful girls in the world!

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      7 years ago from East Coast, United States

      I remember my aunt telling me about the Ziegfeld Follies - I bet they were wonderful shows, all that great old music and the gorgeous costumes!

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      7 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Micky...thanks for reading this. I, too love history. You have a wonderful holiday season and remember who loves 'ya baby!

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 

      8 years ago

      Very nice vocalcoach! I love history. I never knew "Lucy" was a "ziefield girl". Thank you for this entertaining history!

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      8 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Great additional information on ziegfeld. Thanks so much for sharing it with us. Love the story about your friends distant cousin. I believe that during that period, woman were preferred with a little more weight on their bones.Thank you for making my hub more interesting with your comments.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 

      8 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      I *had* to comment on this hub because I happen to be researching a book on a friend's distant cousin who claimed to have been not only an early Follies girl, but the "original Follies Peacock Girl"! Depending on which version of her bio one reads, she was either in the 1907 or 1916 Follies. Well, I combed Follies sites and the theatre pages of old NY newspapers and she **was** in the chorus of the 1916 Follies, but was cut after 3 performances. Not one to let fact get in the way of ambition, she used that brief stint in the Follies to snag two millionaire husbands and after the second one died, to open her own nightclub in Florida in which she performed nightly almost until the day she died at age 74.

      Anyway, along the way I learned much about Follies girls and what Flo Ziegfeld looked for when choosing them. They had to be not only beautiful and talented but intelligent, could not have dyed hair or a "whiney" speaking voice, and *at least* a size 14. One girl recalled nearly being fired because Ziegfeld noticed she'd lost a few pounds. She had to put the weight back on - and quickly! - to keep her job! He understood that men and women alike came to the Follies not only to be entertained but to see Perfection Personified, and toward that end spent what even today would be considered astronomical sums to provide it.

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      8 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      hello, hello - It is great that you found my hub interesting and informative. I always look forward to your comments. Blessings to you, my friend.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      8 years ago from England

      Hi, this was interesting, I do recognise some of the names but I didn't know what from, thanks for this really interesting piece, I love learning something new about a vague name I remember from when I was younger, rated up, loved it, thanks nell

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      8 years ago from London, UK

      Very interesting. I never knew all of the information you put in there. Thank you.

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      8 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Sandyspider - Thanks for your comment Sandy and for taking time to stop by. Love your hubs!

    • Sandyspider profile image

      Sandy Mertens 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      Nice tribute to the Zigfield Follies. I have seen them on TV. Very talented women.

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      8 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      william F. Torpey - They don't make them like that anymore and that is for sure. Ziegfeld gave so many great artists their start. Thanks for your comments William - my best to you, my friend.

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      8 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      dallas93444 - Thank you for your comment - appreciate your time and very nice to see you.

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      8 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      drbj - I have "Funny Girl" on DVD and had to have it after watching Streisands outstanding role as Fanny Brice. I feel that her acting is every bit as good as her amazing voice. In my opinion, she still reigns as "Queen of the Female Voice". Thank you for enjoying the hub and tribute to Ziegfeld. My very best to you.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      8 years ago from south Florida

      An amazing tribute to Ziegfeld - an amazing impresario. Thank you for your research and interesting information. Did you ever see the film, "Funny Girl," with Barbra Streisand? She portrays Fanny Brice and it was one of her most memorable acting roles.

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 

      8 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      A legacy... thanks for sharing.

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 

      8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Nice tribute to Florenze Ziegfeld, vocal coach. He sure could recognize great talent. They don't come much better than Eddie Cantor, Lucille Ball, Fanny Brice, Bert Williams, Billie Burke, W.C. Fields, Ed Wynn and Will Rogers -- not to mention the beautiful girls of the Follies. Thumbs up!


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