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The Amazing, Famous, Ziegfeld Follies Girls of the 1900s
How little the public realizes what a girl must go through before she finally appears before the spotlight that is thrown upon the stage.
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.
The Earliest Ziegfeld Girls
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 magizine and together, we would "ooo" and "ahhh" as we looked at pictures of these pretty girls dressed in lavish costumes. Soon after, my mother took me to the movies to see a film with all of the gorgeous Ziegfld Girls in it. 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 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 birthdate, March 15, 1867 and that he was born in Chicago. I found it interesting that his father (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. And sure enough in 1893, Ziegfeld's father opened The Trocadero night club. I also learned that this nightclub was designed to capitalize on the city's upcoming World's Fair.
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. Florenze 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.
Lucille Ball - The most Famous Ziegfeld Girl
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 Flo 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, saying: "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
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 Florenze 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. Evidently, this was an ingenious a move by Ziegfelds set designer, Joseph Urban. That 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.
I have only presented a very small look into Mr. Ziegfeld and his Amazing Ziegfeld Follies. My goal in writing this piece is to educate both young and old.
My hope is that he will not only be appreciated but also that he may never be forgotten.
Thank you Mr. Ziefeld.
They all hope I will go broke and I wouldn't like to cause them displeasure.