Anna Held: The True Story
Who was Anna Held?
I had no idea until I came across this fascinating book. I think what attracted me was its subtitle - and the birth of Ziegfeld's Broadway. Now that is certainly a familiar name.
Surprisingly, there has been little written about this amazing woman so this book was a real find.
Anna Held's short but eventful life
A great deal of the information that's available about her, particularly on the internet, draws from the fables created for publicity purposes by none other than Ziegfeld. Anna herself was not shy about reinventing her past either so therefore we have the fallacies that:
- She bathed only in milk
- Her lower ribs were removed to create her hourglass figure
- She was born and brought up in Paris
- She was Mrs Florenz Ziegfeld
- Her early death was caused by her constantly wearing corsets to maintain her tiny waist
Not one is these is true (entirely).
Let's start at the beginning
Anna was born in Warsaw to a family of Polish Jews. They were forced to flee from their country and when Anna was somewhere between the ages of eight and sixteen (her actual birthdate was never known) they settled in Paris. At an early age she worked in the garment industry becoming an amateur performer in the Jewish theatre eventually ascending to permanent work in the cafe chansons of Paris.
You'll read how her popularity increased, how she met Ziegfeld and ultimately came to America. With Ziegfeld as her manager - helped by him releasing preposterous news stories - she soon became a star. Did she marry him? Yes and no.
When you read the book you'll discover that whilst still in Paris she married a much older man - a playboy gambler - and gave birth to a daughter. The marriage was short but the couple agreed that they would never divorce (he was Catholic and she had converted).
In fact, Anna Held lived with Ziegfeld for many years and, at that time, the USA gave marriage status to couples who had lived together for seven years or more.
You'll learn much more about Anna
- Her eyes that 'wouldn't behave'
- The shows that some people saw as obscene and others saw as delightful
- Her amazing gowns and jewellery
- Her reactions to Ziegfeld's infidelities
- The terrible theatre fire
- The jewel robbery
- How she became known as a heroine in the First World War
- Her mysterious death
And there's so much more.
What happened to her daughter, for example?
That's a sub-plot in itself. So many stories in this book are.
You'll also meet fascinating characters and read astonishing stories about the early entertainment world.
Anna Held was a fascinating women in her own right. Her story and life are even more so.
I recommend this fascinating read
See photographs of Anna HeldClick thumbnail to view full-size
One of the interesting aspects of Anna is that she (and her act) was loved by both men and women. Often the more 'saucy', attractive woman generates jealousy from her own sex. But Anna was known for her kindness to the chorus girls who worked for her, she had many female friends and, it appears, seemed to have been loved by all.
Although Anna was filmed briefly, no footage of her remains available today. Although the author of the book above does reference this film made in the mid-1930s.
The usual 'creative license' has been taken and Anna is portrayed as 'more naïve and languid' than the real person. Facts are fudged too, but it's still a great film from the best Hollywood era.
There's the film - it's still available today.
What more could you want?
Great music, a real-life story, the heyday of Broadway entertainment and more.
If you're buying the book as a gift (or for yourself) it's interesting to buy the movie too and compare the truth about Anna with the semi-fictionalised nineteen thirties version. Pure entertainment.
More from entertainment history
- Freaks: The true horror movie from 1932
In 1932 a movie opened in theatres that had audiences fleeing in horror. Women fainted. What was this film? Featuring what were 'freaks', this movie horrified many. But was it ethical?
- Karl Wallenda - legacy - his family & great grandson...
Do you remember when Nik Wallenda walked a highwire across Niagara Falls? Read about his famous circus family - their lives and their tragedies. See videos of the family including Karl's final walk.
- Queen of the Air: Leitzel's Love & Tragedy
The story of Leitzel is a true tale from the circuses of the twentieth century. It involves passion, love and tragedy.
© 2014 Jackie Jackson