by Bill Dobbins
The Ziegfeld Follies was a series of elaborate theatrical revue productions on Broadway in New York City from 1907 to 1931, with renewals in 1934 and 1936. This was a time before movies were in color, mostly before sound films, there was no television and Broadway theater was an extremely important aspect of American entertainment.
And a significant part of Broadway for several decades was the Ziegfeld Follies, created and produced by Florenz Edward Ziegfeld Jr. (March 21, 1867 – July 22, 1932), popularly known as Flo Ziegfeld.
“As a child Ziegfeld witnessed first-hand the Chicago fire of 1871. His father ran the Chicago Musical College and later opened a nightclub, the Trocadero, to obtain business from the 1893 World’s Fair. To help his father’s nightclub succeed, Ziegfeld hired and managed the strongman Eugen Sandow.
“During a trip to Europe, Ziegfeld came across a young Polish-French singer by the name of Anna Held. His promotion of Anna Held in America brought about her meteoric rise to national fame. It was Held who first suggested an American imitation of the Parisian Follies to Ziegfeld. Her success in a series of his Broadway shows, especially A Parisian Model (1906), was a major reason for his starting a series of lavish revues in 1907. Much of Held’s popularity was due to Ziegfeld’s creation of publicity stunts and rumors fed to the American press” – Wikipedia
These extravaganzas, with elaborate costumes and sets, featured beauties chosen personally by Ziegfeld in production numbers choreographed to the works of prominent composers such as Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Jerome Kern. The Ziegfeld Follies featured the famous Ziegfeld Girls, female chorus dancers who wore elaborate costumes and performed in synchronization.
The Follies consisted of a series of lavish revues, something between that fell between later Broadway shows and a more elaborate version of vaudeville shows. During the course of the Follies, a number of well-known entertainers and future stars appeared on stage in the productions – such as W. C. Fields, Eddie Cantor, Josephine Baker, Fanny Brice, Ann Pennington, Bert Williams, Eva Tanguay, Bob Hope, Will Rogers, Ruth Etting, Ray Bolger, Helen Morgan, Louise Brooks, Marilyn Miller, Ed Wynn, Gilda Gray, Nora Bayes and Sophie Tucker appeared in the shows.
Audiences today are most familiar with Fannie Brice as the character played by Barbra Streisand in the movie Funny Girl,
The Ziegfeld Follies were extremely famous for their display of many beautiful chorus girls, commonly known as Ziegfeld girls, who “paraded up and down flights of stairs as anything from birds to battleships.” Again, in this age of limited entertainment resources the Ziegfeld girls, dressed in elaborate and often very sexy costumes, became “famous beauties” of the age and the subject of many magazine stories and publicity photos.
The “Tableau vivants” were designed by Ben Ali Haggin from 1917 to 1925. Joseph Urban was the scenic designer for the Follies shows starting in 1915.
Ziegfeld was married to actress Billie Burke, most known today for portraying Glenda The Good in the movie The Wizard of Oz. After his death, she authorized his name for Ziegfeld Follies in 1934 and 1936 to Jake Shubert, who then produced the Follies. There were other attempts to keep the Follies active after that but they were mostly unsuccessful.
ZIEGFELD FOLLIES ON FILM 1920
Bill Dobbins is a professional photographer, videographer and writer based in Los Angeles. His work has been exhibited as fine art in two museums, a number of galleries, and he has published eight books, including two fine art photo books:
The Women: Photographs of The Top Female Bodybuilders (Artisan)
Modern Amazons (Taschen)
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