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Florenz "Flo" Ziegfeld, Jr. (March 21, 1867 – July 22, 1932) was an American Broadwaymarker impresario. He is best known for his series of theatrical revues, the Ziegfeld Follies (1907-1931), inspired by the Folies Bergèremarker of Paris. He was known as the "glorifier of the American girl".

Early life and career

Ziegfeld was born in Chicagomarker to German immigrant parents. His father, Florenz Ziegfeld, Sr., ran a successful College of Music. Ziegfeld's first foray into entertainment was at the 1893 Chicagomarker World's Columbian Expositionmarker, where he managed the strongman, Eugen Sandow. His stage spectaculars, known as the Ziegfeld Follies, began with Follies of 1907 and were produced annually until 1931. These extravaganzas, with elaborate costumes and sets, featured beauties chosen personally by Ziegfeld in production numbers choregraphed to the works of prominent composers such as Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Jerome Kern.

The Follies featured many performers who, though well-known from previous work in other theatrical genres, achieved unique financial success and publicity with Ziegfeld. Included among these are Nora Bayes, Fanny Brice, W. C. Fields, Eddie Cantor, Marilyn Miller, Will Rogers, Bert Williams and Ann Pennington.

His promotion of the Polish-French Anna Held, including press releases about her milk baths, brought her fame and set a pattern of star-making through publicity. Ziegfeld helped oversee her meteoric rise to national fame. It was Held who first suggested an American imitation of the Parisian Follies to Ziegfeld. Ziegfeld never married Held, but they maintained a common-law relationship, outrageously scandalous in that day and age, which ended in 1913, allegedly solely because he moved his mistress into an apartment one floor up from theirs.

The following year, Ziegfeld married actress Billie Burke, best known for playing Glinda in The Wizard of Oz. They had one child, Patricia Ziegfeld Stephenson, born in 1916. The family lived on his estate in Hastings-on-Hudson, New Yorkmarker, and Palm Beach, Floridamarker.

Ziegfeld Theatre and Show Boat

Flo Ziegfeld and Sandow, c.
1893
At a cost of $2.5 million, he built the 1600-seat Ziegfeld Theatre on the west side of Sixth Avenue between 54th and 55th Streets. Designed by Joseph Urban and Thomas Lamb, the auditorium was egg-shaped with the stage at the narrow end. A huge medieval-style mural, The Joy of Life, covered the walls and ceiling. To finance the construction, Ziegfeld borrowed from William Randolph Hearst, who took control of the theater after Ziegfeld's death.

The Ziegfeld Theatre opened February, 1927, with his production of Rio Rita, which ran until April, 1928, followed by Show Boat. Although he recognized its artistic value, he was terrified Show Boat would fail because of its unusually dramatic storyline. According to an eyewitness, the audience barely applauded on opening night, but it was not because they disliked the show, but because they were so taken aback. It was a great success, with a run from December, 1927, until May, 1929. In 1932, after Ziegfeld lost much of his money in the stock market crash, he staged a revival of Show Boat backed by "angels" David and Barney Warfield. It became the biggest grosser on Broadway, until the Great Depression affected its run (May to October, 1932). That same year, he brought his Follies stars to CBS Radio with The Ziegfeld Follies of the Air.

Death

Ziegfeld died in Hollywood, Californiamarker on July 22, 1932 from pleurisy related to a previous lung infection. He had been in Los Angeles only a few days after moving from a New Mexicomarker sanitarium. His death left Burke with substantial debts, driving her toward film acting in an effort to settle them. He is interred in Kensico Cemeterymarker in Valhallamarker, Westchester Co., New Yorkmarker.

Film

Screen versions of three of Ziegfeld's hit stage musicals were produced in the early sound film era: Sally (First National, 1929) starring Marilyn Miller; Rio Rita (RKO, 1929) starring Bebe Daniels and John Boles; and Whoopee! (Goldwyn, 1930) starring Eddie Cantor. All were filmed in Technicolor and closely followed the original stage productions, although Whoopee featured an almost entirely new score. Rio Rita and Whoopee were both made under Ziegfeld's personal supervision.

Show Boat was filmed three times. The first version, a part-talkie released in 1929 while the show was still playing, was not really based on the show, but on the Edna Ferber novel that inspired the musical, and was very, very different from the show. Nevertheless, Ziegfeld appeared in a sound prologue made to be shown before the actual film. The other two film versions of Show Boat were made after Ziegfeld's death, and were more faithful to the show. The highly acclaimed and financially successful 1936 film version featured many people who had either worked on or appeared in the show. The 1951 Technicolor film, while often disparaged by critics, was even more of a box-office hit.

A semi-biographical film, The Great Ziegfeld, was produced in 1936. A film recreating the Follies in an all-star screen version, Ziegfeld Follies, was produced in 1946. Both were made by MGM and featured William Powell as Ziegfeld.

A made-for-television film, Ziegfeld: The Man and His Women, starring Paul Shenar as Ziegfeld, Samantha Eggar as Billie Burke and Barbara Parkins as Anna Held, was produced by Columbia Pictures amd shown on NBC in 1978. This movie occasionally plays on STARZ cable channel in a truncated version.

Broadway productions



References

  1. Cambridge Guide to the American Theatre, (New York: Cambridge UP, 1995) 511
  2. Dunning, John. On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-19-507678-8.


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