Anna Held

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Anna Held
Anna Held JWS19265.jpg
Anna Held
Helene Anna Held

(1872-03-19)19 March 1872
Died12 August 1918(1918-08-12) (aged 46)
Resting placeCemetery of the Gate of Heaven
OccupationActress, singer
Maximo Carrera
(m. 1894; div. 1908)
Partner(s)Florenz Ziegfeld (1897-1913)

Helene Anna Held (19 March 1872 – 12 August 1918), known professionally as Anna Held, was a Broadway stage performer and singer born in Warsaw, Poland. She started her career with stints in theatres in Paris and London, and is most often associated with theatre producer and impresario Florenz Ziegfeld, her common-law husband.[1]

Early life[edit]

Born in Warsaw, Congress Poland, Russian Empire, Held was the daughter of a German-Jewish glove maker, Shimmle (aka Maurice) Held, and his French-Jewish wife, Yvonne Pierre.[2]

Sources of her year of birth range from 1865–73, but 1872 has been accepted in general. In 1881, anti-Semitic pogroms forced the family to flee to Paris, France. When her father's glovemaking business failed, he found work as a janitor, while her mother operated a kosher restaurant. Held began working in the garment industry, then found work as a singer in Jewish theatres in Paris and, later, after her father's death, London, where her roles included the title role in a production by Jacob Adler of Abraham Goldfaden's Shulamith; she was also in Goldfaden's ill-fated Paris troupe, whose cashier stole their money before they ever played publicly.[3]

As a young woman in France, Held converted to Roman Catholicism.[4]


Early years[edit]

Portrait of Anna Held around 1908, by Léopold-Émile Reutlinger
Anna Held and her daughter

Her vivacious and animated personality proved popular, and her career as a stage performer began to gain momentum. She was soon known for her risqué songs, flirtatious nature and willingness to show her legs on stage. Around this time, she became the wife of a much-older Uruguayan playboy, Maximo Carrera, with whom she had a daughter, Lianne (1895–1988), shortly after their 1894 marriage, and who became an actress and producer, sometimes billed as Anna Held Jr.[5]

Touring through Europe, Held was appearing in London in 1896 when she met Florenz Ziegfeld. Ziegfeld asked her to return to New York City with him and she agreed. He set about creating a wave of public interest in her, by feeding stories about her to the American press, such as her having had ribs surgically removed. By the time Held and Ziegfeld arrived in New York, she was already the subject of intense public speculation.[3] When she finally performed (in a revival of A Parlor Match), the critics were dismissive of her, but the public liked her.[6]

Broadway success[edit]

Held, in an 1890s publicity photo
Anna Held, by Aimé Dupont

David Monod of Wilfrid Laurier University has suggested that Held succeeded more on image than talent, the illusion she presented to post-Victorian era audiences who were beginning to explore new social freedoms.[7]:296–297 From 1897, Held enjoyed several successes on Broadway, including A Parisian Model (1906–1907). These, apart from bolstering Ziegfeld's fortune, made her a millionaire in her own right. Ziegfeld's talent for creating publicity stunts ensured that Held's name remained well known.[8]

Held influenced the format for what would eventually become the famous Ziegfeld Follies in 1907, and she helped Ziegfeld establish the most lucrative phase of his career. Held could not perform in the first Follies as she had become pregnant by Ziegfeld in late 1908. Held's daughter Lianne later claimed in her unpublished memoirs that Ziegfeld forced Held to have an abortion because he did not want her pregnancy interfering with Miss Innocence, a show in which she would star in 1908–1909.[8] The claim was repeated in a purported autobiography by Held entitled Anna Held and Flo Ziegfeld. Richard and Paulette Ziegfeld, authors of The Ziegfeld Touch, concluded that Held never wrote her memoirs, and Lianne was the real author of the alleged autobiography.[9]:23 Eve Golden, Held's biographer, wrote that Lianne's abortion claim was likely a lie designed to demonize Ziegfeld, whom Lianne loathed.[8]

In 1909, Ziegfeld began an affair with the actress Lillian Lorraine; Held remained hopeful that his fascination would pass, and he would return to her, but instead he turned his attentions to another actress Billie Burke, whom he would marry in 1914.[10]


New York entertainment entrepreneur Oliver Morosco cast Held in the lead for Madame la Presidente in 1916. According to an interview she gave to Hector Ames for Motion Picture Classic, she was paid $25,000 for her performance.[11]

Later years and death[edit]

After Miss Innocence, Held left Broadway. She spent the years of World War I working in vaudeville and touring France, performing for French soldiers and raising money for the war effort. She was considered a war heroine for her contributions, and was highly regarded for the courage she displayed in traveling to the front lines, to be where she could do the most good.[12]

Held's grave in Gate of Heaven Cemetery
Held's footstone

The year 1917 was one of constant touring for Held; she toured the United States in a production of Follow Me until ill health caused her to close the show in January 1918. She then checked into the Hotel Savoy in New York City where her health continued to decline.[9]:124 Held had been battling multiple myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells, for a year. News coverage began reporting that it had been caused by her practice of excessive lacing of her corsets to give her a tiny waist.[13]

According to the Washington Times, Held had been in and out of consciousness for about a week. On August 12, 1918, her doctor had pronounced her dead, and the media was alerted. Approximately two hours later, Held revived, and the media notified she was still alive, only to have Held finally die shortly thereafter.[14][15]

A Catholic convert,[16] Held's funeral was held at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan on August 14.[9]:23[17] Florenz Ziegfeld did not attend as he had a phobia about death and never attended funerals. Held is interred at Cemetery of the Gate of Heaven in Hawthorne, New York.[9]:23


Luise Rainer received an Academy Award for her portrayal of Held in The Great Ziegfeld (1936).


Broadway credits of Anna Held
Year Title Role Theatre Produced by Ref(s)
1896 A Parlor Match Herald Square Theatre Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. [21]
1897 The French Maid Suzette Herald Square Theatre Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. and Charles E. Evans [22]
1897 La poupée Alesia Olympia Theatre Oscar Hammerstein I [23]
1899–1900 Papa's Wife Anna Manhattan Theatre Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. [24]
1901–02 The Little Duchess The Little Duchess Casino Theatre
Grand Opera House
Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. [25]
1903–04 Mam'selle Napoleon Mademoiselle Mars Knickerbocker Theatre Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. [26]
1904–05 Higgledy-Piggledy Mimi de Chartreuse Weber's Music Hall Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. and Joseph M. Weber [27]
1907–08 A Parisian Model Anna Broadway Theatre Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. and Frank McKee [28]
1908–09 Miss Innocence Anna, Miss Innocence New York Theatre Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. [29]
1913–14 Anna Held's All Star Variete Jubilee Self Casino Theatre John Cort [30]
1916–17 Follow Me Claire LaTour Casino Theatre Lee Shubert and Jacob J. Shubert [31]


Year Title Role Notes
1901 Anna Held Herself Close-up version
Short subject[32]
1901 Anna Held Herself Full-length version
Short subject[33]
1910 The Comet Short subject[34]
1913 Elevating an Elephant Herself Short subject
1913 Popular Players Off the Stage Herself Short subject
1916 Madame la Presidente Mademoiselle Gobette [35]


  1. ^ Cullen, Frank; Hackman, Florence; McNeilly, Donald (2004). Vaudeville Old & New: An Encyclopedia Of Variety Performances In America, Volume 1. Psychology Press. p. 501. ISBN 978-0-415-93853-2.
  2. ^ Fields, Armond (2006). Women Vaudeville Stars: Eighty Biographical Profiles. McFarland. p. 22. ISBN 978-0-786-42583-9.
  3. ^ a b Pollak, Oliver B. "Anna Held". Jewish Women's Archive. Retrieved January 14, 2018.
  4. ^ James, Edward T.; Wilson James, Janet; Boyer, Paul S., eds. (1971). Notable American Women, 1607–1950: A Biographical Dictionary, Volume 1. 1. Harvard University Press. p. 178. ISBN 978-0-674-62734-5.
  5. ^ a b "Anna Held's Daughter, Done With Stages, Lives Life Of Farmer and Innkeeper". The Pittsburgh Press. 10 September 1933. p. 6. Retrieved October 11, 2014.
  6. ^ "Can She Sing, Too?". New-York Tribune. September 20, 1896. pp. 4, col. 3. Retrieved January 14, 2018.
  7. ^ Monod, David (2011). "The Eyes of Anna Held: Sex and Sight in the Progressive Era". The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. 10 (3): 289–327. JSTOR 23045138.
  8. ^ a b c Golden, Eve (2013). Anna Held and the Birth of Ziegfeld's Broadway. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 121–22. ISBN 978-0-813-14653-9.
  9. ^ a b c d Hanson, Nils (2011). Lillian Lorraine: The Life and Times of a Ziegfeld Diva. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-786-48935-0.
  10. ^ "Florenz Ziegfeld Dies in Hollywood After Long Illness". Archived from the original on 2016-05-31. Retrieved 2016-09-16.
  11. ^ Ames, Hector (1916). "A "Close Up" of Anna Held". Motion Picture Classic. 2: 1–6 & 57–58. Retrieved January 14, 2018.
  12. ^ "Madame la Presidente". Archived from the original on 2018-01-14. Retrieved 2018-01-12.
  13. ^ "Anna Held a Victim of "Tight Lacing?"". Richmond Times-Dspatch. May 26, 1918. p. Image 47. Retrieved January 15, 2018.
  14. ^ "Science Explains Anna Held's Awakening From Two Hours of Death". The Washington Times. September 1, 1918. p. Image 19. Retrieved January 1, 2018.
  15. ^ "Last Curtain For Anna Held". The Spokesman-Review. 16 August 1918. p. 8. Retrieved 11 October 2014.
  16. ^ "Anna Held & John Drew- Sandburg's Hometown - by Barbara Schock - 22 June 2015". Retrieved 15 January 2018.
  17. ^ "Miss Held's Funeral". The Toronto World. 15 August 1918. p. 10. Retrieved 11 October 2014.
  18. ^ Berardinelli, James. "Reelviews Movie Reviews". Reelviews Movie Reviews. Retrieved January 14, 2018.
  19. ^ "Ziegfeld: The Man and His Women". The Star Press – via (subscription required). May 21, 1978. p. 26. Retrieved January 14, 2018.
  20. ^ Schock, Barbara (June 22, 2015). "Anna Held & John Drew- Sandburg's Hometown". Retrieved January 14, 2018.
  21. ^ "A Parlor Match". The Broadway League. Retrieved January 14, 2018.
  22. ^ "The French Maid". The Broadway League. Retrieved January 14, 2018.
  23. ^ "La poupée". The Broadway League. Retrieved January 14, 2018.
  24. ^ "Papa's Wife". The Broadway League. Retrieved January 14, 2018.
  25. ^ "The Little Duchess". The Broadway League. Retrieved January 14, 2018.
  26. ^ "Mam'selle Napoleon". The Broadway League. Retrieved January 14, 2018.
  27. ^ "Higgledy-Piggledy". The Broadway League. Retrieved January 14, 2018.
  28. ^ "A Parisian Model". The Broadway League. Retrieved January 14, 2018.
  29. ^ "Miss Innocence". The Broadway League. Retrieved January 14, 2018.
  30. ^ "Anna Held's All Star Variete Jubilee". The Broadway League. Retrieved January 14, 2018.
  31. ^ "Follow Me". The Broadway League. Retrieved January 14, 2018.
  32. ^ "Anna Held". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Archived from the original on 1 January 2017. Retrieved 31 December 2016.
  33. ^ "Anna Held profile". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Archived from the original on 1 January 2017. Retrieved 31 December 2016.
  34. ^ "The Comet". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Archived from the original on 1 January 2017. Retrieved 31 December 2016.
  35. ^ "Madame La Presidente". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Archived from the original on 22 April 2016. Retrieved 31 December 2016.

Further reading[edit]

  • Eve Golden, Anna Held and the Birth of Ziegfeld's Broadway, Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2000

External links[edit]