Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr.
|Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr.|
Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr.
|Born||March 21, 1867/1869
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||July 22, 1932 (aged 63 or 65)
Hollywood, California, U.S.
(m.1914-1932; his death)
(1897-1913; legally divorced)
Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. (March 21, 1867/1869 – July 22, 1932), popularly known as "Flo" Ziegfeld, was an American Broadway impresario, notable for his series of theatrical revues, the Ziegfeld Follies (1907–1931), inspired by the Folies Bergère of Paris. He also produced the musical Show Boat. He was known as the "glorifier of the American girl". Flo Ziegfeld is a member of the American Theater Hall of Fame.
Early life and career
Ziegfeld was born in Chicago, Illinois on March 21, 1867. (Some sources, including his obituary, give the year of birth as 1869.) His mother, Rosalie (née de Hez), who was born in Belgium, was the grand niece of General Count Étienne Maurice Gérard. His father, Florenz Ziegfeld, Sr., was a German immigrant whose father was the mayor of Jever in Friesland. Ziegfeld, Jr., was baptized in his mother's Roman Catholic church (his father was Lutheran).
As a child he witnessed first-hand the Chicago fire of 1871. Florenz Ziegfeld, Sr. 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 unsuccessful nightclub, Ziegfeld, Jr., hired and managed the strongman, Eugen Sandow.
His stage spectaculars, known as the Ziegfeld Follies, began with Follies of 1907, which opened on July 7, 1907, and were produced annually until 1931. 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 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, Ruth Etting, 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 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 The Parisian Model, was a major reason for his starting the "series of lavish revues in 1907", the Ziegfeld Follies.
Ziegfeld married Held in 1897, but she divorced him in 1913, according to her obituary in The New York Times dated August 13, 1918. However, according to Eve Golden, Held and Ziegfeld had never actually married, but had an "informal" wedding in 1897, and had lived together long enough to "qualify as legal man and wife". Held's divorce from Ziegfeld became final on January 9, 1913. Held had submitted testimony about Ziegfeld's relationship with another woman. The unnamed party in this romantic triangle was showgirl Lillian Lorraine. Ziegfeld had discovered Lorraine, an entertainer of limited talent but charismatic stage presence and beauty, in 1907 when she was but fifteen years old and a minor performer in a Shubert production, The Tourists. He spent the next years promoting her career, rocketing her into ascendance as one of the most popular attractions in his Follies.
By 1911, Ziegfeld had established Lorraine in an apartment in the opulent Ansonia residential hotel, located two floors directly above the residence he shared with Anna Held. Author Lee Davis in his book, Scandals and Follies, writes: "By 1911, [Ziegfeld] was insanely in love with Lillian Lorraine and would remain so, to one degree or another, for the rest of his life, despite her erratic, irresponsible, often senseless behavior, her multiple marriages to other men, his own two marriages and his need for all his adult life to sleep with the best of the beauties he hired." 
The following year, Ziegfeld married actress Billie Burke, who in 1939 would go on to play Glinda in The Wizard of Oz. They had one child, Patricia Ziegfeld Stephenson (1916–2008). The family lived on his estate in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and in Palm Beach, Florida.
Ziegfeld Theatre and Show Boat
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 W. 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 in February 1927, with his production of Rio Rita, which ran for almost 500 performances. This was followed by Show Boat, which had the "largest advance ticket sale up to that time" and became a "substantial hit." "When the stunned opening-night audience reacted to the show in near silence, Ziegfeld was convinced his gamble had failed. The rave reviews in the papers and long lines at the box office the next morning proved otherwise." It was a great success, with a run of 572 performances.
In May 1932, after Ziegfeld lost much of his money in the stock market crash, he staged a revival of Show Boat. "By Depression standards, it was a hit", running for six months. That same year, he brought his Follies stars to CBS Radio with The Ziegfeld Follies of the Air.
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 with only three of the songs from the stage used. Whoopee! was made under Ziegfeld's personal supervision, with Ziegfeld as a producer with Samuel Goldwyn.
Show Boat was filmed three times. The first version, a part-talkie released in 1929 while the stage show was still playing, is more closely based on the source novel than the stage play. It kept only one song from the stage musical, "Ol' Man River". Nevertheless, Ziegfeld appeared in a sound prologue made to be shown before the actual film.
Two more film versions of Show Boat were made after Ziegfeld's death which were more faithful to the stage musical. The acclaimed 1936 film version featured many who had appeared in the stage show, including Helen Morgan and Irene Dunne. The 1951 Technicolor film, features a more abbreviated plot but includes almost all of the original songs. It stars Kathryn Grayson, Ava Gardner, and Howard Keel as Magnolia, Julie and Ravenal, respectively.
A semi-biographical film, The Great Ziegfeld, was produced in 1936, and won the "Outstanding Production" (now "Best Picture") Oscar for 1936. A film recreating the Follies with an all-star cast, Ziegfeld Follies, was produced in 1946. Both were made by MGM and featured William Powell as Ziegfeld.
A 3-hour 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 and shown on NBC in 1978.
Ziegfeld died in Hollywood, California on July 22, 1932. The cause was pleurisy, related to a previous lung infection. He had been in Los Angeles only a few days after moving from a New Mexico sanitarium. His death left Burke with substantial debts, driving her toward film acting to settle them. He is interred in Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York.
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Florenz Ziegfeld, musical comedy producer, died tonight at a hospital here. Death came at 10:31 P.M., after an unexpected setback that developed only tonight. Only Dr. Marcus Radwin, attending physician, and a nurse were in the room when the producer died.
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