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The Ziegfeld Follies were a series of elaborate theatrical productions on Broadway in New York City from 1907 through 1931. They became a radio program in 1932 and 1936 as The Ziegfeld Follies of the Air.
Inspired by the Folies Bergères of Paris, the Ziegfeld Follies were conceived and mounted by Florenz Ziegfeld, reportedly at the suggestion of his then-wife, the entertainer Anna Held. The shows' producers were turn-of-the-twentieth-century producing titans Klaw & Erlanger.
The Follies were lavish revues, something between later Broadway shows and a more elaborate high class Vaudeville variety show. Many of the top entertainers of the era (including W.C. Fields, Eddie Cantor, Josephine Baker, Fanny Brice, Ann Pennington, Bert Williams, Bob Hope, Will Rogers, Ruth Etting, Ray Bolger, Helen Morgan, Louise Brooks, Marilyn Miller, Ed Wynn, Gilda Gray, Nora Bayes, Sophie Tucker, and others) appeared in the shows. The Ziegfeld Follies were also famous for many beautiful chorus girls commonly known as Ziegfeld girls,usually wearing elaborate costumes by designers such as Erté, Lady Duff Gordon or Ben Ali Haggin. The first Follies was produced in 1907 at the roof theatre Jardin de Paris.
The Ziegfeld girls "paraded up and down flights of stairs as anything from birds to battleships." 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.
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After Ziegfeld's death, his widow Billie Burke authorized use of his name for Ziegfeld Follies in 1934 and 1936 to Jake Shubert, who then produced the Follies. The name was later used by other promoters in New York City, Philadelphia and again on Broadway, with less connection to the original Follies. These latter efforts failed miserably. When later it toured, the 1934 edition was recorded in its entirety, from the Overture to Play-out music, on a series of 78 rpm discs, which were edited by the record producer David Cunard to form an album of the highlights of the production and which was released as a Compact Disc in 1997.
The 1936 Best Picture winner was M-G-M's The Great Ziegfeld, starring William Powell as the master showman and co-starring Myrna Loy (as Ziegfeld's second wife Billie Burke), Luise Rainer (as Anna Held, which won her an Academy Award for Best Actress), and Frank Morgan. Featuring numbers by Ray Bolger, Dennis Morgan, Virginia Bruce, and Harriet Hoctor, the film gave a glimpse into what the Follies were really like. The MGM blockbuster's show-stopper was "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody", which, by itself, cost more to produce than one of Ziegfeld's whole shows.
In 1941 M-G-M released Ziegfeld Girl, starring Lana Turner, Judy Garland, Hedy Lamarr, James Stewart and Tony Martin which was set in the 1920s. Although the word "Follies" was never used during the film, celebrated numbers from Ziegfeld Revues were recreated, including the famed "Wedding Cake" set which had been used for Metro's earlier film, The Great Ziegfeld. Charles Winninger, who performed in the Follies of 1920, appeared as "Ed Gallagher" with Gallagher's real-life partner, Al Shean to recreate the duo's famous song "Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Shean," originally part of the Follies of 1922. According to modern sources, Lana Turner's character was modeled after Ziegfeld Girl Lillian Lorraine who had a drunken fall into the orchestra pit during an extravagant number.
In 1946 M-G-M released a third feature motion picture on Ziegfeld's shows entitled Ziegfeld Follies with Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Lena Horne, William Powell, Gene Kelly, Fanny Brice, Red Skelton, Esther Williams, Cyd Charisse, Lucille Ball, Kathryn Grayson, and others performing songs and sketches similar to those from the original Follies. Brice appeared in the Follies for more than ten years and the 1968 Columbia release Funny Girl, which starred Barbra Streisand as Brice and Walter Pidgeon as Florenz Ziegfeld, depicts Brice's success with the Follies.
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