Moonshine Monday: The Ziegfeld Follies

moonshinemonday Welcome to Moonshine Mondays! In the lead up to the release of my Jazz Age-set romance Such a Dance on October 27, I’m rolling out some history, photos, background info and other special features relating to the book.

Broadway impressario Florenz “Flo” Ziegfeld most famously brought forth his Follies, a vaudeville variety show inspired by Paris’s Folies Bergère. There were imitators—the closest was George White’s Scandals—but Ziegfeld’s show was the biggest and flashiest.

Ziegfeld and SandowZiegfeld was born in Chicago in the 1860s. His father owned a night club called the Trocadero, and it was here Ziegfeld got his start as a producer, bringing in legendary strong man Eugen Sandow to attract crowds during the World’s Fair in 1893.

Ziegfeld moved to New York and produced the Follies from 1907 until 1931. The Follies featured some of the biggest names in entertainment of the day, including music composed by Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Jerome Kern. Stars included W. C. Fields, Eddie Cantor, Josephine Baker, Fanny Brice, Bert Williams, Bob Hope, Will Rogers, Ruth Etting, Louise Brooks, Marilyn Miller, and Sophie Tucker, among others. The Follies were also famous for their tableaux of beautiful women, the most elaborately costumed chorines on Broadway.

Ziegfeld New AmsterdamFrom 1913 until 1931, the Follies ran annually at the New Amsterdam Theater, which also hosted the Follies’ sexier sister show, the Midnight Frolic in its rooftop garden. The theater opened in 1903 and was run by producers Klaw and Erlanger, and it still stands on the south side of 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues. Along with the Lyceum Theater, it’s the oldest theater currently on Broadway. You may know it as the theater that Disney bought and restored in the 90s, and it has been home to The Lion King, Mary Poppins, and currently Aladdin.

Ziegfeld also opened his eponymous theater on 6th Ave between 54th and 55th Street in 1927. (The current Ziegfeld Theater was built over the old one, which was demolished in 1966. It’s now a movie theater.) The Ziegfeld hosted Show Boat, which Ziegfeld also produced, and this show is widely considered to be the first modern musical.

In Such a Dance, Eddie dances in the Doozies, kind of a low-rent knock off of the Follies. The Doozies are fictional, but the production is based on the many that tried to grasp at Ziegfeld’s success. Ziegfeld was a clever promoter and knew how to put on a good show, though, so no one could compete. There’s a scene in which Eddie auditions for Ziegfeld, even; in my head, Ziegfeld is domineering and difficult to impress, which is how I portrayed him in the book.

For further reading, I highly recommend Ethan Mordden’s biography, called Ziegfeld: The Man Who Invented Show Business. I’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg here; Ziegfeld’s life was tumultuous and fascinating.


Ziegfeld and his Ziegfeld Girls