Saturday, 26 January 2013

The Ziegfeld Follies And Their Perfection

All through my childhood the musicals my family showed me had included a strange mystical world that I never understood - that of the Ziegfeld Follies. For one thing I never could (and still can't) spell it, and when I was little I didn't even grasp the time period either. They were just a group of girls dancing in feathers on stage.

Or could you call it dancing? They kind of just floated while men in tuxedos lead them around elaborate sets. Then once they were off stage they battled about how high their salaries were. Best job ever? I THINK SO. Florenz Ziegfeld regularly put on shows with extravagant numbers and chorus girls during the early 20th century. They've since been the subject of many films, novels and musicals.

I have so many favourite Ziegfeld scenes; Ann Miller "Shakin' The Blues Away" from Easter Parade, Barbra Striesand "My Man" from Funny Girl, and basically all the numbers in Ziegfeld Girl (1941) starring Judy Garland, Lana Turner and glamour queen starlet Hedy Lamarr (badass scientist and mathematician on the side).

dis here crown what I be talkin' 'bout.

The vintage pictures of follies showgirls are dramatic, flamboyant and all around fabulous. They're either drenched in feathers or draped in barely there chiffon sitting on (quite literally) a paper moon sailing over a cardboard sea (if you got that reference why are you not at my house singing close part harmonies with me?).

It's set an unrealistic aesthetic goal for all variety theatre I ever do. I'm pretty sure that if there's a heaven above then it looks like this.

Florenz Ziegfeld was also married to Billie Burke (GLINDA FREAKIN  GOOD WITCH OF THE NORTH) which adds to his general appeal, and he is also amazingly portrayed by Walter Pidgeon which leads me onto my next subject which is the William Wyler/Barbra Streisand masterpiece that is Funny Girl (1968).

It's the incredible story of real life Follies comedienne, Fanny Brice who came from a Jewish family in New York and nagged her way with her unmatchable talent into the Ziegfeld Follies. Who better to play her than Barbra Streisand? I have no words for this film. Flawless. Can't even go there.

Then you have another musical about the Follies that I love, entitled (imaginatively) "Follies". It's a Stephen Sondheim musical and includes some fabulous songs. I watched the filmed concert version starring Lee Remick, Barbara Cook and Mandy Petinkin. Barbara Cook singing "Losing My Mind" is just wow. Watch.

And last but not least is Easter Parade. One of my favourites with Judy Garland, Fred Astaire and Ann Miller. The general backstage kimono wearing is definitely to be applauded.

Also Ann Miller's fantastic "Shakin' The Blues Away" number which she performed in a back brace after her husband threw her down the stairs.

Anyway, I hope I may have inspired you to go watch some Ziegfeld movies or just look at pictures. They're incredible.



silverscreenings said...

Ann Miller did that in a backbrace? Are you kidding?! Amazing!!

Martin Turnbull (the Garden of Allah novels) said...

Hey! I am SO SO SO glad to learn that I'm not the only numbskull in the world who can never be sure his spelling of Ziegfeld is correct. The E before the I? The I before the E? Is there a I after the F? It's so hard! And I'm never 100% sure that I've got it right. But I sure take comfort in the fact that I'm not alone. For that reason alone, thank you for this post.

Other reasons:
the photo of Fanny Brice! WOW!
the factoid that Ann Miller did that number in a back brace! DOUBLE WOW!

Vienna said...

Lovely post and pictures.
Love that picture of Judy Garland in the kimono.
I'm glad you mentioned Barbara Cook's "Losing My Mind". Unforgettable, isn't it . I've seen Barbara in concert many times and love her
It's funny that William Powell played Ziegfeld twice - in THE GREAT ZIEGFELD and in ZIEGFELD FOLLIES.
Fanny Brice was in both and it was great to hear her do her famous number, "My Man" in the former.
Another truly memorable Ziegfeld number in The Great Ziegfeld is "A Pretty Girl is like a Melody".
My favorite number in Ziegfeld Follies in "This Heart of Mine", sung by Fred Astaire and danced by Fred and Lucille Bremer.
There's also ZIEGFELD GIRL ,with an all star cast including James Stewart,Judy Garland, Lana Turner and Hedy Lamarr.
From that one, I like Tony Martin's "You stepped out of a Dream".

My blog. http://dancing

Page said...

You've certainly captured the appeal of the Follies with your gorgeous photos and posters. If only we could go back and appear on the Follies for just one show. That would be heaven.
The musical numbers with the costumes and grueling dance routines were brilliant and they certainly hold up today. I never miss these films when they air on TCM.

Glad you mention Ann in Easter Parade. One of my favorites for her. Those legs, my my!

I've always wondered how much that costume, head dress weighed that Hedy wore in Ziegfeld Girls. All of the costumes for that film were stunning.

Thanks for taking a trip back with the glamorous Ziegfeld girls, the actresses who were lucky enough to play them throughout the years.

Sheh said...

'Ziegfeld' gets easy to spell if one has just the tiniest smattering of German at one's disposal: Ziege = goat; Feld = field. Ziegfeld = a field of goats!

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