Ziegfeld: The Man Who Invented Show Business [NOOK Book]


Any girl who twists her hat will be fired! – Florenz Ziegfeld

And no Ziegfeld girl ever did as she made her way down the gala stairways of the Ziegfeld Follies in some of the most astonishing spectacles the American theatergoing public ever witnessed.  When Florenz Ziegfeld started in theater, it was flea circus, operetta and sideshow all rolled into one.  When he left it, the glamorous world of "show-biz" had been created.  Though many know him as the man who ...

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Ziegfeld: The Man Who Invented Show Business

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Any girl who twists her hat will be fired! – Florenz Ziegfeld

And no Ziegfeld girl ever did as she made her way down the gala stairways of the Ziegfeld Follies in some of the most astonishing spectacles the American theatergoing public ever witnessed.  When Florenz Ziegfeld started in theater, it was flea circus, operetta and sideshow all rolled into one.  When he left it, the glamorous world of "show-biz" had been created.  Though many know him as the man who "glorified the American girl," his first real star attraction was the bodybuilder Eugen Sandow, who flexed his muscles and thrilled the society matrons who came backstage to squeeze his biceps.  His lesson learned with Sandow, Ziegfeld went on to present Anna Held, the naughty French sensation, who became the first Mrs. Ziegfeld.  He was one of the first impresarios to mix headliners of different ethnic backgrounds, and literally the earliest proponent of mixed-race casting.  The stars he showcased and, in some cases, created have become legends: Billie Burke (who also became his wife), elfin Marilyn Miller, cowboy Will Rogers, Bert Williams, W. C. Fields, Eddie Cantor and, last but not least, neighborhood diva Fanny Brice.  A man of voracious sexual appetites when it came to beautiful women, Ziegfeld knew what he wanted and what others would want as well.  From that passion, the Ziegfeld Girl was born. Elaborately bejeweled, they wore little more than a smile as they glided through eye-popping tableaux that were the highlight of the Follies, presented almost every year from 1907 to 1931.  Ziegfeld's reputation and power, however, went beyond the stage of the Follies as he produced a number of other musicals, among them the ground-breaking Show Boat.  In Ziegfeld: The Man Who Created Show Business, Ethan Mordden recreates the lost world of the Follies, a place of long-vanished beauty masterminded by one of the most inventive, ruthless, street-smart and exacting men ever to fill a theatre on the Great White Way : Florenz Ziegfeld.

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Editorial Reviews

Carolyn See
…engaging, often gnomic, information-packed biography of Florenz Ziegfeld…His life is almost incomprehensible in its breadth and quality of experience, but Mordden's voice, so impenetrable at times, is perfectly suited to this vast, embossed, embellished material.
—The Washington Post
Library Journal

Mordden, author of dozens of books (including Broadway histories All That Glittered and The Happiest Corpse I've Ever Seen), presents a fascinating look at a pivotal period in American theater. With a flowing style that combines factoids of historical events with historical commentary, personal anecdotes of the players, and his own insight, he creates ostensibly an insider's view. Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., the son of an immigrant piano instructor, began in Chicago and went on to become one of the most powerful managers on the Broadway stage he was so instrumental in developing. Ziegfeld's life is traced from his little-known, middle-class childhood through his rise in the business and his interactions with the Shuberts, their competing theater managers, and the multitude of once-obscure comedians, singers, dancers, writers, and composers who became stars under his management. He "democratized the musical, the theatre, American life" in a way that is still influential today, most notably in his insistent mix of races and classes among his players, beginning with black comedian Bert Williams in the Follies of 1910 and culminating in the masterpiece Show Boat in 1927. Highly recommended for theater collections.
—Laura A. Ewald

Kirkus Reviews

A rich and entertaining biography of Broadway's first auteur.

Ever the witty and erudite raconteur, Mordden (All That Glittered: The Golden Age of Drama on Broadway, 1919–1959, 2007, etc.) transports readers to the time when Times Square was just an intersection of streets. Shortly after Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. arrived in the 1890s, the new subway system made 42nd Street and Broadway a hub, bringing riders to what was becoming Theaterland. Ziegfeld hit the right place at the right time, but as Mordden wisely points out, the man knew exactly what to do as the stars were aligning. Ziegfeld had already honed his taste and producing skills in Chicago; he knew what he liked and what the public wanted. Besides making deals and (sometimes) writing checks, he put his stamp on what he staged. Ziegfeld spotlighted charismatic stars, signing Anna Held, Marilyn Miller, Eddie Cantor, Fannie Brice, W.C. Fields, Will Rogers, etc., and put them to work in lavishly designed revues, eventually known as the Ziegfeld Follies. For material and style, Ziegfeld drew on classic and popular entertainment forms—Goethe and sex, Mordden says—creating a Broadway template that prevails today, as anyone who sees the current New York revivals of the brassy Gypsy and the lyrical South Pacific will observe. Near the end of the '20s, Ziegfeld set collaborators to work on an emerging form, the musical that wed songs to a strong, central narrative. The result was Show Boat, a cornerstone in American musical theater. Mordden gives ample attention to Ziegfeld's personal life—in particular, his marriage to actress Billie Burke and his liaisons with the "American girls" he glorified on stage—but the main focus is thetheater. The author's descriptions are enlivening, his profiles sharp, his tone casual and elegant. He may never have met a diversion he didn't like (the original route of the IRT; notes on kooch dancing) or a zinger he couldn't resist (a description of Anna Held's pelt-laden photo-op attire looked "like the interior of an Indian hunting lodge").

As diverse and diverting as a night at the Follies.

Agent: Joe Spieler/The Spieler Agency

From the Publisher
“[Ethan Mordden possesses] the kind of long view and deep investigation that almost no writer has previously brought to bear on the [history of the Broadway stage].”

—Jesse Greene, The New York Times

“…engaging…This book is as much history as biography. Ziegfeld's personal life is consistently blank, but Mordden fills his pages with cast lists of every single "Follies," with mini-biographies of every star and comic [and] an extensive history of "Show Boat," which Ziegfeld produced…”—Washington Post


"Ethan Mordden offers a wealth of detail to illustrate how Ziegfeld left his stamp on every aspect of his productions…this fabled history is made fresh again by Mr. Mordden…as a look back at the beginnings of today's show-business world, "Ziegfeld" is invaluable."—Wall Street Journal


"In his meticulously researched and detailed portrait of the ultimate Rialto manager-producer, Mordden recalls with equal parts snark and smarts Ziegfeld's life and shows…Mordden captures the glamour, the seduction of the stage and, of course, the women who seduced both audiences — and Ziegfeld himself — through their beauty and talent." —Variety

Praise for "All that Glittered: The Golden Age of Drama on Broadway, 1919-1959"

“Ethan Mordden, the almost absurdly prolific theatrical chronicler, has compiled a serious and engaging history.  Mordden’s evocation of the glory days of drama is a handsome reminder—the next best thing, as they say, to being there.”—The Washington Post Book World

“Erudite, but casual and conversational, and full of fresh perceptions, Mordden is a charmingly insightful raconteur who condenses 40 years' worth of opening nights into a single engrossing montage."—Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

“[A] witty, compulsively readable style and knack for finding the right figures to focus on in each era. Mordden is a master at revealing the web of aesthetic and business connections just beneath the surface of developments.”Booklist

“More than enlivening description, Mordden offers social, political, aesthetic and cultural context as he discusses what led to Broadway's ascendancy and demise. Mordden's keen eye, broad vision, wealth of detail and sparkling style bring to life the American rialto at its peak."—Kirkus Reviews

“Exudes intelligence and wit. The author clearly possesses a passion for and an involvement with the theater, and he easily wins over the reader (who may strongly disagree with his views as the book progresses) in the first few pages with his conversational style and sly wisecracks. This is an enthralling exploration of a legendary and glamorous time in theater history.”— Library Journal

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429951524
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 11/11/2008
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 834,790
  • File size: 459 KB

Meet the Author

Ethan Mordden has written extensively for The New Yorker and The New York Times. Besides non-fiction on theatre, music, and film, he is the author of the Buddies cycle of short stories. The stories, adapted for the stage by Scott Edward Smith as Buddies, played an engagement at the Celebration Theater in Los Angeles. His most recent novel is The Jewcatcher, a savage black-comic fantasy on life in Nazi Germany.

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