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What are the Ziegfeld Follies?

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  • Written By: K T Solis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 28 July 2014
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The Ziegfeld Follies was an elaborate show in the U.S. that was famous for its lavish stage productions, chorus of lovely women, and variety of performers. It was created by a man named Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. Ziegfeld was born on March 1867 in Chicago, IL and was destined for a life in show business.

His musical triumph came to life as the Ziegfeld Follies of 1907, a stage production modeled after the Parisian musical review called the Folies-Bergére. The show began in July 1907 at the New York Theater. The Folliesfeatured women dancing in a chorus line and wearing costumes that were considered quite daring at that time. Despite Ziegfeld's inability to write music, direct, or design, he built a musical empire that dominated the theater scene in the early 20th century. His ability to showcase beautiful women, hire the best talent, and create fantastic spectacles lured audiences to his events.

In 1911, the show was renamed the Ziegfeld Follies and remained popular for 24 years. The Ziegfeld Follies was an eclectic combination of dance, comedy, musical skits, and lavish production numbers. It was famed for its glamorous female dancers dubbed "Ziegfeld girls." Stars that graced the Follies' stage included people such as Anna Held, Billie Burke, Fannie Brice, Eddie Cantor, Will Rogers, and W.C. Fields. Notable productions at the time were shows such as Sally, Rio Rita, Rosalie, Show Boat, and Bitter Sweet.

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Upon his death in 1932, Ziegfeld's widow granted permission for other promoters to use his name in their productions. The promoters hoped to capitalize on Ziegfeld's name in order to pack audiences into their own shows. Unfortunately, these later Follies productions failed commercially, unable to capture the success of the original Ziegfeld Follies.

It wasn't until the movie The Great Ziegfeld starring William Powell entered the scene that the Zeigfeld Follies returned to the public's eye. It won the 1936 Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role, and Best Dance Direction. A 1946 film entitled Ziegfeld Follies featuring Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Lena Horne, and other Hollywood greats gave later audiences a further glimpse into what it was like at the original Ziegfeld Follies.

A cross between Broadway and a high-class Vaudeville variety show, the Ziegfeld Follies captured theatergoers' imaginations with its glamor, glitz, and beautiful show girls. Ziegfeld was a born showman who knew what the public wished to see. Despite his inability to write music, direct, or design stage productions, Ziegfeld assembled a formidable group of directors, composers, and performers to help him thrust his musicals into entertainment history.

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