When The Ziegfeld Follies Entertained New York

September 27, 2022

Florenz Ziegfeld was born on March 21, 1869, in Chicago. He was involved in theater from a young age, and in 1893, his father encouraged him to use the Chicago World’s Fair as a business opportunity. He was initially not a success, but once he started to work on publicity for Eugen Sandow, he made a profit which helped to encourage him.

During the Midnight Frolic, men were encouraged to pop the balloon outfits using cigarettes and cigars. Source: (Tumblr/colorized).

During a trip to Europe, Ziegfeld met Anna Held, a Polish-French singer and actress, and they entered into a common law marriage in 1897. He promoted Held in America, and she found success in several of his Broadway shows, including A Parisian Model (1906). However, much of her success came because of rumors fed to the press and Ziegfeld’s creation of publicity stunts. Ziegfeld created the Ziegfeld Follies at the suggestion of Held, and the Follies were inspired by the Parisian Folies Bergère. One of Ziegfeld’s goals was to put on shows that embraced “erotic abandon,” and his initial shows were produced by Klaw and Erlanger.

The Follies Debuted In 1907

The Dolly sisters, who were in the Ziegfeld Follies for two seasons, starting in 1911. Source: (Pinterest/colorized).

The first show, The Follies of 1907, was produced at the Jardin de Paris roof theater. As with the follies that would follow it, the Follies of 1907 were lavish revues that were similar to a more elaborate and more high-class vaudeville show or to a variety show. By 1911, they were known as the Ziegfeld Follies.

Several Well-Known Entertainers Were Part Of The Follies

Although many of the top entertainers of the time appeared in the shows, including W.C. Fields, Josephine Baker, and Ray Bolger, the Follies were famous for the many beautiful chorus girls, who were commonly known as the Ziegfeld Girls. These chorus girls, who were personally chosen by Ziegfeld, dressed in costumes by designers such as Erté and their movements were perfectly synchronized. They ascended and descended flights of stairs dressed as anything from birds to battleships, and performed to the works of prominent composers, including Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Jerome Kern.