The Ziegfeld Follies were the brainchild
of one Florenz Ziegfeld, a master showman of the early twentieth century. They brought a unique
style, taste, and extravagance
to the theater. It also was the advent
of a new form of entertainment called the revue
Ziegfeld, possibly as a reaction to his father's classical music career, entered show business as a producer of variety entertainment. It was a production that was called A Parlor Match, with a French performer by the name of Anna Held, that demonstrated his talent as an impresario. He used beautiful women, lavish costumes, and elaborate scenery to create spectacle. Ziegfeld staged A Parlor Match so that the production showcased Held's beauty and risque charms. Although she appeared in only one scene, she became the star of the show. Ziegfeld and Held entered into a common law marriage soon after the success of the show. They divorced in 1912. He later married Billie Burke, a musical comedy star who later appeared as Glenda, the good witch, in The Wizard of Oz.
As a result of the success of A Parlor Match, a production firm approached Ziegfeld and asked him to mount a light musical entertainment for the summer season. He devised a show that combined European style with American topical humor. The result, The Follies of 1907, was so successful that Ziegfeld went on to produce the show annually, calling it the Ziegfeld Follies.
Twenty one editions of the follies were staged. Over the years, the productions developed with a modest topical review of current events with a chorus of women. They were staged during the slack summer season, in a complex, spectacular presentation. Lavish in style and grand in scale, they served as the regular season's premier entertainment. In a two-act presentation of twenty three scenes, Ziegfeld blended comedy sketches, dances, and specialty acts with costly costumes and innovative scenery. The productions emphasized the beauty of the sixty-woman chorus, its most noted feature. The shows were a kaleidoscope, Ziegfeld was a master at blending the elements into an organic, spectacular whole.
Called the "Great Glorifier", Ziegfeld created a theatrical environment in which the chorus as well as the featured performers assumed a special and heightened star status. Some of the more familiar performers in the Ziegfeld Follies included Fanny Brice, Will Rogers, W. C. Fields and Eddie Cantor.
Because of the Follies emphasis on opulance, spectacle, and beauty, the shows embodied the values of an America filled with the notion of prosperity and the American Dream. Subsequently, the names of the elite at the time, the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers, the Guggenheims, and various show biz personalities, were mentioned in reviews in the newspapers.
The Follies also represented the height of American show business, Ziegfeld did not let financial considerations infringe on artistic ones in the creation of his personal theatrical vision. He died in 1932, at the height of the Great Depression. He left behind a legacy of being a great showman and developed a form of entertainment that has never been quite duplicated or matched.