Follies

Having watched way more black and white movies than most people I know, I’m relatively familiar with rehashed versions of the Vaudeville—Broadway—Hollywood transition—last week I watched “Broadway Melody of 1929,” which was featured the requisite Florenz Ziegfeld stand-in (Eddie Kane as “Francis Zanfield”). Still I have trouble wrapping my mind around the popularity and cultural ubiquity of Ziegfeld and the cultural artifacts—not least the Broadway musical—he helped create. The cinematic references just seem like an inside joke I’m just shy of getting.

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A century is a mere blink in the history of mankind, but it’s a long time in the history of show business. Just about a hundred years ago, a Chicago-born talent manager started a franchise called the “Follies” that set New York on its ear. He apotheosized the showgirl and changed the entertainment rulebook by making the revue an ethnic stew. He later went on to produce “Show Boat,” the first great American musical. But who knows much about Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. today? To most New Yorkers he’s just a name on a dinosaurish single-screen movie house in Midtown.

Even the stars he showcased — Fanny Brice and Will Rogers, Eddie Cantor and Marilyn Miller — are mostly just names in the pages of theater histories. Among Ziegfeld’s long A-list of “Follies” regulars, W. C. Fields alone forged a big-time career in the movies, ensuring the only kind of immortality that seems readily marketable today, the kind that can be uploaded onto YouTube in easily digestible nuggets.


from “‘Ziegfeld – The Man Who Invented Show Business,’ by Ethan Mordden,” reviewed by Charles Isherwood, The New York Times, 23 November 2008 :: via 3quarksdaily

Originally published at culture-making.com.

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