Broadway Players: Florenz Ziegfeld

If you’ve heard of the Ziegfeld follies than you at least have an idea of the man behind the famed group. He is considered to have “glorified of the American girl.”

Florenz Edward Ziegfeld, Jr. was born on March 21, 1867 in Chicago, Illinois.  He was the son of Florenz and Rosalie Hez Ziegfeld.

Florenz Ziegfeld

He grew up in the musical world, as his father ran the Chicago Musical College and later opened a nightclub.  As a child, he was a witness to the great Chicago Fire of 1871.

His stage spectaculars, the Ziegfeld Follies, began in 1907.  He produced these extravaganzas annually from 1907-1931.  He featured the Ziegfeld Girls, female chorus dancers who wore elaborate costumes and performed in synchronization.  He said, “Women glorify gowns, and certain gowns can glorify certain girls.”

Many of those who received their start with him, before gaining greatness, include Fanny Brice, Ruth Etting, Will Rogers, Eddie Cantor, and Ann Pennington.

Ziegfeld married Anna Held in 1897 {although her obituary says they were not married} and they divorced in 1913.  She died in 1918.

Ziegfeld fell in love with one of his show girls, Lillian Lorraine, and is said to love her for the rest of his life.

On April 11, 1914, he married actress Billie Burke. They would have one child together.

Florenz Ziegfeld

In February 1927, he opened a production of Rio Rita, which ran for almost 500 performances.  This success was followed with the hit, Show Boat, which ran for 572 performances.  Kern and Hammerstein wrote the book for Show Boat.

In 1927, he built the Ziegfeld Theatre on Sixth Avenue.

With the 1929 stock market crash, Ziegfeld lost much of his money.

In 1932, he brought the Follies to CBS Radio with The Ziegfeld Follies of the Air.

He died on July 22, 1932 in Hollywood, California from pleurisy.

Ziegfeld is a member of the American Theatre Hall of Fame.