Opulence & Elegance....

I'm currently working with my chorus girl team here in Calgary, The Sugar Sweets, to put together an autumn cabaret, with a theme of Opulence & Elegance. What better role model to look to than Florence Ziegfeld, and the Ziegfeld Follies. This piece of cinema, titled "Glorifying the American Girl", from 1929, was made just three years before Florence Ziegfeld's death in 1932.

Florence Ziegfeld was perhaps best known for his theatrical shows, which occurred between 1907-1931. Ziegfeld's numbers were always lavish and over-the-top, with beautiful
Florence Ziegfeld, circa 1915
women whom he chose himself. He often used already-known actresses in his theater shows, but elevated their celebrity status even higher by featuring them in his plays.



According to Wikipedia:

At a cost of $2.5 million, he built the 1600-seat Ziegfeld Theatre on the west side of Sixth Avenue between 54th and 55th Streets. Designed by Joseph Urban and Thomas W. Lamb, the auditorium was egg-shaped with the stage at the narrow end. A huge medieval-style mural, The Joy of Life, covered the walls and ceiling. To finance the construction, Ziegfeld borrowed from William Randolph Hearst, who took control of the theater after Ziegfeld's death.
The Ziegfeld Theatre opened in February 1927, with his production of Rio Rita, which ran for almost 500 performances. This was followed by Show Boat, which had the "largest advance ticket sale up to that time" and became a "substantial hit". "When the stunned opening night audience reacted to the show in near silence, Ziegfeld was convinced his gamble had failed. The rave reviews in the papers and long lines at the box office the next morning proved otherwise." It was a great success, with a run of 572 performances. In May 1932, after Ziegfeld lost much of his money in the stock market crash, he staged a revival of Show Boat. "By Depression standards, it was a hit", running for six months.

In this film, Glorifying the American Girl, we see a number of famous early jazz-era performers, including Rudy Vallee, Helen Morgan, and the famous blackface vaudeville actor, Eddie Cantor, who we have featured in another post on this blog. This particular film is pre-code, so we see much more suggestive nudity (if not "practically-nude") that you would in the following years in film, particularly at around 0:41 into this clip, when the curtains open to a scene of a Botticelli's Venus type stage set.

The costumes are no doubt breathtaking and stunning. In true classic Ziegfeld form, you have women with the most elaborate headdresses, practically dripping with sparkle and beauty. At around 1:28 into the clip, a group of women make their way down a staircase with the most elaborate white peacock feather head pieces, almost like angels presenting a singer who has an even MORE elaborate and giant feather costume arrangement.

This clip, for me, is really not about the dancing, but it is more about the mystique and fantasy that Ziegfeld creates in his stage design and costume.

BTW, if you haven't checked out the book, Jazz Age Beauties - The Lost Collection of Ziegfeld Photographer Alfred Cheney Johnston, I HIGHLY recommend it. I have a copy myself, and it has some of the most stunning photos ever!

And now, for your visual pleasure, I present the 1929 masterpiece, "Glorifying the American Girl"