The Man Who Invented Show Business
By Ethan Mordden
(St. Martin's Press, Hardcover, 9780312375430, 352pp.)
Publication Date: November 11, 2008
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Any girl who twists her hat will be fired! – Florenz Ziegfeld
And no Ziegfeld girl ever did as she made her way down the gala stairways of the Ziegfeld Follies in some of the most astonishing spectacles the American theatergoing public ever witnessed. When Florenz Ziegfeld started in theater, it was flea circus, operetta and sideshow all rolled into one. When he left it, the glamorous world of "show-biz" had been created. Though many know him as the man who "glorified the American girl," his first real star attraction was the bodybuilder Eugen Sandow, who flexed his muscles and thrilled the society matrons who came backstage to squeeze his biceps. His lesson learned with Sandow, Ziegfeld went on to present Anna Held, the naughty French sensation, who became the first Mrs. Ziegfeld. He was one of the first impresarios to mix headliners of different ethnic backgrounds, and literally the earliest proponent of mixed-race casting. The stars he showcased and, in some cases, created have become legends: Billie Burke (who also became his wife), elfin Marilyn Miller, cowboy Will Rogers, Bert Williams, W. C. Fields, Eddie Cantor and, last but not least, neighborhood diva Fanny Brice. A man of voracious sexual appetites when it came to beautiful women, Ziegfeld knew what he wanted and what others would want as well. From that passion, the Ziegfeld Girl was born. Elaborately bejeweled, they wore little more than a smile as they glided through eye-popping tableaux that were the highlight of the Follies, presented almost every year from 1907 to 1931. Ziegfeld's reputation and power, however, went beyond the stage of the Follies as he produced a number of other musicals, among them the ground-breaking Show Boat. In Ziegfeld: The Man Who Created Show Business, Ethan Mordden recreates the lost world of the Follies, a place of long-vanished beauty masterminded by one of the most inventive, ruthless, street-smart and exacting men ever to fill a theatre on the Great White Way : Florenz Ziegfeld.
Ethan Mordden has written extensively for The New Yorker and The New York Times. Besides non-fiction on theatre, music, and film, he is the author of the Buddies cycle of short stories. The stories, adapted for the stage by Scott Edward Smith as Buddies, played an engagement at the Celebration Theater in Los Angeles. His most recent novel is The Jewcatcher, a savage black-comic fantasy on life in Nazi Germany.
“[Ethan Mordden possesses] the kind of long view and deep investigation that almost no writer has previously brought to bear on the [history of the Broadway stage].”
--Jesse Greene, The New York Times
Praise for "All that Glittered: The Golden Age of Drama on Broadway, 1919-1959"
“Ethan Mordden, the almost absurdly prolific theatrical chronicler, has compiled a serious and engaging history. Mordden’s evocation of the glory days of drama is a handsome reminder—the next best thing, as they say, to being there.”—The Washington Post Book World
“Erudite, but casual and conversational, and full of fresh perceptions, Mordden is a charmingly insightful raconteur who condenses 40 years' worth of opening nights into a single engrossing montage."—Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
“[A] witty, compulsively readable style and knack for finding the right figures to focus on in each era. Mordden is a master at revealing the web of aesthetic and business connections just beneath the surface of developments.”—Booklist
“More than enlivening description, Mordden offers social, political, aesthetic and cultural context as he discusses what led to Broadway's ascendancy and demise. Mordden's keen eye, broad vision, wealth of detail and sparkling style bring to life the American rialto at its peak."—Kirkus Reviews
“Exudes intelligence and wit. The author clearly possesses a passion for and an involvement with the theater, and he easily wins over the reader (who may strongly disagree with his views as the book progresses) in the first few pages with his conversational style and sly wisecracks. This is an enthralling exploration of a legendary and glamorous time in theater history.”-- Library Journal