The Man Who Invented Show Business
By Ethan Mordden
(St. Martin's Press, Hardcover, 9780312375430, 352pp.)
Publication Date: November 11, 2008
List Price: $32.95*
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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.