Theatrical Producer. Flo Ziegfeld is recognized as an American theatrical impresario, who created and produced the “Ziegfeld Follies,” which ran annually from 1906 until 1932. The “Follies,” which were inspired by France’s Folies Bergère of Paris but less risqué, showcased the music of such prominent composers as Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Jerome Kern. Ziegfeld is considered the most important theatrical producer in the history of the Broadway musical. Born Florenz Edward Ziegfeld, Jr., the son of the founder of the Chicago Musical College, he had a musical performance in the making as early as a teenager. His first Broadway production was the 1896 “A Parlor Match,” starring European actress, Anna Held, with whom he soon became romantically involved. This followed with “The French Maid,” and “Way Down East” in 1898, “Papa’s Wife,” “Red Feather,” “The Little Duchess,” “Mam’selle Napoleon,” and in 1904, “Higgledy, Piggledy to name a few. By 1906 with “The Parisian Model,” he was receiving much recognition and his productions were being called “Ziegfeld’s Follies.” His productions had developed into lavish revues with an expensive stage presentation, beautiful chorus girls performing in choreographed synchronization, and the most talented musicians he could find. He promoted the young Lillian Lorraine’s career, with her becoming one of the most famous of his Follie girls. The “Follies” also featured many performers including Sophie Tucker, Josephine Baker, Fanny Brice, Ruth Etting, W. C. Fields, and Will Rogers. In 1927 he had built the $2.5 million, 1600-seat Ziegfeld Theatre, located on the west side of Manhattan in New York, where he produced shows such as “Rio Rita,” which ran for nearly 500 performances and “Show Boat” in 1927 and “Rosalie,” “The Three Musketeers” and “Whoopee!” in 1928. Going on for nearly sixty different stage productions including annual productions of the “Ziegfeld Follies” dating from 1911 to 1927 with a last one in 1931. His relationship with Held was resolved legally in 1913, and he married actress Billie Burk on April 11, 1914. The couple had a daughter and lived in estates in New York and Florida. His downfall came with the Great Depression in 1929; not only did he lose money on Wall Street, but the public could not afford the luxury of purchasing theater tickets. Even with Fred Astaire dancing in the 1929 to 1930 production “Bitter Sweet,” the show was a failure. The 1932 production “Hot-Cha” did not even have a chance to really open before it closed. On the brink of bankruptcy, on May 12, 1932 “Show Boat” opened running for six months, thus saving his career. At this point, he was making plans to bring the Follies to radio. Having chronic respiratory problems, he was admitted to a New Mexico sanatorium the next July. After being discharged, he died a few days later with pleurisy. He left his widow in debt. There have been three movies made about this pioneer of the Broadway musical, including the 1968 Oscar-winning film, “Funny Girl,” and in 1978 a made-for-TV movie, “Ziegfeld: The Man and his Women.” He was a member of the American Theater Hall of Fame.
Bio by: Linda Davis