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Ziegfeld: The Man Who Invented Show Business

by Ethan Mordden

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As a biography, Ethan Mordden's "Ziegfeld: The Man Who Invented Show Business" (2008) is nothing special. As a book about Broadway during the Flo Ziegfeld era, however, it is excellent. Mordden often has little to say about the man he is supposedly writing about, while offering detailed descriptions of virtually every show Ziegfeld ever brought to Broadway.

Mordden has written at least eight other books about Broadway, including "The Happiest Corpse I've Ever Seen: The Last 25 Years of the Broadway Musical" and "All That Glittered: The Golden Age of Drama on Broadway, 1919-1959." His "Ziegfeld" is just another in the series.

Mordden could be described as a Broadway elitist. He seems to regard any other form of entertainment as second class. About television, for example, he writes, "Television offers canned stardom, strictly for those who tailor their material to rules of the usual federal white breads." But he does know his stuff. It's amazing how much he knows about live performances from a century ago.

Ziegfeld followed a simple formula to become "the man who invented show business," which to Mordden means simply Broadway. He believed in beautiful girls, beautiful costumes and beautiful sets. He could also identify great talent. Despite lacking a sense of humor, according to Mordden, he made stars out of Eddie Cantor, Will Rogers and Fanny Brice, among other comics. He's the producer who first put "Showboat" on the stage.

The author's prose ranges from the ridiculous ("... he was collapsing under the weight of more lawsuits than can dance on the head of a pin") to the sublime (he describes the Ziegfeld Girl as "the upwardly mobile harlot"), but it's almost always fun. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Jun 24, 2013 |
  MightyLeaf | May 25, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312375433, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:43:59 -0400)

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.… (more)

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