The lights of Broadway have long allured performers and audiences to the streets of New York. Modern films, dance, and today’s theatre continue to draw inspiration from the illustrious names who first brought music and choreography to the stage. Some names have endured, and others have been overshadowed or lost in history. But recently published biographies of legends like Florenz Ziegfeld, Busby Berkeley, and Charles Walters bring the magical musicals of the past into the present.
Cynthia Brideson and Sara Brideson
The name Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. (1867–1932) is synonymous with the decadent revues that the legendary impresario produced at the turn of the twentieth century. These extravagant performances were filled with catchy tunes, high-kicking chorus girls, striking costumes, and talented stars such as Eddie Cantor, Fanny Brice, Marilyn Miller, W. C. Fields, and Will Rogers. After the success of his Follies, Ziegfeld revolutionized theater performance with the musical Show Boat (1927) and continued making Broadway hits—including Sally (1920), Rio Rita (1927), and The Three Musketeers (1928)—several of which were adapted for the silver screen.
Louise Brooks during the time she worked as a Ziegfeld Girl, circa 1925. Though she appeared in only two of his shows, Ziegfeld had a portrait of her hung in his office. Courtesy of Jerry Murbach.
In this definitive biography, authors Cynthia Brideson and Sara Brideson offer a comprehensive look at both the life and legacy of the famous producer. Drawing on a wide range of sources—including Ziegfield’s previously unpublished letters to his second wife, Billie Burke (who later played Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz), and to his daughter Patricia—the Bridesons shed new light on this enigmatic man. They provide a lively and well-rounded account of Ziegfeld as a father, a husband, a son, a friend, a lover, and an alternately ruthless and benevolent employer. Lavishly illustrated with over seventy-five images, this meticulously researched book presents an intimate and in-depth portrait of a figure who profoundly changed American entertainment.
Ziegfeld’s first wife, Anna Held in a photo by W.M. Morrison, 1897. Courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Miscellaneous Items in High Demand Collection, LC-USZ62-54859.
Anna Held (1870-1918), a petite woman with an hourglass figure, was America’s most popular musical comedy star during the two decades preceding World War I. In the colorful world of New York theater during La Belle Époque, she epitomized everything that was glamorous, sophisticated, and suggestive about turn-of-the-century Broadway.
Overcoming an impoverished life as an orphan to become a music-hall star in Paris, Held rocketed to fame in America. From 1896 to 1910, she starred in hit after hit and quickly replaced Lillian Russell as the darling of the theatrical world. The first wife of legendary producer Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., Held was the brains and inspiration behind his Follies and shared his knack for publicity. Together, they brought the Paris scene to New York, complete with lavish costumes and sets and a chorus of stunningly beautiful women, dubbed “The Anna Held Girls.”
While Held was known for a champagne giggle as well as for her million-dollar bank account, there was a darker side to her life. She concealed her Jewish background and her daughter from a previous marriage. She suffered through her two husbands’ gambling problems and Ziegfeld’s blatant affairs with showgirls. With the outbreak of fighting in Europe, Held returned to France to support the war effort. She entertained troops and delivered medical supplies, and she was once briefly captured by the German army. With access to previously unseen family records and photographs, Anna Held and the Birth of Ziegfeld’s Broadway reveals one of the most remarkable women in the history of theatrical entertainment and the vibrant world of 1900s New York.
Michael G. Ankerich foreword by Kevin Brownlow
Mae Murray (1885–1965), popularly known as “the girl with the bee-stung lips,” was a fiery presence in silent-era Hollywood. Renowned for her classic beauty and charismatic presence, she rocketed to stardom as a dancer in the Ziegfeld Follies, moving across the country to star in her first film, To Have and to Hold, in 1916. An instant hit with audiences, Murray soon became one of the most famous names in Tinseltown.
However, Murray’s moment in the spotlight was fleeting. The introduction of talkies, a string of failed marriages, a serious career blunder, and a number of bitter legal battles left the former star in a state of poverty and mental instability that she would never overcome.
In this intriguing biography, Michael G. Ankerich traces Murray’s career from the footlights of Broadway to the klieg lights of Hollywood, recounting her impressive body of work on the stage and screen and charting her rapid ascent to fame and decline into obscurity. Featuring exclusive interviews with Murray’s only son, Daniel, and with actor George Hamilton, whom the actress closely befriended at the end of her life, Ankerich restores this important figure in early film to the limelight.
The finest of all water ballets, “By a Waterfall” from “Footlight Parade.”
Characterized by grandiose song-and-dance numbers featuring ornate geometric patterns and mimicked in many modern films, Busby Berkeley’s unique artistry is as recognizable and striking as ever. From his years on Broadway to the director’s chair, Berkeley is notorious for his inventiveness and signature style. Through sensational films like 42nd Street (1933), Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933), Footlight Parade (1933),and Dames (1934), Berkeley sought to distract audiences from the troubles of the Great Depression. Although his bold technique is familiar to millions of moviegoers, Berkeley’s life remains a mystery.
Buzz is a telling portrait of the filmmaker who revolutionized the musical and changed the world of choreography. Berkeley pioneered many conventions still in use today, including the famous “parade of faces” technique, which lends an identity to each anonymous performer in a close-up. Carefully arranging dancers in complex and beautiful formations, Berkeley captured perspectives never seen before.
Employing personal letters, interviews, studio memoranda, and Berkeley’s private memoirs, Jeffrey Spivak unveils the colorful life of one of cinema’s greatest artists.
Charles Walters and Velma Ebsen on-stage, Between the Devil (1937). Photograph in author’s collection.
From the trolley scene in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’s last dance on the silver screen (The Barkleys of Broadway, 1949) to Judy Garland’s timeless, tuxedo-clad performance of “Get Happy” (Summer Stock, 1950), Charles Walters staged the iconic musical sequences of Hollywood’s golden age. During his career, this Academy Award–nominated director and choreographer showcased the talents of stars such as Gene Kelly, Doris Day, Debbie Reynolds, and Frank Sinatra. However, despite his many critical and commercial triumphs, Walters’s name often goes unrecognized today.
In the first full-length biography of Walters, Brent Phillips chronicles the artist’s career, from his days as a featured Broadway performer and protégé of theater legend Robert Alton to his successes at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He takes readers behind the scenes of many of the studio’s most beloved musicals, including Easter Parade (1948), Lili (1953), High Society (1956), and The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964). In addition, Phillips recounts Walters’s associations with Lucille Ball, Joan Crawford, and Gloria Swanson, examines the director’s uncredited work on several films, including the blockbuster Gigi (1958), and discusses his contributions to musical theater and American popular culture.
From Rouben Mamoulian’s “Applause.”
In Mamoulian: Life on Stage and Screen, David Luhrssen explores the life and works of Rouben Mamoulian, as well as innovations in film and on stage from the 1920s to 1950s. Though he only produced and directed sixteen films during his career, he was one of the first great directors to bridge the gap between the silent and sound and black and white and color eras, but he remains largely ignored by both film and theater historians. An Armenian immigrant from Russia, Mamoulian was influential in defining American theater and cinema. Luhrssen reveals how this fascinating and mysterious figure, working in the heart of American culture and entertainment, left a lasting impact on both Broadway and Hollywood.
Throughout his career, Mamoulian interacted with many great names in the arts. He collaborated with dancers such as Martha Graham and Fred Astaire and choreographer Hermes Pan. On stage he oversaw such future Hollywood stars as Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Claude Rains, and Sydney Greenstreet. He also directed an impressive list of actors on screen, including Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Henry Fonda, and Tyrone Power. Despite being one of the highest paid and talked about directors of his time, Mamoulian was not attracted to the culture of celebrity. Except for a reported affair with Garbo and occasional sightings in the company of starlets, he was seldom the subject of gossip columnists or show business writers. His public life was defined by his role as a director, where he was remembered for his exuberance and intelligence, as well as his habit of smoking cigars.