Florenz Ziegfeld who arrived on the Rocky Mountain Limited en route to New York to open a new show November 11, 1931. Born in Chicago in 1867, Ziegfeld was one of the great show producers, most notable his annual "Ziegfeld Follies" that ran from 1907-31. The most important and influential producer in the history of the Broadway musical. It is said that Ziegfeld was involved in his first real-life, but accidental, “spectacular” at the age of four, when he and his family were forced to seek shelter under a bridge in Lake Park during the great Chicago fire of 1871. While in his teens, he was constantly running a variety of shows, and in 1893, his father, who was the founder of the Chicago Music College, sent him to Europe to find classical musicians and orchestras. Ziegfeld brought his talents as America’s master showman to other (mostly) hit productions such as “The Soul Kiss” (1908), “Miss Innocence,” “Over the River,” “A Winsome Widow,” “The Century Girl." In 1929, with the depression beginning to bite, he was not so fortunate with “Show Girl,” which only managed 111 performances, and to compound the failure, he suffered massive losses in the Wall Street crash of the same year. It is said that he would have been forced into bankruptcy if his revival of “Show Boat,” which opened at the Casino Theater on May 12, 1932, had not been a substantial hit. Ironically, Ziegfeld, whose health had been failing for some time, died of pleurisy in July, two months into the run.
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Bert Williams was one of the pre-eminent entertainers of the Vaudeville era and one of the most popular comedians for all audiences of his time. He was by far the best-selling black recording artist before 1920. Williams was a key figure in the development of African-American entertainment. In an age when racial inequality and stereotyping were commonplace, he became the first black American to take a lead role on the Broadway stage, and did much to push back racial barriers during his career. Williams accepted an unprecedented offer to join Florenz Ziegfeld's Follies. The idea of a black-featured performer amid an otherwise all-white show was a shock in 1910. Williams' initial reception was cool, and several cast members delivered an ultimatum to Ziegfeld that Williams be fired. Ziegfeld held firm, saying: "I can replace every one of you, except [Williams]." The show's writers were slow to devise material for him to perform, forcing Williams to repeat much of his vaudeville act. But by the time the show finally debuted in June, Williams was a sensation. He continued as the featured star of the Follies, signing a three-year contract that paid him an annual salary of $62,400, or $1.5 million today. By his third stint, Williams' status was such that he was allowed to be onstage at the same time as white women—a significant concession in 1912. On February 27, 1922 Williams collapsed during a performance in Detroit, Michigan, which the audience initially thought was a comic bit. Helped to his dressing room, Williams quipped, "That's a nice way to die. They was laughing when I made my last exit." He returned to New York, but his health worsened. He died on March 4, at the age of forty-seven. Nearly 2,000 mourners of both races were admitted
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The Ziegfeld Follies were a series of elaborate theatrical productions (1907-1931) inspired by the Folies Bergere of Paris, the Ziegfeld Follies were conceived and mounted by Florenz Ziegfeld, reportedly at the suggestion of his then-wife, the entertainer Anna Held. The Follies were something in between the Broadway shows and the more elaborate high class Vaudeville shows. Many of the top entertainers of the era appeared in the shows. The shows included many genres of theater, most famous for its musical/dance and comedy productions.
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Born Dora Goldberg,to a Jewish family in Joliet, Illinois Bayes was performing professionally in vaudeville in Chicago by age 18. Billed as “The Greatest Single Woman Singing Comedienne in the World”, she was a flamboyant lover of life. She wrote Shine On, Harvest Moon with her second (of five) husbands, Jack Norworth and introduced it in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1908.
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