on November 22, 2008
An enjoyable book. Ethan Mordden digs into the archival material relating to all things Ziegfeld and presents us with a leisurely account of the rise and fall of this formidable showman. It is a 21st century perspective, and reflects the culture of celebrity and American dream that was no different in the 1890s. Typical of Mordden's style are the many footnotes filled with interesting trivia. Untypical of the author, is the inclusion of a concluding bibliographical chapter.
on November 14, 2011
I love Ethan Mordden's writing, whether fiction or non. This is a wonderful biography, and unlike most biographies, the narrator's voice is not dry and dull and neutral. It's very bright and dishy, like he's sitting across the table from you with both of you slurping margaritas out of giant fishbowl goblets. He doesn't waste time on the parents' lives or young Flo's early years. (I hate biographies where you have to plough through early chapters on how the grandparents suffered back in the Old Country. None of that stuff here.) He just plunges right in and gives you a vivid account of the ins and outs of Broadway show biz when Ziegfeld was heeding the call to succeed and dominate.
Mordden knows everything about Broadway, so he doesn't want to weigh you down with the dull stuff. He knows that, like Ziegfeld, you must keep the audience constantly alert. He wants to pour you the hot tea in the most delicious way with lots of inside jokes, campy wordplay, heavy sarcasm, snide and snarky putdowns, bitchy asides.
Examples? There's a book which "bore such occult power that straights who as much as glanced here and there in them were instantly struck gay, never to return." "That tryout hell that everyone keeps wishing on Hitler." A certain song is "a gingerbread doll baked by Erik Satie." "So quiet one could hear the lint accumulating in men's trouser cuffs." An almost throwaway description of the death of Charles Cochran (p. 294) is so bizarre and grotesque that you almost wish Mordden had written your high school history texts.
Little nuggets of trivia gleam at you like flecks of gold in a dry creek bed. The tone is always "I know more about everything than you do, so just listen and absorb." That's fine with me. We learn that Show Boat is the greatest musical ever, that Ziegfeld invented much of what we consider standard, that he was always suffering from money problems, that he had great fun feuds with his stars and rival producers. This really is an excellent read. My only complaint is that the pictures are too small, so you can't see the faces very well. But this book is not about little pictures; it's about a show biz giant, and Mordden has made of him a fascinating and entertaining portrait, framed by admiration and verve.
on May 12, 2012
Great book about Ziegfeld and the era in American entertainment that he helped define. This is the third book
by Ethan Mordden that I have read. The other two were about the Hollywood studio, and then female film stars. They
are great sources of historical information and insight into the entertainment world.
The author begins at the beginning- with Ziegfeld's birth in Chicago to immigrant parents; but
quickly gets to Ziegfeld's "showbiz" roots which began with managing a venue for his musician father near to the
World's Fair of 1893 and the promotion of strong man, Eugen Sandow. Then the launch into prominence with
bringing Anna Held to the US and Broadway in the late 1890s, leading to the development and fame of the Follies;
and the final successes of the late 1920s musicals (ShowBoat, etc). Ziegfeld established the careers of the
biggest names in show business in the 1910s and 1920s, and his revues created the standards of American
theatrical entertainment that influenced the golden age of both film( musicals) and musical comedy/theater
Mordden has written extensively on American film and theater and certainly knows the history of American
entertainment in the 20th century. He writes like someone who loves to talk and tell a story, and the prose
style is quick,colorful and witty. Fun to read.
Now, as several reviewers have mentioned, there is very little "personal" information on Ziegfeld in this
book He seems to have been a man who kept his private life very private, and Mordden addresses this issue
directly. The author had to derive what little detailed information about the "man" Ziegfeld there is from
only a few reliably written sources, the main one being the autobiography by Ziegfeld's second wife, Billie
Burke. So this is primarily a book about Zeigeld the entertainment mogul; but considering that the four main
love interests in his life were all female entertainers who had worked for him, not to mention the dozens of
his showgirls who he bedded, I think we get a pretty clear portrait of Ziegfeld - his work was also his
Extensive bibliography on sources and additional information on Ziegfeld and the era.
on November 23, 2014
The writing is so poor that it is difficult to stick with. He jumps all over the place and does not develop any theme in a cohesive way that lets the reader undertstand. For example, I wanted to know about the planning for the first Follies, but while I found where it was discussed, it was patched in with other trivia and I soon gave up.
When Ethan Mordden writes about theater, especially musical theater, he has no peer. So if you approach this book as a survey of Ziegfeld's WORK, you will not be disappointed. However, from the outset Mordden tells us how little is really known or understood about the private life, the internal life, if you will, of Ziegfeld the man. He then proceeds to live up to this caveat by telling us as much, or as little, as he promises. The general feeling of the book is: we may not know how a man who grew up with classical music as his background ended up starting in Burlesque or, looked at another way, how a man whose very being was wrapped up in revue and burlesque gave us "The Follies" or how the "Follies" man gave us "Show Boat", but who cares, he did! Mordden is right! The only real flaw in the book is Mordden's referral to pictures, posters, artwork, etc. that we never get to see. How about a revised, illustrated, edition!
on December 17, 2008
In the middle of this book there is a half page describing Ziegfeld taking his daughter backstage to introduce her to the Follies star, Marilyn Miller. Unfortunately Ms. Miller was angry at Ziegfeld and throws a jar of cold cream at him as he backs out the door with his daughter. I cite this episode, presumably from his daughter's book about her parents, for the simple reason that it appears to be the only personal story about Flo Ziegfeld in the book. Oh yes, we're told when and where he was born, etc. but when it comes to his character, thoughts etc. we are left with bare declarative sentences. For example we're told, as a fact, that Ziegfeld had no sense of humor but we are not given a single story to illustrate this. While I can accept the author's statement that Ziegfeld did not divulge much personal information the fact is that he was surrounded by collaborators for three decades. The whole purpose of a biographer is to research those secondary sources to reveal the enigma. Unfortunately this author does not appear to have undertaken that effort. That being said, I must acknowledge that the author is extremely knowledge in musical theater history and evokes the period and setting well. The author is also a fluid writer and the book is quite readable. As a book about the Ziegfeld Follies in the Arts section of the bookstore I would rate this volume a four if not a five. However, as a book about Ziegfeld himself in the Biography section of the bookstore I would rate this volume as a one but have generously upgraded to a three in appreciation of the informative musical theater details.
on December 17, 2008
I was surprised how immediate all this old show business seemed. It starts in the 1890's! Yet we get a real feeling for what Fanny Brice, Eddie Cantor, and Bert Williams were like in the Follies, and how this secret and almost invisible man became the best known producer on Broadway. I have read three other books on him, but this is the first one that actually explained why they called him the *great* Ziegfeld, after all. The way the author narrates, it could almost be a novel, with cliffhanger chapter closings, plot twists, and a lot of odd little jokes about what all these high and mighty stars are really up to. The best line was where one Ziegfeld girl is so dumb, "she had the content of a confetti cannon."
on January 25, 2013
I really wanted to like this book. The light and conversational tone that other reviewers mention was very gripping at first and I expected to settle in for a great read, but that proved not to be he case. This book is barely about Ziegfeld, much less how he "Invented Show Business". The Author explains several times that little is known about Ziegfeld's personal life - as if that explains why the contents of his book don't match it's title. There's an attempt to discuss the women he dated and married but little of the man. If there is no information about the personal I was left unsure as to why there wasn't more on the professional. If he was an innovator what were his innovations? There is little exploration of his process, no delving into his creative process, no true comparison as to why what he did was different than what his contemporaries did, just that he was better, and competitors hated him. There are mentions of costumes being elaborate and girls being pretty, but no details. In the end this book was mostly an exhaustive list of every now-forgotten song to appear in a Ziegfeld show, some name dropping of performers and little else. A book on Ziegfeld that lists show names but doesn't describe the shows? That mentions style without defining why it was relevant? Att the end the author actually discussed at length the shortcomings of all of the other Ziegfeld books and resources available, which smacked of conceit given what a poor offering this book was. This is name and date history with no insight. I have no idea why the other reviews for this book were so positive.
on December 28, 2008
I loved the book Ziegfeld. It is a fascinating history of theatre in New York and America generally. My only criticism not enough photos of the wonderful productions staged by an early master of lavish musical shows.
on November 10, 2010
This book on Flo Ziegfeld gave a tremendous amount of information, both for those interested in Ziegfeld's life and those interested in his "hand" in the development of musical theater.