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The Great Ziegfeld

original movie poster
Directed by Robert Z. Leonard
Produced by Hunt Stromberg
Written by William Anthony McGuire
Starring William Powell
Myrna Loy
Luise Rainer
Music by Walter Donaldson
Irving Berlin
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date(s) April 8, 1936 (U.S)
Running time 185 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Great Ziegfeld (1936) is a musical film produced by MGM. A fictionalized biography of Florenz Ziegfeld from his show business beginnings to his death, it showcases a series of spectacular musical productions. The film includes original music by Walter Donaldson and Irving Berlin. Berlin's work was featured in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1918, 1919, and 1920.

The film, which premiered in Los Angeles at the elegant Carthay Circle Theatre, was the first musical film in history for which one of its cast members won an Academy Award - Luise Rainer received the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Ziegfeld's first wife, Anna Held.

Featured in the film are William Powell as Ziegfeld, Myrna Loy as Billie Burke, Luise Rainer, Nat Pendleton, and Frank Morgan. Real-life Ziegfeld performers Fanny Brice and Ray Bolger play themselves. Dennis Morgan, in an uncredited role, performed "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody" (dubbed by Allan Jones).



The son of a highly respected music professor, Florenz "Flo" Ziegfeld, Jr. (William Powell) yearns to make his mark in show business. He begins by promoting Eugen Sandow (Nat Pendleton), the "world's strongest man", at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, overcoming the competition of rival Billings (Frank Morgan) and his popular attraction, belly dancer Little Egypt, with savvy marketing (allowing women to feel Sandow's muscles).

Later, on an ocean liner to England, Flo runs into Billings again and discovers that he is on his way to sign a beautiful French star, Anna Held (Luise Rainer), to a contract. Despite losing all his money gambling at Monte Carlo, Flo charms Anna into signing with him instead.

At first, Anna is not a success. However, Flo manages to generate publicity by sending many gallons of milk to Anna every day for a fictitious milk bath beauty treatment, then refusing to pay the bill. The newspaper stories soon bring the curious to pack his theater. Flo and Anna then get married.

However, one success is not enough for the showman. He has an idea for an entirely new kind of show, one that will "glorify" the American woman. Thus, the Ziegfield Follies is born, a lavish production filled with beautiful women. This makes Anna very nervous, as she is still performing in her own show and will be unable to keep an eye on her husband. It is a smash hit, and is followed by more versions of the Follies. Soon Flo hires Fanny Brice (playing herself) away from vaudeville and gives stagehand Ray Bolger (himself) his break as well.

He also tries to make a star out of Audrey Dane (Virginia Bruce), but alcoholism turns out to be her downfall. However, before then, Anna becomes jealous of the attention Flo pays to Audrey and gets a divorce. Afterward, Flo meets Broadway star Billie Burke (Myrna Loy) and marries her. When she hears the news, a heartbroken Anna telephones Flo and pretends to be glad for him.

Flo has more hits, but after a while, the public's taste changes, and people begin to wonder if the times have not passed him by. Stung, he vows to have four hits on Broadway at the same time. He achieves his goal, but then the stock market crash of 1929 bankrupts him, forcing Billie to go back on the stage. Ever self-confident, he is planning his comeback when he dies.


William Powell as Flo Ziegfeld


The Great Ziegfeld takes many key liberties with Ziegfeld's life and with the history of the Follies. For instance, George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue was never featured in the Follies, and the number "Pretty Girl" was written for the 1919 Follies, not the first edition of the revue, as shown in the film.

The film also gives the impression that the successful original production of Show Boat, which Ziegfeld produced, closed because of the Great Depression, when in fact Show Boat ended its original 1927 run in the spring of 1929 (the stock market crash did not occur until October of that year.) It was the 1932 revival of the show, not the original production, that was affected by the Depression.

Ironically, James Whale's film version of Show Boat was released the same year as The Great Ziegfeld, but was not even nominated for an Oscar.


The movie won three Oscars:[1]

It was nominated for an additional four:


External links

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Mutiny on the Bounty
Academy Award for Best Picture
Succeeded by
The Life of Emile Zola


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

The Great Ziegfeld is a 1936 film about the life of the renowned theater producer Florence Ziegfeld Jr.

Directed by Robert Z. Leonard. Written by William Anthony McGuire.


Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.

  • Men who keep books are never very happy.

Anna Held

  • [reading the note] Why is he a Jr., is he a little boy?
  • How can I love someone who plays tricks on me, puts terrible things in the newspaper, has millions of reporters annoying me?!
  • That night I say to Flo - I mean Mr. Ziegfeld - "Flo, why do you send me so much milk?" and he just laughs and says, "Anna, that's a great idea. You'll get it from now on everyday." Everyday, 20 gallons of milk? I say, "Flo, who can drink so much milk?" and do you know what he says? "Don't drink it - bathe in it! And you will be a big success."
  • No, no, no, I cannot sing today. I told you before I'm much too angry to sing, and I'm sick of watching you roll your eyes like I do.


Anna: Tell me, Monsieur Ziegfeld, are you in the theatre?
Florenz: Yes, I'm a producer.
Anna: You're a pro... did you hear that, Marie - Monsieur Ziegfeld is an American producer! Do you know Monsieur... Billings?
Florenz: Billings?
Anna: Oui!
Florenz: Billings...
Anna: He's American producer, too!
Florenz: Oh, is that so?
Anna: Oui!
Florenz: No, I've never heard of him. Of course uh, not in New York, that is. America's a big country, Miss Held. We still have many producers in the west putting on shows for the Indians.
Anna: Indians? Do you mean the savages?
Florenz: Yes.
Anna: Did you hear that, Marie? I do not think I will like America.
Florenz: Oh, you'd love New York.
Anna: Would New York love me?
Florenz: I think so.
Anna: You only think so? Did you not like my performance?
Florenz: Yes, and... no.
Anna: Yes and no, what shall that mean - does it mean yes or no?
Florenz: Well uh, both.
Anna: Did you not care for my singing, no?
Florenz: Yes, a trifle nasal I thought, but yes.
Anna: And you did not like my costumes either?
Florenz: No, I thought one dress was very attractive but the rest, no.
Anna: Monsieur Ziegfeld, I think you're very rude. Please go! [calling out the door] Monsieur Ziegfeld!
Florenz: Yes?
Anna: Come back, please. Sit down. You know, you're very honest. I like you very much.

Anna: Audrey, are you not interested in my present?
Audrey: I would be, if they were mine.
Anna: But Audrey, you will have many of them someday. Maybe you have to work a little, and to suffer a little, but what is that, hmm?
Audrey: I'll work - but I won't suffer.

Anna: [walking in on Audrey and Florenz] You should have at least closed the door.
Florenz: Wait! Anna! Anna, please don't misjudge me. I couldn't help it. She's... she's drunk.
Anna: Do you always do that when she's drunk? The members of your company must enjoy that very much.
Florenz: Oh, Anna, don't say that. Don't you understand, dear, when one of my girls -
Anna: Poor Flo, you have so much trouble with your girls. Oui!

Florenz: Do you know Ziegfeld?
Billie: No, I don't want to. I understand he's a horrible person.
Florenz: Horrible?
Billie: Yes, they say he's a terrible ladies' man. I suppose that's forgivable, because he's surrounded by so many beautiful women.
Florenz: Yes, yes, strange you've never met him.
Billie: I don't want to. I love his shows - they're so beautfiul and in such good taste. It'd disappoint me terribly to meet him and find him to be a fat, pudgy man with a big stomach.
Florenz: Oh, he's not fat. And not really so pudgy.
Billie: No? You know him?
Florenz: Oh, yes. Yes, he... he would like you.
Billie: How do you know?
Florenz: But didn't you just say he had good taste?
Billie: Oh, well you're sort of a ladies' man yourself, aren't you?
Florenz: I think with you as the lady I could make Ziegfeld look like an amateur.


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