powered by AFI
The working title of this film was Ziegfeld Follies of 1946. Some contemporary news items refer to the film as The Ziegfeld Follies. The individual production numbers in the film are preceded by intertitles featuring screen credits that do not appear in the opening or closing credits. The intertitles, as they appear onscreen, are reproduced in the above synopsis. David Freedman is the only writer listed in the onscreen credits. Material contained in the Arthur Freed Collection at the USC Cinema/Television Library indicates that official preparations for the film began as early as July 1939, when writers E. Y. Yarburg and Jack McGowan submitted outlines for the film. Their outlines were followed by several outlines, sketches and notes submitted by dozens of writers between March 1943 and January 1945. Most of the submitted material was not used in the final film.
In April 1943, a news item in Hollywood Reporter announced that producer and songwriter Arthur Freed had begun preparations on an all-star Technicolor tribute to the world-famous showman Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. (1869-1932). The film rights to the Ziegfeld name were first secured by M-G-M in 1935, when the studio purchased them from Universal Pictures for its 1936 film The Great Ziegfeld (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films; 1931-40; F3.1728). The rights negotiated by M-G-M in 1935 May have applied to this film and the 1941 M-G-M film Ziegfeld Girl (see below). For more information on the history of the rights acquisition, please consult the entry above for The Great Ziegfeld.
Unless otherwise noted, the following information was taken from material contained in the Arthur Freed Collection at the USC Cinema/Television Library. An August 1943 Hollywood Reporter news item indicates that production on the film was initially set to begin on January 1, 1944. According to a January 1944 New York Times article, the film was originally budgeted at $3,000,000 and conceived as the first of a series of "Ziegfeld Follies" pictures, with subsequent ones to be filmed every two years or so. According to Hollywood Reporter, the budget had grown to $4,000,000 by May 1944, at which time M-G-M boasted that the film had the longest scheduled shoot and biggest planned budget of any film in motion picture history. (The final cost of the film was just over $3,240,000).
Production began on April 10, 1944 under the direction of George Sidney, who was replaced by Vincente Minnelli on May 11, 1944. Producer Arthur Freed's biography indicates that Sidney asked to be removed from the picture because he was unhappy with the first month's filming. In addition to the "When Television Comes" number, for which he received an onscreen credit, Sidney directed the Bunin's Puppets segment of the film, the production number in which Astaire sings "Here's to the Girls," and the "Pay the Two Dollars" sequence. A biography of Minnelli notes that Minnelli directed about fifty percent of the material used in the final film. Prior to this film, Minnelli directed a number of successful Broadway musicals, including Ziegfeld's Follies of 1936. In his autobiography, Minnelli stated that the film served as a "distraction" from his broken romance with Judy Garland, whom he married in 1945 and divorced in 1951. William Powell first portrayed Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. in the 1936 film The Great Ziegfeld. Hollywood Reporter production charts and various contemporary news items indicate that the following actors were either considered or signed for roles at various times: James Craig, John Hodiak, Van Johnson, June Allyson, Ginny Simms, Mickey Rooney, Ann Sothern, Marilyn Maxwell, Kate Smith, Sophie Tucker and Lou Holtz. Actors and performers mentioned in contemporary news items and Hollywood Reporter production charts but whose participation in the completed film has not been confirmed include "Ziegfeld Girls" Elizabeth Dailey and Joan Lawrence, dancer and singer Madeleine LeBeau, Javanese dancers The Kraft Sisters, vocalist Dennis Day, comedian Kenny Bowers and actress Bunny Waters. A April 25, 1944 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Leo the Lion, M-G-M's trademark mascot, was filmed for the opening shots of the first sequence, but he did not appear in the released film.
M-G-M originally planned to include twenty-three production numbers in the film, and although a mid-August 1944 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Minnelli had completed direction of all twenty-three numbers, many of them were later dropped from the final film. Among the production numbers featured in the film, only one, Fanny Brice's "A Sweepstakes Ticket," actually originated in a Ziegfeld show. Brice first played the role in Ziegfeld's Follies of 1936. The "Pay the Two Dollars" sequence was taken from the 1931 show George White's Scandals. The "Limehouse Blues" number was first performed by Gertrude Lawrence in Andre Charlot's Revue of 1924, and the "Babbitt and the Bromide" sequence was first performed by Fred Astaire and his sister Adele in the 1927 Broadway musical Funny Face. The "Number Please" sequence was based on a sketch written by Fred Allen and was first performed by Willie and Eugene Howard in the 1930 Broadway revue Three's a Crowd.
Contemporary sources note that the film was to feature songs by Johnny Mercer, Jerome Kern, Rudolf Friml and Victor Herbert. Songwriter Dave Stamper was signed to work on the film, but the extent of his contribution to the final film has not been determined. According to information contained in the file on the film in MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, a planned sequence built around the Jerry Livingston and Mack David song "Frankie and Johnnie" was rejected by the Breen Office because of its "flavor of prostitution and excessive sex suggestiveness."
The CBCS and various contemporary news items confirm that the following sequences were filmed but later discarded: Ira Gershwin's "Liza," a musical number starring Lena Horne and Avon Long; "Death and Taxes," a comedy sketch written by David Freedman, featuring Jimmy Durante, Edward Arnold, Kay Williams, Horace McNally, Douglas Cowan and Russ Clark; "If Swing Goes, I Go Too," a musical number that Fred Astaire wrote for himself; "Baby Snooks and the Burglar," a comedy routine written by Everett and Devery Freeman, directed by Roy Del Ruth and starring Fanny Brice, Hanley Stafford, B. S. Pully and Harry Shannon; "We Will Meet Again (in Honolulu)," a water ballet directed by Merrill Pye and starring Esther Williams, with vocals by James Melton; "The Pied Piper," a musical comedy routine directed by Charles Walters, starring Durante (singing "You Gotta Start Off Each Day with a Song"), and also featuring Alex Pollard, Jack Perrin, Eddie Kane and Jack Chefe; "The Cowboy" (also known as "A Bit of the West"), a solo number performed by James Melton, directed by Merrill Pye; and "Will You Love Me More in Technicolor? (As You Do in Black and White)," a musical number written by Chuck Walters for Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland.
Among the production numbers and songs that were mentioned in various contemporary news items but not included in the final film were: "In My Cutaway," set for Jimmy Durante and the Wilde Twins (Lee and Lyn); "Coca Bola Tree," a song written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane; "Glorifying the American Girl," set to star Lucille Ball; "Goodbye World," a song written by Sammy Fain and Ralph Freed; an untitled comedy sketch to feature Durante and Fanny Brice; "I Ain't Got Nobody," a song made famous by Bert Williams; Irving Berlin's "Always" and "Blue Skies," which were to be sung by Belle Baker; "Cavalcade of Rhumba," a dance number to be staged by Jack Cole; "Pipe of Peace" (also known as "Pass That Peace Pipe"), an American Indian routine set for Nancy Walker; and "Shine on Harvest Moon," a song written by Nora Bayes.
Modern sources note the following information regarding sequences that did not appear in the final film: Garland and Frank Morgan were to appear in a sketch entitled "Reading of the Play," from Minnelli's 1936 revue The Show Is On. Garland and Rooney were to star in sequence entitled "As Long As I Have My Art." Freed considered teaming Katharine Hepburn with Gene Kelly in a sequence called "Shakespeare in Tap Time." June Allyson and Gene Kelly were set to star in the "Pipe of Peace" sequence. Judy Garland, Ann Sothern and Lucille Ball were to appear in sequence entitled "Fireside Chat" while Ball, Jimmy Durante and Marilyn Maxwell were to star in a sequence entitled "A Trip to Hollywood."
Hepburn, Margaret O'Brien and Jackie "Butch" Jenkins were to appear in a sequence entitled "Fairy Tale Ballet." In addition to Ball, the deleted sequence "Glorifying the American Girl" was set to star Maxwell, Bremer, Horne and Elaine Sheppard. Contemporary news items in Hollywood Reporter indicate that the original, unused finale featured James Melton, Lucille Bremer and Fred Astaire. Modern sources note that Lena Horne also appeared in the unused finale. A biography of Lucille Ball indicates that producer Arthur Freed initially considered having Ball perform material written by British comedienne Beatrice Lillie, and for a role opposite Red Skelton in a sequence entitled "Life With Junior." Freed also considered Ball for a part in a sketch called "If Men Did the Shopping," in which she was set to co-star with Ann Sothern, Nancy Walker and Greer Garson.
According to modern sources, Garson turned down the role of the "Great Lady" in "The Interview" sequence, which was conceived as a mild parody of Garson's film roles and celebrity. (The "Madame Crematon" portion of the sequence spoofs Greer's title role in the 1943 film Madame Curie ). A biography of Fanny Brice notes that the comedienne was paid $50,000 for her appearance in the film. According to a biography of Red Skelton, an authorship dispute arose between Skelton's gag writer Harry Tugend and Skelton's wife Edna over the origins of the "When Television Comes" sketch (also known as the "Gulper's Gin" or "Guzzler's Gin" sketch). Tugend won the case after proving that the material was stolen from him. In an interview cited in a modern source, writer Dorothy Kingsley asserted that she also worked on the Skelton sketch.
Modern sources add the following credits: "Pay the Two Dollars": Writer William K. Wells; Cinematographer Ray June; Puppet cost des Florence Bunin; Art Director Lemuel Ayres; Set Decoration Tony Du Quette; Stand-in for Astaire Joe Niemeyer; "This Heart of Mine": Shirlee Howard (Showgirl); "Limehouse Blues": Dante Dipaolo, Richard D'Arcy, Ricky Riccardi, Patricia Lynn, Ruth Merman, Wanda Stevenson and Sean Francis (Ensemble); Ellen Ray and Billy Shead (Couple with parasols); Eleanor Bailey and Ronald Stanton (Couple with branches); Mary Jo Ellis and James Barron (Couple with banners); Sidney Gordon, Charles Lunard, Robert Ames, Jack Regas (Four men with masks); Cyd Charisse (Chicken); James King (Rooster); Eugene Loring (Costermonger).
The first preview of the film was held at the Westwood Village Theatre on November 1, 1944, and the running time of the previewed picture was 273 minutes. Following the preview screening, M-G-M cut most of the comedy sequences from the picture, added a scene for Virginia O'Brien and Keenan Wynn, and added Grayson's finale. After the film's roadshow premiere in Boston on August 20, 1945 (under the title Ziegfeld Follies of 1946), a Hollywood Reporter news item noted that M-G-M held up the release of the film for seven months, during which time the studio experimented with vast revisions. No further changes were made, however, and the film was released in its roadshow premiere form in April 1946. The film marked the screen debut of opera star Marion Bell, and was the only film in which Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire danced together. (Astaire and Kelly were paired briefly in the 1976 film That's Entertainment II). A biography of Lena Horne notes that in 1946, exhibitors in Knoxville and Memphis, TN, deleted Horne's scenes from the film and blackened out her name on the film's posters. According to Freed's biography, Horne disliked the "Love" sequence and objected to the slum setting of the black ghetto.
Ziegfeld Follies received the "Grand Prix de la Comedie Musicale" at the Cannes Film Festival in September 1947, and an Academy Award nomination for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (black and white). Funny Face, a 1968 picture about Ziegfeld star Fanny Brice, was directed by William Wyler and featured Walter Pidgeon as Ziegfeld (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70; F6.1727). Paul Shenar portrayed Ziegfeld in the 1978 television movie Ziegfeld: The Man and His Women, directed by Buzz Kulik and co-starring Samantha Eggar.