The Great Ziegfeld


2h 56m 1936
The Great Ziegfeld

Brief Synopsis

Lavish biography of Flo Ziegfeld, the producer who became Broadway's biggest starmaker.

Photos & Videos

The Great Ziegfeld - Publicity Stills
The Great Ziegfeld - Behind-the-Scenes Photos

Film Details

Genre
Musical
Biography
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Sep 4, 1936
Premiere Information
Los Angeles premiere: 22 Mar 1936; New York opening:
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Suggested by romances and incidents in the life of America's greatest showman, Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr.

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 56m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
16,292ft (20 reels)

Synopsis

Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr., the son of a prominent Chicago music professor, has been reared to culture and taste, but prefers working in show business to a music conservatory. After successfully promoting a strongman named Sandow on a national tour, Flo sails for Europe after a stunt to have Sandow fight a ferocious lion backfires when the lion falls asleep on stage. On the boat to Europe, Flo runs into his old friend and rival Jack Billings, who doesn't want Flo to know that he is going to London to sign a new star, French singer Anna Held. After having lost all his money in Monte Carlo, Flo decides to go to London himself and soon learns about Anna. With money that Billings gives him to leave for home, Flo buys orchids for Anna and charms her into signing a contract with him, even though he admits that he is broke. At first Anna, who has fallen in love with Flo, is not the sensation that he had predicted, but after a publicity stunt in which it is reported that Anna bathes everyday in milk to keep her complexion lovely, she becomes one of the biggest stars on Broadway. After Anna and Flo marry, he continues to look for new and bigger ideas for shows, hurting the high-strung Anna, who only needs him to make her happy. His next show is a smash hit, the first of the Ziegfeld Follies , featuring hundreds of beautiful women whom Flo, an admirer of female beauty, calls his "Glorified Girls." One of the girls, Audrey Dane, is an opportunistic young woman in whom Flo takes a personal interest. Her drinking keeps her from being a big success on Broadway and soon alienates Flo, but not before Anna sees Audrey kissing him. Though Flo loves Anna and tries to explain, she leaves him and files for divorce. Sobered after the breakup of his marriage, Flo loses interest in women until he sees Broadway star Billie Burke at a party and is immediately attracted to her. Her producer doesn't want her to see Flo, but they court secretly and are soon married. The day after they marry, a heart-broken and ill Anna telephones Flo to congratulate him. Though she feigns cheerfulness on the phone, later she admits to her maid that she only divorced Flo because she thought it would make him come back to her. Several years later, after repeated Broadway successes, Flo is very happy with Billie and their little daughter Patricia, but his extravagances, both on stage and in his personal life, bring him constant financial problems. Although he has been broke before, he begins to despair when he overhears some men in a barbershop say he will never have another hit. To prove them wrong, he vows to have four hits running simultaneously on Broadway, and with Billie's encouragement, and an advance from Billings, he is able to produce four successful shows in the same season. His financial worries appear to be over, until the stock market crashes in 1929. Although he had never invested in the market previously, concern for financial security made him buy stock on margin and he is wiped out, as is Billings. Now old and ill, Flo looks forward to starting new shows with his old stars, while Billie is forced to go back to the stage to support them. After a visit from Billings, who pretends to have money and encourages Flo to plan a new show, Flo dies, dreaming of bigger sets and higher stairs for production numbers in a new show.

Cast

William Powell

Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr.

Myrna Loy

Billie Burke [Ziegfeld]

Luise Rainer

Anna Held [Ziegfeld]

Frank Morgan

[Jack] Billings

Fanny Brice

Fanny Brice

Virginia Bruce

Audrey Dane

Reginald Owen

Sampson

Ray Bolger

Ray Bolger

Ernest Cossart

Sidney

Joseph Cawthorne

Dr. [Florenz] Ziegfeld [Sr.]

Nat Pendleton

Sandow

Harriet Hoctor

Harriet Hoctor

Jean Chatburn

Mary Lou [also known Sally Manners]

Paul Irving

[Gus] Erlanger

Herman Bing

Costumer [Mr. Schultz]

Charles Judels

Pierre

Marcelle Corday

Marie

Raymond Walburn

Sage

A. A. Trimble

Will Rogers

Buddy Doyle

Eddie Cantor

Stanley Morner

Singer in "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody" number

Suzanne Kaaren

Ruth Blair

Helen Collins

Stenographer/Glorified girl

Joan Holland

Patricia Ziegfeld

Ann Gillis

Mary Lou, as a child

Robert Greig

Joe

Charles Trowbridge

Julian Mitchell

Esther Muir

Prima dona

Sarah Edwards

Wardrobe woman

Selmer Jackson

Barbershop customer

Richard Tucker

Barbershop customer

Clay Clement

Barbershop customer

Grace Hale

Wife

William Griffith

Husband

James P. Burtis

Bill

Mickey Daniels

Telegraph boy

Alice Keating

Alice

Misa Morocco

Little Egypt

Alfred P. James

Stage door man

Jack Baxley

Detective

Charles Coleman

Carriage starter

Eric Wilton

Desk clerk

Mary Howard

Miss Carlisle

Bert Hanlon

Jim

Evelyn Dockson

Fat woman

Lawrence Wheat

Customer

Franklyn Ardell

Allen

John Larkin

Sam

David Burns

Clarence

Phil Tead

Press agent

Susan Fleming

Girl with sage

Adrienne D' Ambricourt

Wife of French ambassador

Charles Fallon

French ambassador

Boothe Howard

William Zimmerman

Edwin Maxwell

Charles Frohman

Ruth Gillette

Lillian Russell

John Hyams

Dave Stamper

Wallis Clark

Broker

Ray Brown

Inspector Doyle

Zari Elmassian

Soloist in "Look for the Silver Lining"

Bob Bradford

Soloist in "Look for the Silver Lining"

Thomas Clarke

Soloist in "Ol' Man River" montage

Earl Covert

Soloist in "Rio Rita" montage

Paul Taylor

Soloist in "After the Ball Is Over" montage

Bernice Alstock

Soloist in "Shine on Harvest Moon" montage

Bill Days

Soloist in "Shine on Harvest Moon" montage

Wanda Allen

Dancer

Lynn Bailey

Dancer

Earl Askam

Trooper on parade

Charles Bruins

Trooper on parade

Buddy Clark

Trooper on parade

Dick Dennis

Trooper on parade

Tandy Mckenzie

Trooper on parade

Bob Priester

Trooper on parade

Allan Watson

Trooper on parade

Patricia Havens Monteagle

Glorified girl

Carlita Orr

Glorified girl

Evelyn Randolph

Glorified girl

Dolly Varner

Glorified girl

Margaret Lyman

Glorified girl

Virginia Grey

Glorified girl

Monica Bannister

Glorified girl

Vanita Vardow

Glorified girl

Diane Cook

Glorified girl

Edna Callahan

Glorified girl

Perlie May Norton

Glorified girl

Hester Dean

Glorified girl

Julie Mooney

Glorified girl

Mary Jane Halsey

Glorified girl

Georgia Spence

Glorified girl

Crew

Harold Adamson

Composer

Adrian

Gowns and fashion parades

Sidney Algier

Associate Producer

Harold R. Atteridge

Composer

Nora Bayes

Composer

Irving Berlin

Composer

Gene Buck

Composer

Harry Carroll

Composer

Con Conrad

Composer

W. K. Craig

Auditor

W. W. Dearborn

Mr. Powell's stand-in

B. G. Desylva

Composer

Howard Dietz

Press agent

Walter Donaldson

Composer

Seymour Felix

Dances and ensembles staged by

George Folsey

Ziegfeld roof numbers [Photographer]

Karl Freund

Ziegfeld roof numbers [Photographer]

Rudolf Friml

Composer

Merritt B. Gerstad

Hoctor ballet [Photographer]

Cedric Gibbons

Art Director

R. A. Golden

Assistant Director

William S. Gray

Film Editor

Oscar Hammerstein

Composer

John Harkrider

Art Director Associate

Anna Held

Composer

John Hoffman

Special Photographer, dance seq

Allan Jones

Singing voice double for Stanley Morner in "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody" number

Ray June

Melody number [Photographer]

Gus Kahn

Composer

Jerome Kern

Composer

Arthur Lange

Music Director

Arthur Lange

Arrangements

Robert Z. Leonard

Company

Herb Magidson

Composer

Paul Marquardt

Arrangements

Oliver T. Marsh

Photography

Max Factor Make-up Studio

Wigs, make-up and hair goods

Charles Maxwell

Arrangements

Joseph Mccarthy

Composer

William Anthony Mcguire

Screenwriter

Jack Norworth

Composer

Alfred Plumpton

Composer

Channing Pollock

Composer

Merrill Pye

Art Director Associate

Leonid Raab

Arrangements

Eddie Schmidt

Mr. Powell's clothes designed and executed by

V. Scotto

Composer

Douglas Shearer

Recording Director

Frank Skinner

Arrangements

Art Smith

Assistant Director

Dave Stamper

Arrangements

Dave Stamper

Composer

Hunt Stromberg

Producer

Harry Tierney

Composer

Jack Virgil

Arrangements

Western Costume

Costumes

Edwin B. Willis

Art Director Associate

Maurice Yvain

Composer

Sam Zimbalist

Assistant Director

Photo Collections

The Great Ziegfeld - Publicity Stills
Here are a few photos taken to publicize MGM's The Great Ziegfeld (1936), starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
The Great Ziegfeld - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a few photos taken during production of MGM's The Great Ziegfeld (1936), starring William Powell and Myrna Loy.

Film Details

Genre
Musical
Biography
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Sep 4, 1936
Premiere Information
Los Angeles premiere: 22 Mar 1936; New York opening:
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Suggested by romances and incidents in the life of America's greatest showman, Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr.

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 56m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
16,292ft (20 reels)

Award Wins

Best Actress

1936
Luise Rainer

Best Dance Direction

1937

Best Picture

1936

Award Nominations

Best Art Direction

1936

Best Director

1936
Robert Z. Leonard

Best Editing

1936
William S Gray

Best Writing, Screenplay

1937

Articles

The Great Ziegfeld


Flo Ziegfeld and MGM were a match made in Hollywood heaven. The master showman of the Broadway stage, who glorified the American girl in a series of lavish musical revues, would have been right at home at Hollywood's most glamorous studio. Unfortunately, he died without having the chance to work there. But when the studio decided to film his life story in 1936, they came up with one of their biggest hits, and their third Oscar®-winner for Best Picture.

The Great Ziegfeld (1936) started out at Universal Studios in 1933. When studio executives decided the production would be too expensive, writer William Anthony McGuire sold his script to MGM, thus making The Great Ziegfeld one of the first projects transferred from one studio to another.

From the beginning, The Great Ziegfeld was envisioned on a lavish scale. When producer Hunt Stromberg told studio head Louis B. Mayer that the film's centerpiece, a production number based on Irving Berlin's "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody" would cost $250,000, the mogul's only response was "Shoot it!" The film finally came in for a cost of $2 million, MGM's biggest budget to that time. And it ran two hours and 50 minutes, which Variety claimed to be the longest running time ever for a U.S. commercial film.

For all the money, the glue that held the picture together was the performances, particularly the leading trio. Publicists claimed that William Powell had been chosen for the role by Ziegfeld's widow, actress Billie Burke, though nothing in her memoirs corroborates that. In fact, many critics pointed out that Powell looked nothing like Ziegfeld and didn't attempt to capture his mannerisms. Stromberg countered that he was more interested in capturing the great man's spirit.

The same held for Myrna Loy's performance as Burke. She was a natural choice to co-star; she and Powell were already a top box-office team and had teamed for two other films that year. But with Burke still alive and prominently featured as a supporting actress in films, Loy decided not to even attempt an imitation. Instead, she played the role as herself, a choice Burke heartily supported. In fact, throughout filming, Burke brought friends to the set to meet Loy.

To play Ziegfeld's first wife, musical star Anna Held, MGM cast a rising young star from Austria, Luise Rainer. Although the part was relatively short, she had the film's biggest dramatic scene, a tearful telephone call to her ex-husband congratulating him on his marriage to Burke. According to publicists, the scene was regularly screened for the studio's young contract players as an example of screen acting at its best.

To flesh things out, the studio recruited some of Ziegfeld's top stars to play themselves. Most notable was Fannie Brice, who re-created her legendary performance of the song "My Man," but the picture also featured Ray Bolger, later the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz (1939), Ann Pennington, Harriet Hoctor, Gilda Gray and Leon Errol. The one star they couldn't get was Marilyn Miller, who refused to do the film unless she had a leading role and a massive paycheck.

The Great Ziegfeld was a big hit, earning a 100 percent profit. Mayer was so thrilled, particularly when it won Best Picture, that he threw a massive party for it at the Ambassador Hotel and gave the film's Oscar® to producer Stromberg. Burke always felt that she came out the big winner. She had served as a technical advisor on the film, for which Mayer rewarded her with a seven-year contract at MGM. There she would play her most famous film roles, including the dizzy society hostess in Topper (1937) and Glinda the Good in The Wizard of Oz.

Producer: Hunt Stromberg
Director: Robert Z. Leonard
Screenplay: William Anthony McGuire
Cinematography: Oliver T. Marsh, Ray June, George Folsey
Costume Design: Adrian
Film Editing: William S. Gray
Original Music: Walter Donaldson
Principal Cast: William Powell (Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.), Myrna Loy (Billie Burke), Luise Rainer (Anna Held), Frank Morgan (Jack Billings), Fannie Brice (Herself)
BW-186m. Closed captioning.

by Frank Miller
The Great Ziegfeld

The Great Ziegfeld

Flo Ziegfeld and MGM were a match made in Hollywood heaven. The master showman of the Broadway stage, who glorified the American girl in a series of lavish musical revues, would have been right at home at Hollywood's most glamorous studio. Unfortunately, he died without having the chance to work there. But when the studio decided to film his life story in 1936, they came up with one of their biggest hits, and their third Oscar®-winner for Best Picture. The Great Ziegfeld (1936) started out at Universal Studios in 1933. When studio executives decided the production would be too expensive, writer William Anthony McGuire sold his script to MGM, thus making The Great Ziegfeld one of the first projects transferred from one studio to another. From the beginning, The Great Ziegfeld was envisioned on a lavish scale. When producer Hunt Stromberg told studio head Louis B. Mayer that the film's centerpiece, a production number based on Irving Berlin's "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody" would cost $250,000, the mogul's only response was "Shoot it!" The film finally came in for a cost of $2 million, MGM's biggest budget to that time. And it ran two hours and 50 minutes, which Variety claimed to be the longest running time ever for a U.S. commercial film. For all the money, the glue that held the picture together was the performances, particularly the leading trio. Publicists claimed that William Powell had been chosen for the role by Ziegfeld's widow, actress Billie Burke, though nothing in her memoirs corroborates that. In fact, many critics pointed out that Powell looked nothing like Ziegfeld and didn't attempt to capture his mannerisms. Stromberg countered that he was more interested in capturing the great man's spirit. The same held for Myrna Loy's performance as Burke. She was a natural choice to co-star; she and Powell were already a top box-office team and had teamed for two other films that year. But with Burke still alive and prominently featured as a supporting actress in films, Loy decided not to even attempt an imitation. Instead, she played the role as herself, a choice Burke heartily supported. In fact, throughout filming, Burke brought friends to the set to meet Loy. To play Ziegfeld's first wife, musical star Anna Held, MGM cast a rising young star from Austria, Luise Rainer. Although the part was relatively short, she had the film's biggest dramatic scene, a tearful telephone call to her ex-husband congratulating him on his marriage to Burke. According to publicists, the scene was regularly screened for the studio's young contract players as an example of screen acting at its best. To flesh things out, the studio recruited some of Ziegfeld's top stars to play themselves. Most notable was Fannie Brice, who re-created her legendary performance of the song "My Man," but the picture also featured Ray Bolger, later the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz (1939), Ann Pennington, Harriet Hoctor, Gilda Gray and Leon Errol. The one star they couldn't get was Marilyn Miller, who refused to do the film unless she had a leading role and a massive paycheck. The Great Ziegfeld was a big hit, earning a 100 percent profit. Mayer was so thrilled, particularly when it won Best Picture, that he threw a massive party for it at the Ambassador Hotel and gave the film's Oscar® to producer Stromberg. Burke always felt that she came out the big winner. She had served as a technical advisor on the film, for which Mayer rewarded her with a seven-year contract at MGM. There she would play her most famous film roles, including the dizzy society hostess in Topper (1937) and Glinda the Good in The Wizard of Oz. Producer: Hunt Stromberg Director: Robert Z. Leonard Screenplay: William Anthony McGuire Cinematography: Oliver T. Marsh, Ray June, George Folsey Costume Design: Adrian Film Editing: William S. Gray Original Music: Walter Donaldson Principal Cast: William Powell (Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.), Myrna Loy (Billie Burke), Luise Rainer (Anna Held), Frank Morgan (Jack Billings), Fannie Brice (Herself) BW-186m. Closed captioning. by Frank Miller

Virginia Grey (1917-2004)


Virginia Grey, one MGM's lovliest, but underused leading ladies of the late '30s and '40s, died in Woodland Hills, California on August 1 of heart failure. She was 87.

She was was born in Los Angeles on March 22, 1917, and was exposed to the film industry at a very young age. Her father, Ray Grey, was a Keystone Cop and acted in several other of Mack Sennett's comedies with the likes of Mabel Normand, Dorothy Gish and Ben Turpin. When her father died when she was still a child, Virginia's mother encouraged her to join the acting game and audition for the role of Eva for Uncle Tom's Cabin, a big budget picture for Universal Studios in the day. She won the role, and acted in a few more pictures at the studio: The Michigan Kid and Heart to Heart (both 1928), before she decided to temporarily leave acting to finish her schooling.

She returned to films after graduating from high school, and after bouncing around Hollywood doing bits for various studios, she hooked up with MGM in 1938. Her roles in her first few films were fairly non-descript: In Test Pilot and Ladies in Distress (both 1938), she did little more than look pretty, but in the following year she had scene-stealing parts in The Women (upstaging Joan Crawford in a delicious scene as a wisecracking perfume counter girl) and as the suffering heroine in Another Thin Man (both 1939).

Despite her versatility (she could handle comedy or drama with equal effectiveness), MGM would cast her in some above-average, but hardly starmaking movies: Whistling in the Dark, The Big Store (both 1941), and Tarzan's New York Adventure (1942). She left MGM in 1943 and became a freelance actress for several studios, but her material as a leading lady throughout the '40s were mediocre: Swamp Fire, House of Horrors (both 1946), and Mexican Hayride (1948) were sadly the more interesting films in her post-MGM period. But by the '50s she was a well-established character actress, appearing in fairly big-budget pictures: All That Heaven Allows, The Rose Tattoo (both 1955), Jeanne Eagels (1957).

In the '60s, Grey turned to television and found work on a variety of hit shows: Wagon Train, Peter Gunn, Bonanza, My Three Sons, I Spy, and several others; plus she also captured a a couple of notable supporting parts in these films: Madame X (1966), and Airport (1970), before retiring completely from acting in the early '70s. She is survived by her sister, Lorraine Grey Heindorf, two nieces and two nephews.

by Michael T. Toole

Virginia Grey (1917-2004)

Virginia Grey, one MGM's lovliest, but underused leading ladies of the late '30s and '40s, died in Woodland Hills, California on August 1 of heart failure. She was 87. She was was born in Los Angeles on March 22, 1917, and was exposed to the film industry at a very young age. Her father, Ray Grey, was a Keystone Cop and acted in several other of Mack Sennett's comedies with the likes of Mabel Normand, Dorothy Gish and Ben Turpin. When her father died when she was still a child, Virginia's mother encouraged her to join the acting game and audition for the role of Eva for Uncle Tom's Cabin, a big budget picture for Universal Studios in the day. She won the role, and acted in a few more pictures at the studio: The Michigan Kid and Heart to Heart (both 1928), before she decided to temporarily leave acting to finish her schooling. She returned to films after graduating from high school, and after bouncing around Hollywood doing bits for various studios, she hooked up with MGM in 1938. Her roles in her first few films were fairly non-descript: In Test Pilot and Ladies in Distress (both 1938), she did little more than look pretty, but in the following year she had scene-stealing parts in The Women (upstaging Joan Crawford in a delicious scene as a wisecracking perfume counter girl) and as the suffering heroine in Another Thin Man (both 1939). Despite her versatility (she could handle comedy or drama with equal effectiveness), MGM would cast her in some above-average, but hardly starmaking movies: Whistling in the Dark, The Big Store (both 1941), and Tarzan's New York Adventure (1942). She left MGM in 1943 and became a freelance actress for several studios, but her material as a leading lady throughout the '40s were mediocre: Swamp Fire, House of Horrors (both 1946), and Mexican Hayride (1948) were sadly the more interesting films in her post-MGM period. But by the '50s she was a well-established character actress, appearing in fairly big-budget pictures: All That Heaven Allows, The Rose Tattoo (both 1955), Jeanne Eagels (1957). In the '60s, Grey turned to television and found work on a variety of hit shows: Wagon Train, Peter Gunn, Bonanza, My Three Sons, I Spy, and several others; plus she also captured a a couple of notable supporting parts in these films: Madame X (1966), and Airport (1970), before retiring completely from acting in the early '70s. She is survived by her sister, Lorraine Grey Heindorf, two nieces and two nephews. by Michael T. Toole

The Great Ziegfeld on DVD


Flo Ziegfeld and MGM were a match made in Hollywood heaven. The master showman of the Broadway stage, who glorified the American girl in a series of lavish musical revues, would have been right at home at Hollywood's most glamorous studio. Unfortunately, he died without having the chance to work there. But when the studio decided to film his life story in 1936, they came up with one of their biggest hits, and their third Oscar®-winner for Best Picture.

The Great Ziegfeld (now on DVD from Warner Video) started out at Universal Studios in 1933. When studio executives decided the production would be too expensive, writer William Anthony McGuire sold his script to MGM, thus making The Great Ziegfeld one of the first projects transferred from one studio to another.

From the beginning, The Great Ziegfeld was envisioned on a lavish scale. When producer Hunt Stromberg told studio head Louis B. Mayer that the film's centerpiece, a production number based on Irving Berlin'a "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody" would cost $250,000, the mogul's only response was "Shoot it!" The film finally came in for a cost of $2 million, MGM's biggest budget to that time. And it ran two hours and 50 minutes, which Variety claimed to be the longest running time ever for a U.S. commercial film.

For all the money, the glue that held the picture together was the performances, particularly the leading trio. Publicists claimed that William Powell had been chosen for the role by Ziegfeld's widow, actress Billie Burke, though nothing in her memoirs corroborates that. In fact, many critics pointed out that Powell looked nothing like Ziegfeld and didn't attempt to capture his mannerisms. Stromberg countered that he was more interested in capturing the great man's spirit.

The same held for Myrna Loy's performance as Burke. She was a natural choice to co-star; she and Powell were already a top box-office team and had teamed for two other films that year. But with Burke still alive and prominently featured as a supporting actress in films, Loy decided not to even attempt an imitation. Instead, she played the role as herself, a choice Burke heartily supported. In fact, throughout filming, Burke brought friends to the set to meet Loy.

To play Ziegfeld's first wife, musical star Anna Held, MGM cast a rising young star from Austria, Luise Rainer. Although the part was relatively short, she had the film's biggest dramatic scene, a tearful telephone call to her ex-husband congratulating him on his marriage to Burke. According to publicists, the scene was regularly screened for the studio's young contract players as an example of screen acting at its best.

To flesh things out, the studio recruited some of Ziegfeld's top stars to play themselves. Most notable was Fannie Brice, who was famous for her signature song "My Man," which, curiously enough, is not presented here - Brice only performs the intro to it. But the picture also featured Ray Bolger, later the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz (1939), Ann Pennington, Harriet Hoctor, Gilda Gray and Leon Errol. The one star they couldn't get was Marilyn Miller, who refused to do the film unless she had a leading role and a massive paycheck.

The Great Ziegfeld was a big hit, earning a 100 percent profit. Mayer was so thrilled, particularly when it won Best Picture, that he threw a massive party for it at the Ambassador Hotel and gave the film's Oscar® to producer Stromberg. Burke always felt that she came out the big winner. She had served as a technical advisor on the film, for which Mayer rewarded her with a seven-year contract at MGM. There she would play her most famous film roles, including the dizzy society hostess in Topper (1937) and Glinda the Good in The Wizard of Oz.

The Warner Video DVD of The Great Ziegfeld is another top notch release from this company and an excellent example of the big budget, revue-styled musical that was so popular in the mid-thirties. Not only has WV included the original Overture, Entr'acte and exit music on their DVD release of The Great Ziegfeld, but they've also tossed in a few notable extras - a 1936 newsreel of the film's New York City premiere and "Ziegfeld on Film," a newly-created featurette featuring interviews with Luise Rainer and others.

For more information about The Great Ziegfeld, visit Warner Video. To order The Great Ziegfeld, go to TCM Shopping.

by Frank Miller

The Great Ziegfeld on DVD

Flo Ziegfeld and MGM were a match made in Hollywood heaven. The master showman of the Broadway stage, who glorified the American girl in a series of lavish musical revues, would have been right at home at Hollywood's most glamorous studio. Unfortunately, he died without having the chance to work there. But when the studio decided to film his life story in 1936, they came up with one of their biggest hits, and their third Oscar®-winner for Best Picture. The Great Ziegfeld (now on DVD from Warner Video) started out at Universal Studios in 1933. When studio executives decided the production would be too expensive, writer William Anthony McGuire sold his script to MGM, thus making The Great Ziegfeld one of the first projects transferred from one studio to another. From the beginning, The Great Ziegfeld was envisioned on a lavish scale. When producer Hunt Stromberg told studio head Louis B. Mayer that the film's centerpiece, a production number based on Irving Berlin'a "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody" would cost $250,000, the mogul's only response was "Shoot it!" The film finally came in for a cost of $2 million, MGM's biggest budget to that time. And it ran two hours and 50 minutes, which Variety claimed to be the longest running time ever for a U.S. commercial film. For all the money, the glue that held the picture together was the performances, particularly the leading trio. Publicists claimed that William Powell had been chosen for the role by Ziegfeld's widow, actress Billie Burke, though nothing in her memoirs corroborates that. In fact, many critics pointed out that Powell looked nothing like Ziegfeld and didn't attempt to capture his mannerisms. Stromberg countered that he was more interested in capturing the great man's spirit. The same held for Myrna Loy's performance as Burke. She was a natural choice to co-star; she and Powell were already a top box-office team and had teamed for two other films that year. But with Burke still alive and prominently featured as a supporting actress in films, Loy decided not to even attempt an imitation. Instead, she played the role as herself, a choice Burke heartily supported. In fact, throughout filming, Burke brought friends to the set to meet Loy. To play Ziegfeld's first wife, musical star Anna Held, MGM cast a rising young star from Austria, Luise Rainer. Although the part was relatively short, she had the film's biggest dramatic scene, a tearful telephone call to her ex-husband congratulating him on his marriage to Burke. According to publicists, the scene was regularly screened for the studio's young contract players as an example of screen acting at its best. To flesh things out, the studio recruited some of Ziegfeld's top stars to play themselves. Most notable was Fannie Brice, who was famous for her signature song "My Man," which, curiously enough, is not presented here - Brice only performs the intro to it. But the picture also featured Ray Bolger, later the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz (1939), Ann Pennington, Harriet Hoctor, Gilda Gray and Leon Errol. The one star they couldn't get was Marilyn Miller, who refused to do the film unless she had a leading role and a massive paycheck. The Great Ziegfeld was a big hit, earning a 100 percent profit. Mayer was so thrilled, particularly when it won Best Picture, that he threw a massive party for it at the Ambassador Hotel and gave the film's Oscar® to producer Stromberg. Burke always felt that she came out the big winner. She had served as a technical advisor on the film, for which Mayer rewarded her with a seven-year contract at MGM. There she would play her most famous film roles, including the dizzy society hostess in Topper (1937) and Glinda the Good in The Wizard of Oz. The Warner Video DVD of The Great Ziegfeld is another top notch release from this company and an excellent example of the big budget, revue-styled musical that was so popular in the mid-thirties. Not only has WV included the original Overture, Entr'acte and exit music on their DVD release of The Great Ziegfeld, but they've also tossed in a few notable extras - a 1936 newsreel of the film's New York City premiere and "Ziegfeld on Film," a newly-created featurette featuring interviews with Luise Rainer and others. For more information about The Great Ziegfeld, visit Warner Video. To order The Great Ziegfeld, go to TCM Shopping. by Frank Miller

Quotes

Trivia

The sequence "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody" was filmed in one continuous shot after several weeks of rehearsals and filming. It features 180 performers and cost $220,000; 4,300 yards of rayon silk were used for the curtains in the scene.

'William Powell' was loaned by M-G-M to Universal for the film, but Universal sold the film to M-G-M when costs mounted. Powell made My Man Godfrey (1936) for Universal instead.

Billie Burke, the wife of the real Ziegfeld, payed a visit to the film's set one day. While there, she was photographed with Myrna Loy, who was portraying Ms. Burke in the film.

Notes

Information in contemporary news items, the film's pressbook and the M-G-M Music Collection at the USC Cinema-Television Library relate the following: Universal Pictures purchased the rights to film the life story of showman Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. (1869-1932) from actress Billie Burke, Ziegfeld's widow, in late 1933. By January 1934, pre-production had begun with William Anthony McGuire, who had been a protege of Ziegfeld's, acting as both screenwriter and producer. In June 1934, it was announced that Ziegfeld's eighteen-year-old daughter Patricia was helping McGuire to select showgirls and costumes for the picture. Some sources also indicate that Burke helped McGuire with the original story, however, this May have been as a consultant rather than a writer. Filming was set to begin under Edward Sutherland's direction in late January 1935, following several weeks of rehearsals on various dance numbers.
       By mid-February 1935, after Universal had invested between $225,000 and $250,000 in the production, much of which went for elaborate sets, news items reported that McGuire was having "differences of opinion" with the studio over the film. Other news items noted that the big-budget picture was "too costly" for Universal which, at that time, was having severe financial problems and seeking outside sources of revenue. On 22 Feb, it was announced that Universal had entered into negotiations with M-G-M to take over The Great Ziegfeld project, and a tentative agreement was signed the next day. Several impediments were reported before the studios finalized the agreement on March 11, 1935. One problem involved the rights to the "Ziegfeld Follies" name when M-G-M considered producing annual "Follies" shows on Broadway, then turning them into films. The idea, as such, was apparently discarded before the deal with Universal was consummated, but M-G-M did produce two additional films using Ziegfeld's name, Ziegfeld Girl (1941) and Ziegfeld Follies (1946), the rights to which May have been secured in the 1935 negotiations.
       Terms of the M-G-M/Universal agreement that have been confirmed in contemporary sources include the following: the production would move from Universal's San Fernando Valley lot to M-G-M's Culver City lot, as of March 13, 1935, at which time M-G-M would assume all additional production costs; M-G-M would pay $300,000 to Universal for costs incurred on the production to that date, plus a settlement for loss of revenue; McGuire's screenplay would be retained, but he would be replaced [by Hunt Stromberg] as producer in exchange for giving McGuire a writer-producer-director position on a future production; many "key" people from the Universal production would move to M-G-M; and, M-G-M would allow Universal to borrow William Powell (who initially had been loaned to Universal from M-G-M for the picture) for another film, following the completion of The Great Ziegfeld. Universal apparently insisted upon the Powell loan in order to satisfy their exhibitors, who had been promised that the studio would release a Powell picture. That picture became the financially successful 1936 comedy My Man Godfrey (see below), for which Powell was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. The promised McGuire project became the 1937 musical Rosalie, which he wrote and produced, but which was directed by Robert Z. Leonard (see below).
       Although early news items during the negotiations continued to include Sutherland's name as the director, on March 5, 1935 George Cukor was announced by M-G-M as the possible director. Robert Z. Leonard was named as the probable director from 18 March on. The "Harriet Hoctor Ballet" (also known as "A Circus Must Be Different in a Ziegfeld Show"), which was shot by photographer Merritt B. Gerstad, was in rehearsal for six weeks at Universal before the production was moved to M-G-M, and news items reported that it would be shot immediately at the new studio. Other Hollywood Reporter news items mentioned that the number would be shot, but used for another film. According to news items and the M-G-M Music Collection, the Hoctor Ballet started shooting on April 8, 1935 and continued for several days. Principal photography did not begin on the film's non-musical segments until 23 September 1935.
       Various news items reported the following casting information: Jack Benny, who had recently come to M-G-M, was considered for a role in the picture; Walter Catlett, who had appeared in the "Follies" on Broadway was signed for a role, but did not appear in the released film. "Follies" stars Leon Errol and Gilda Gray, who are both included in CBCS, did not appear in the film. Information in the M-G-M Music Collection confirms that musical numbers were shot featuring the respective performers. A dance featuring Ann Pennington was shot on September 16, 1935, according to a Hollywood Reporter news item, but Pennington's number was also cut from the film. Margaret Perry and Jean Chatburn tested for the role of "Billie Burke," which was not assigned to Myrna Loy until early Oct. Chatburn was later cast in the role of "Mary Lou" (also called "Sally Manners" in the film). Rosina Lawrence was tested for the role of Broadway star "Marilyn Miller," and is included in the CBCS in the role, but she does not appear in the released film. The character played by Chatburn appears to be based on Miller, as in the film, the character "Sally Manners" stars in the musical Sally, which was Miller's most famous role. Miller died on April 7, 1936, the day before the film's New York premiere. The reason why her characterization was altered for the film has not been determined, but a review of the film in Liberty quipped, "It's not true that Marilyn Miller died of a broken heart at not getting lead [sic] in this."
       Ray Bolger, who is listed in the onscreen credits as "Ray Bolger" actually tested for the role of "Follies" star Jack Donohue, according to a Hollywood Reporter news item, and Reginald Owen, who plays Ziegfeld's agent "Samson" in the film, had earlier been cast in the role of Ziegfeld's butler. Actor Buddy Doyle is credited with portraying "Eddie Cantor" in the screen credits and in the program. Within the film, however, he is called "Buddy." The Variety review notes that Doyle was Eddie Cantor's "Follies" understudy for many years. Doyle, whose real name was Benjamin Taubenhaus, died in 1939; this May have been his only film. According to Liberty, A. A. Trimble, who portrays "Will Rogers" in the film, was actually a Cleveland map salesman who frequently impersonated Rogers "at Rotarian lunches." Rogers died in August 1935, several weeks before production began on The Great Ziegfeld.
       The "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody" number, part of the "Ziegfeld Follies" sequence of the picture, is one of the most famous musical numbers ever filmed. The so-called "Wedding Cake" set took several weeks to rehearse and shoot, featured 180 performers and required 4,300 yards of silk rayon for the curtains, according to the film's pressbook. The number cost $220,000 to produce or, according to Liberty, "$40,000 more than the entire Follies would have set back Ziggie himself in the grand days." The number, which was filmed by photographer Ray June, was, according to modern sources, shot in one continuous "take." Several reviews singled the number out as a high point of the film and indicated that audiences at the premiere burst into applause after its completion. Actress Virginia Bruce, who portrayed the fictitious "Follies" star "Audrey Dane" in the film, is the woman seated at the pinnacle of the set. The actor who appears as the singer in the number, Stanley Morner, did not actually sing the song. Morner, who later changed his name to Dennis Morgan, was an accomplished singer, but the song had previously been recorded by Allan Jones, another M-G-M contract player, and the studio apparently decided not to re-record the number. No located contemporary publicity or reviews note the dubbing and the Variety review praised Morner's "tenoring...in fine style and excellent camera advantage. It again suggests him as another surprise Metro discovery." The review also indicated that the role seemed to be a composite of "Follies" entertainers John Steel and Irving Fisher.
       Reviews and modern sources have indicated that there are many anachronisms in the film, especially in the placement of musical numbers from the various "Follies." Several "Follies" stars are fictionalized or placed in time frames that were not historically accurate, and dancer Ray Bolger, who portrays himself in the film, was actually never in a "Follies" show.
       M-G-M studio records record the cost of the production at $2,183,000, although various contemporary news items and feature articles estimated the cost as between $1,500,000 and $2,000,000 or, as Frank S. Nugent wrote in his New York Times review, "about $500,000 an hour." Modern sources correctly state that the picture cost more than any M-G-M production since the 1925 silent spectacle, Ben-Hur (which studio records indicate cost $3,967,000 to produce). The film's premiere was held at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles which, according to Los Angeles Times, had recently been redecorated.
       The film brought in $4,673,000 world-wide, according to studio records. In addition, it won three Academy Awards, for Best Picture, Best Actress (Luise Rainer, her first of two back-to-back awards), and Best Dance Direction (Seymour Felix for "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody"). The film was also nominated for Best Direction (Robert Z. Leonard), Best Art Direction (Cedric Gibbons, Merrill Pye and John Harkrider) Best Film Editing (William S. Gray) and Best Original Story (William Anthony McGuire). Some modern sources have speculated that the reason Powell was nominated for Best Actor for My Man Godfrey instead of The Great Ziegfeld was that the final scene of the latter film was considered too "maudlin" or "melodramatic" and therefore left a bad final impression of the overall performance. Powell did win the Screen Actor's Guild award for Best Actor, tying with C. Aubrey Smith for Little Lord Fauntleroy, and Rainer won their Best Actress award. The picture was named one of the "Ten Best" of the year by Film Daily and New York Times, and was one of the top twenty-five box office hits of 1936. A news item in Motion Picture Herald on April 18, 1936 noted that "the Ziegfeld family" was seeking an injunction against M-G-M for using the Ziegfeld name in the title, however, the suit was apparently settled out of court and, as noted above, the studio made two additional films using the name. In Ziegfeld Follies, which was a compendium of various musical numbers and comic sketches, Powell reprised his role, appearing as a celestial Ziegfeld planning another "Follies." Walter Pidgeon appeared as Ziegfeld in the 1968 William Wyler directed film Funny Girl (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70; F6.1727), a biographical film on the life of "Follies" star Fanny Brice, and Paul Shenar portrayed the showman in the 1978 television movie Ziegfeld: The Man and His Women, directed by Buzz Kulik and co-starring Samantha Eggar.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1936

Released in United States 1936