— Being the fourth set of illustrated records of the Follies (editions 1920 thru 1922).
The Ziegfeld Follies in the 1920s, starting here with the 14th edition, began to tarnish a little. That is to say, not all reviews were raves. But the Follies didn't lack for audiences because the song lyrics became more provocative, the costumes more revealing, and because the talent levels of headliners and showgirls always remained high.
The Follies of 1920 opened at the New Amsterdam on June 22, and ran for 123 performances. Headliners were Fanny Brice, W. C. Fields, Mary Eaton, dancers (and the show's choreographers) Jack Donahue and Ray Dooley, Bernard Granville, Charles Winninger, Van and Schenck, Moran and Mack, and Art Hickman's Orchestra. The show was staged by British director Edward Royce.
Nearly every song performed by Fanny Brice became popular. "Rockaway Baby" wasn't exactly at the top of the hit parade, but "Rose of Washington Square" and "My Man" were so popular, Fanny repeatedly sang them as encores.
And in this edition of the Follies she introduced the comedy song, "I'm A Vamp From East Broadway." She also shared a funny automobile sketch with W. C. Fields.
Mary Eaton and Doris Eaton were two of several Eaton siblings who performed in the chorus of many editions of the Follies. From time to time, they were featured in support of the headliners, as was Mary in this edition. The Eaton girls were talented dancers, who could also sing, and their commendable work ethic helped set the standard for the Ziegfeld Girls.
Charlie Winninger is a name and a face that some of us old folks remember from motion pictures. But this great singer-actor started in vaudeville, and starred in many stage musicals. He performed in this edition of the follies, and Ziegfeld regarded his talents so highly that he cast him as Cap'n Andy when he produced the original production of Show Boat. And four years later, when Ziggy produced the first revival of Show Boat, he recast Winninger in the same role.
Audience pleasers Van and Schenck were a musical team that also performed comedy routines. Gus Van's hearty baritone and Joe Schenck's high tenor (and keyboard artistry) provided close harmony in their novelty routines.
Precursors to Amos 'n' Andy, the blackface comedy team of Moran and Mack was a popular vaudeville attraction. Their humor was filled with corny gags, about evenly divided between racial and non-racial stereotypes, but they were very popular with white audiences of the 1920s.
They were also known as the Two Black Crows, which is the name under which they recorded.
And now, dear reader, here are five of the many beautiful Ziegfeld Girls who appeared in this edition:
Because Ziegfeld's smash hit musical Sally (featuring our old friends Marilyn Miller and Leon Errol) was still running at the New Amsterdam after 7 months, the Ziegfeld Follies of 1921 opened June 21 at the Globe Theater (now the Lunt-Fontanne Theater) on West 46th Street, where it ran for 119 performances.
The New York Times called this 15th edition of the Follies the "Best of Them All," hailing the show's "good comedy" and stressing its "remarkable dancing." And while a reviewer in the Summer issue of Theatre Magazine went on at length to make the point that the Ziegfeld Follies are merely "plain, unadulterated vaudeville" with a higher price tag, he also mentioned the show's many excellent dancers and the wide variety of dance genres featured. Both reviewers sang the praises of Mitti and Tillio, dancers imported from the Follies Bergeres, Paris.
Headlining this edition were Fanny Brice, W. C. Fields, Raymond Hitchcock, and Van and Schenck. There were also about 2 dozen principal performers, among whom were many dancers who could also sing, and a few singers who could also dance. Mr. Ziegfeld always took advantage of those opportunities, just as he had turned dramatic actors into comics, and vice versa. He never acknowledged the limitations that some performers placed on themselves. A case in point was Fanny Brice's rendition of "My Man" at the opening of Act 2.
During rehearsal, dressed in evening attire, Fanny was belting out the song when Ziggy leapt onto the stage, shredded her gown and smeared dirt on her face. Brice, shaken to the core, broken-heartedly sang the song, and Ziegfeld ordered her to never sing it any other way. Hardly breathing, the audience would sit quietly through that number every night. At the end of the song there was a beat of silence before thunderous applause.
Par for the course for Fanny who, back in the first act, had introduced "Second Hand Rose," also to thunderous applause.
An audience favorite was the very funny Ray Dooley, an eccentric dancer and comedienne who kept her audiences in stitches. Several excellent hoofers (all Dooleys) worked with the Follies from time to time, but Ray was given more featured spots than her siblings, and even choreographed occasionally. She and her pal, Fanny Brice, performed an hilarious fistfight in the finale of Act 1. Dooley played The Manassas Mauler, Jack Dempsey, and Brice played the popular French fighter, Georges Carpentier.
First-time Follies headliner Raymond Hitchcock had been a multi-talented writer-producer-director-performer on Broadway for more than 20 years. He offered the Follies audience some new material written for the show, as well as some of his old reliable routines that somehow always seemed new. His delivery was casual, but his wit was quick and sharp, and he was a great ad-libber. Theater Magazine reviewed him well, calling him the show's "chief fun maker."
Earlier in his career, Hitchcock earned audience and critical acclaim for his performance of Elijah Booze in the comedy Yankee Consul. He had reprised the role several times since then, and was loved for it. Tribute was paid to him and the play when this cigar box label showed up on boxes in the windows of tobacconists everywhere.
Back in the New Amsterdam Theatre, the Follies of 1922 opened June 5 and played 541 performances — the longest running Follies Ziegfeld ever produced, and the first to proclaim the motto "Glorifying the American Girl." Headliners were comedy team Gallagher & Shean, singer-dancer-actor Jack Whiting, the homespun humorist and rope twirler Will Rogers, and the zany Hellzapoppin' comics Olsen & Johnson, along with electrifying dancer Mary Eaton, and queen of the Shimmy Dance, Gilda Gray.
"Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Shean" was the hit song of this edition, just as the gentlemen themselves, Ed Gallagher and his uncle, Al Shean were the hit of the show. Over the years, their act was so often mimicked that even now, nearly a decade into the 21st century, some of the lyrics and their simple melody are easy to recall. The song has many verses, some official, some not, all funny. Musicals101.com has transcribed the lyrics from a 1922 recording. You can read them here:
Jack Whiting, a 21-year-old singer, dancer and actor, made his Broadway debut in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1922, and his career took off, spanning more than three decades playing leads and major supporting roles in two dozen musicals on stage and screen.
And here's the beautiful Anastasia Reilly, who performed in this and other editions of the Follies before transitioning to musical theatre book shows.
She would eventually marry a wealthy nephew of Florenz Ziegfeld, and enter upon a successful career as a newspaper publisher before her death from cancer at the age of 58.
Dancer Evelyn Law stopped the show when she crossed the stage on one leg, while she wagged a disapproving finger at her other leg, which was raised straight up above her head.
Zany comics Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson, famous for free-wheeling, anything-goes comedy, blasted the Follies audience with what was called "orchestrated mayhem." No joke was too old, no song too corny for this engaging vaudeville team. They were also a regular attraction on radio and in early "talkies."
Humorist Will Rogers could be counted on to produce laughs as he spoofed the news, twirled his lariat, and even lassoed a pretty girl or two. He relied on the changing news stories to keep his act fresh. What a wise man.
A principal performer in this edition of the Follies was Gilda Gray, whose dance, the Shimmy, was scandalizing New York audiences. Follies audiences weren't scandalized. They liked what they saw.
Gilda displayed her versatility in several different dance numbers.
Now here's a tidbit of information that might interest you: In the chorus of the Follies of 1922 was a 16-year-old girl named Ruby Stevens — not really chorus material, but she badly needed a job, so she took it. Ruby would later change her name to Barbara Stanwyck and become a star in motion pictures.
We've come to the end of Part 4, with just one more installment to complete the series. Most likely, I'll publish that in a week — maybe 10 days. So until then, enjoy the lovely autumn weather.