— Being the sixth and final set of illustrated records of the Ziegfeld Follies (1927 and 1931), plus a few extras.

After all the confusion within and about the 1924-25-26 Follies, I'm happy to report that Ziggy invested heavily in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1927. To ensure that investment, he initiated two "firsts": he gave star billing to Eddie Cantor, the first Follies performer to be so honored; and he assigned the music and lyrics to one—and only one—composer, Irving Berlin. He also brought back Joseph Urban to design the sets.

Headlining with Cantor was Cliff Edwards, aka Ukelele Ike. (That's how ukulele was spelled back then.) Edwards held the coveted next-to-closing spot with his popular routine.

If you're not old enough to remember him playing the uke, maybe you'll remember him as the voice of Jiminy Cricket from the 1940 animated film, Pinocchio.

Cantor & Edwards shared billing with five talented ladies: Claire Luce, Ruth Etting, and the Brox Sisters.

This edition had a large and lively jungle number performed by the Ziegfeld Girls and augmented by a variety of animals. In this number, Claire Luce rode a live ostrich who behaved quite well except for one night when they came off stage: He panicked and, instead of depositing Miss Luce back stage, he continued on, carrying her through a stage door out onto West 41st Street. Well, the poor bird just needed some fresh air.

Also in the jungle number were the singing Brox Sisters, who performed a well-reviewed number entitled "Jungle-Jingle." The three sisters were also well reviewed for their rendition of Berlin's "It's Up to the Band."

Cantor earned his star billing: He appeared in nearly half the scenes, and co-wrote the script with Harold Atteridge. He also inserted the one number not written by Irving Berlin, Walter Donaldson's hit "My Blue Heaven." The New Yorker's critic described the show's music as "reminiscent of everything haunting in the last ten years ('Blue Skies' being prominent)," adding that it "retains the best features of each."

In the opinion of Brooks Atkinson of The New York Times, one of the two numbers best liked by the audience was "Shakin' the Blues Away," performed by Ruth Etting.

You can hear Miss Etting's rendition of this Berlin classic by clicking on the following link:'+the+Blues+Away

Mr. Atkinson's pick for the next-best-liked number was "Ooh, Maybe It's You," which was performed as a duet by Franklin Bauer and the lovely Irene Delroy.

Miss Delroy also performed another popular number entitled "Ribbons and Bows."

By and large, critics didn't think the music for this production was first-rate, but pretty much all of them were united in their praise of the men and women who performed the musical numbers — from the popular soloists, to the singing and dancing of the chorus, to the 90 beautiful girls playing an array of instruments. Harkening back to a comment I made in my previous post, It was Percy Hammond, writing for the New York Herald Tribune, who wrote this animated description of the Ziegfeld Girls' instrumental talents:

"...there is a scene in which these cultured demozelles perform upon all the instruments known to orchestration, including the flute, the xylophone, the hautboy (oboe) and the piccolo. As the curtain went down last night on the first act, twenty of them were performing upon pianos and many more than that were twanging banjos, tooting trombones and b-flat cornets and tickling snare drums."

The talents and beauty of the Ziegfeld Girls was truly mind-boggling. Here are a few of the talented lovelies who graced the Follies stage in 1927:

The beautiful Miss Moylan had hordes of male admirers. Upon breaking up with a fiancé, she returned a diamond encrusted pendant worth $18,000. "Why should I ruin my career by keeping junky jewelry?" she said.

Here it should be told that after the Jazz Age, Madeline Janis became well known for preserving the history of the Follies through her involvement with The Ziegfeld Club of New York, a charitable organization created in 1935, initially as an element of a publicity campaign designed to promote the 1936 film, The Great Ziegfeld. However, under Madeline's guidance, the club was dedicated to staying in touch with its girls, tracking their histories, and helping those who had fallen on hard times.

Ballets in the Follies of 1927 were created and choreographed by Albertina Rasch, who cast a small number of chorines to augment her ballet company — among them, these two phenoms, Marilyn Miller, who became a popular musical comedy star until her untimely death at age 37, and the great Helen Hayes, who went on to become our most venerable dramatic actress, known for many years as "The First Lady of the American Theatre."

Dressed in pastel colors, Miss Hayes and the dancers performed a number called "In the Clouds," moving gracefully across a stage of prop clouds while Franklin Bauer sang "The Rainbow of Girls."

This was the last Follies to play the New Amsterdam, which had been home to the series since 1913.

Now we enter a four-year period wherein Ziggy's health deteriorated, and the stock market crash of 1929 wiped him out financially. In 1931 he tried to revive his fortunes by producing another edition of the Follies. It was the only edition ever to be staged in Ziegfeld's art deco theatre on Sixth Avenue.

Ziggy staged this edition under the pre-crash assumption that the more money he put into a production, the better the show would be and the more tickets he'd sell. Not so in 1931. This edition cost more than a quarter of a million dollars, an unheard of production sum at the time. Ziggy's longtime friend and associate Gene Buck made more than his usual contribution of talent, helping Ziggy with the staging and assisting him in myriad ways of production, as well as working with Mark Hellinger on the book and lyrics.

Serving as Master of Ceremonies was popular singer-dancer-comedian-pianist-songwriter Harry Richman. It was Richman's only Follies appearance.

Other headliners included Jack Pearl, popularly known on radio as The Baron Munchausen; singer-actress Ruth Etting; torch singer Helen Morgan; outrageously funny eccentric dancer Hal LeRoy partnered with one of the best tap dancers of the 1930s, Mitzi Mayfair; actor-singer-impressionist Albert Carroll; and the tap-dancing, keyboarding duo of Buck and Bubbles.

Music for the 1931 Follies combined the old with the new. One scene was built around a new song by Dave Stamper and Gene Buck entitled "Broadway Reverie," which included a few previous hits. For example, performing as Nora Bayes, Ruth Etting sang "Shine On, Harvest Moon," for which her reviews bordered on raves.

And her rendition of "Cigars, Cigarettes," received an enthusiastic review from Variety, and from The New York Daily Mirror's Walter Winchell, who wrote, "Miss Etting again scored powerfully in this playlet with 'Cigars! Cigarettes!'"

The "Broadway Reverie" number also featured Harry Richman as Al Jolson singing "You Made Me Love You"...

...Ziegfeld Girl Anne Lee Patterson, a standout as Miss U S...

...and Jack Pearl as Sam Bernard singing "Who Paid the Rent for Mrs. Rip Van Winkle When Rip Van Winkle Went Away?"

In case you're wondering, Sam Bernard was a British comedian who died in 1927. He was recalled and revered by generations of comic performers. He introduced the Rip Van Winkle song in a show called The Belle of Bond Street, the inaugural production of New York's Shubert Theater, which opened December 11, 1914.

I don't know if Sam Bernard recorded the Rip Van Winkle song, but Jack Pearl did, in 1932. And Bing Crosby and Al Jolson recorded it in 1947. I'm told that Sophie Tucker recorded a more risqué version. Now that I'd like to have heard.

The song was composed by Fred Fischer. Alfred Bryan wrote the lyrics, which seem tame by today's standards:

Oh, oh, many years ago

Lived the wife of happy Rip Van Winkle

Oh, oh, she sent him away

As the little stars began to twinkle

All that he had he had under his hat

She was glad to see him go

So over the hills he went

Left her without a cent

One thing I'm anxious to know....

Who paid the rent for Mrs. Rip Van Winkle

When Rip Van Winkle went away?

And though he slept for twenty years

Who was it kissed away her tears?

She had no friends in the place

No one to embrace

But the landlord always left her with a smile on his face

Oh, who paid the rent for Mrs. Rip Van Winkle

When Rip Van Winkle went away?

C'mon, tell me!

Who paid the rent for Mrs. Rip Van Winkle

When Rip Van Winkle went away?

And though he slept for twenty years

Who was it kissed away her tears?

She never married again

She was lonesome but then

You'll always find a rooster

Lookin' round for a hen

Who paid the rent for Mrs. Rip Van Winkle

When Rip Van Winkle went away?

Helen Morgan introduced Noel Coward's "Half-Caste Woman," which was cut after several weeks of negative critical review. Morgan had achieved star status as Julie in Ziggy's production of Showboat in 1927, but this was her first and only Follies. Harkening back to the Follies days of Bert Williams, critics found Miss Morgan's material unworthy of her talent, suggesting that her songs didn't seem to suit her personality as well as usual, "even if Noel Coward did write one of them," said The New York Sun reviewer.

Popular actor, choreographer and lyricist Albert Carroll made his only Follies appearance in this edition. His name and presence were fixtures of Broadway theatre since 1916, and his career continued well into the 1940s.

In this edition of the Follies, eccentric dancer Hal LeRoy partnered with Mitzi Mayfair, another brilliant dancer, and according to one writer, their humorous dance routines "stole the spotlight from big stars such as Harry Richman and Ruth Etting."

In truth, it was the spectacular keyboarding-tapdancing duo Buck and Bubbles who stole the show. The easy piano (and song) stylings of Ford Lee "Buck" Washington in counterpoint to John "Bubbles" Sublett's explosion of complicated rhythmic tap patterns, set the audience's fingers snapping and toes a-tapping. Bubbles, known as the father of rhythm tap, was Fred Astaire's favorite dancer, and I believe he was held in similar regard by Michael Jackson.

The Ziegfeld Follies of 1931 earned favorable reviews, but the cost of the show was way too high to earn a favorable return on investment. Ziggy had hoped to lure a big star or two back to the Follies, but most of the headliners over the years had become big stars in Hollywood — in films, radio or both — that he tabled that idea in favor of continuing to produce book musicals, which had long been his bread & butter.

Having earned accolades and lots of money by putting the first production of Showboat on the stage in 1927, he chose to revive that show after the 1931 Follies closed. The revival was as popular as the original, and became the biggest grosser on Broadway — that is, until the Great Depression, at its worst in 1932, forced the show's closure.

Ziggy didn't live to see Showboat close. He died in Hollywood on 22 July 1932, from pleurisy following a severe lung infection.

He had been in Hollywood producing The Ziegfeld Follies of the Air, a CBS Radio series that was catching on across the nation. Hosted by Eddie Dowling, and sponsored by Chrysler Motors, the series aired Sunday nights and featured many well known Follies headliners. Ziggy's death ended the original series, but it was revived for a little over three months in 1936, as a tribute to the showman.

Ziggy's widow, Billie Burke, and their daughter Patricia, working to pay off his debts, sold the rights to produce a few Follies editions: 1934 (good), 1936 (so-so), 1943 (553 performances, excellent reviews), 1956 (the only edition that ever closed before reaching Broadway), 1957 (all reviewers' thumbs went down), and 1960 (a low-budget, in-the-round production using recycled material and no stars. Go figure!)

Fast forward to 1990 when the quintessential Broadway song-and-dance man, Tommy Tune, was hired to stage the quintessential Broadway musical, The Will Rogers Follies, earning him his ninth Tony Award for direction and choreography of the 1991 blockbuster.

This wonderful Broadway musical, which earned six Tony Awards and three Drama Desk Awards, played 33 preview performances, then opened at the Palace Theatre on May 1, 1991, and closed on September 5, 1993, for a total of 983 performances in just under 2-1/2 years. Golly! Isn't it time for a revival?

We've reached the end of this long journey through the star-studded history of the Ziegfeld Follies. This is the finalé, as it were, and I sincerely hope you've enjoyed the show.

Now, I bring back a lovely lady to take another curtain call. Put your hands together for the talented dancer and indomitable spirit, Doris Eaton:

You may remember reading about the diminutive Miss Eaton's Follies appearances in the early 1900s. She debuted as Florenz Ziegfeld's youngest dancer (age 14), taking her place in the line as her six older siblings had done before her. She remained with the Follies through 1920, then went to work as a ballroom dancing instructor for the Arthur Murray Dance Studios. It was there she met her husband, Paul Travis. The Travises established a horse farm in Norman, Oklahoma, which they operated together for, oh, a mere 75 years (give or take a couple)! After Paul died in 2000, the horse farm became too much for Doris to operate by herself, so she gave it up last December — at age 104!

The snowy-haired beauty, and the last remaining Ziegfeld Girl, Doris Eaton Travis celebrated her 105th birthday in April of this year, and shows nary a sign of slowing down.

Cue soundtrack: Thunderous Ovation!

(Happy Thanksgiving to all. I'll be back around Christmas.)

Stage Whispers is published by


  1. There's a rumour that when you get to heaven you can ask to return to earth as anyone you want, it's actually a trick question because if you answer that you want to return to earth as Florenz Ziegfeld the Angels start pointing downstairs. A great man with a wonderful lady of a wife, and an All American Show-Biz great. Written by a longtime English fan of Flo.

  2. There were two Helen Hayes's and they appear to be lumped together on IBDB. The first is "the first lady of the stage" who had numerous acting successes prior to the running of the Ziegfeld Follies of 1927 (so she is not likely to have taken a "step down"), the production of which overlapped by two months the very successful run of Coquette she was definately in. The Ziegfeld Hayes was a toe dancer (as in your photo), had a pointier nose and was a bit prettier and younger then the Broadway Hayes. Looking closely at Google pics of "Helen Hayes actress" vs "Helen Hayes Ziegfeld" will show the differences. Join the cause, help correct the Internet. lol


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