An overview of Ziegfeld Girl (part of the Backstage Blogathon)
“Once upon a time there were three little girls…”
Had you going for a minute, didn’t I? Instead of backstage antics at the Ziegfeld Follies, you thought I was going for an Aaron Spelling-flavored review of a certain 1970s program that shall remain nameless.
If you think about it though, the Ziegfeld Follies were really an early version of jiggle programming. Aaron Spelling and Florenz Ziegfeld were both middle-aged Jewish guys in show business who were good at discovering beautiful women, having them wear skimpy outfits, making them famous, and then getting rich from the proceeds.
In 1941’s Ziegfeld Girl (directed by Robert Z. Leonard, ex spouse of ex-Ziegfeld girl, Mae Murray, and also behind the helm of 1936’s award-winning The Great Ziegfeld), we follow the adventures of our three aforementioned girls in their quest to be discovered at the Follies. The blonde (Lana Turner, as a redhead here, although it’s not as obvious in black and white), the brunette (Hedy Lamarr), and “the smart one” (Judy Garland). Ziegfeld Girl seemed an obvious choice for me to write about, since I most recently wrote about another Ziegfeld Girl, Olive Thomas.
Sheila Regan (Lana) happens to get Ziegfeld in her elevator car, and he gives her a card. Sandra Kolter’s (Hedy’s) husband has an audition for the orchestra at the New Amsterdam, and she is snatched up as the most beautiful woman in the room without even trying. Susan Gallagher (Judy) shares a Vaudeville act with her father, Pops Gallagher, and they are doing their damnedest to get hired with the act. Only Ziegfeld isn’t interested in Pops, only in Susan.
They are all discovered in various ways, but begin settling into the Ziegfeld routine– the elegant way of walking, gliding with books on their heads, practicing the routines, and rehearsing.
Okay, I’ve mastered The Little Prince. Let’s move onto War and Peace!
Each of them have a complication in their personal lives. With Lana, it’s her boyfriend Gil (Jimmy Stewart), a truck driver who really loves her, but can’t give her all the pretty things she desires and the life she thinks she wants. With Hedy, it’s her husband Fritz (Philip Dorn), who resents the fact that she’s been picked up at the Follies and he hasn’t (plus, she has to wear skimpy outfits and men are looking at her-especially the scoundrelly, married Frank Merton). With Judy, she has to decide which is more important– her career as a Ziegfeld Girl, or her relationship with her father (Charles Winninger), who still has to go out on the road, touring with theater companies, which she’s tired of after many years (not that she hasn’t met some very charming trained seals…).
Lana lets it all go to her head, the jewels, the gifts, and the glamour from rich men (who don’t include Gil, of course).Only, in shunning Gil, she pushes him into criminal activity with his trucking that can help him pull in the dough he needs to impress her.
Hedy coasts along on her beauty, enjoying the attentions of Frank Merton when her husband gets resentful of her success, and Judy has a bit of a meet cute with Lana’s brother Jerry (Jackie Cooper).
To say any more about the plot would be to give too much away. Lana gets to do lots of scenery chewing and has some great flippant lines (especially when shutting down a would-be suitor, who then calls her “one of those refrigerated dames”). Sadly, Ziegfeld Girl doesn’t end happily for one of our plucky heroines.
The costumes, by Adrian, are fabulous as usual, and the dances by Busby Berkeley are always exciting to see, especially in classic Ziegfeld numbers like: “You Stepped Out of a Dream” and “Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Shean”, in addition to “Mini From Trinidad” and “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows.”
As a fan of MGM musicals from way back, I’ve always enjoyed Ziegfeld Girl. I only wish that it had been filmed in technicolor. Just imagine how much more stunning it would have been in color versus black and white.
Apologies for this abbreviated blog post because I discovered the copy I was going to use to watch won’t cooperate, so I’m doing this mostly from memory combined with IMDB.