The Great Ziegfeld (1936) is a musical film produced by MGM. A fictionalized biography of Florenz Ziegfeld from his show business beginnings to his death, it showcases a series of spectacular musical productions. The film includes original music by Walter Donaldson and Irving Berlin. Berlin's work was featured in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1918, 1919, and 1920.
The film, which premiered in Los Angeles at the elegant Carthay Circle Theatre, was the first musical film in history for which one of its cast members won an Academy Award - Luise Rainer received the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Ziegfeld's first wife, Anna Held.
Featured in the film are William Powell as Ziegfeld, Myrna Loy as Billie Burke, Luise Rainer, Nat Pendleton, and Frank Morgan. Real-life Ziegfeld performers Fanny Brice and Ray Bolger play themselves. Dennis Morgan, in an uncredited role, performed "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody" (dubbed by Allan Jones).
The son of a highly respected music professor, Florenz "Flo" Ziegfeld, Jr. (William Powell) yearns to make his mark in show business. He begins by promoting Eugen Sandow (Nat Pendleton), the "world's strongest man", at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, overcoming the competition of rival Billings (Frank Morgan) and his popular attraction, belly dancer Little Egypt, with savvy marketing (allowing women to feel Sandow's muscles).
Later, on an ocean liner to England, Flo runs into Billings again and discovers that he is on his way to sign a beautiful French star, Anna Held (Luise Rainer), to a contract. Despite losing all his money gambling at Monte Carlo, Flo charms Anna into signing with him instead.
At first, Anna is not a success. However, Flo manages to generate publicity by sending many gallons of milk to Anna every day for a fictitious milk bath beauty treatment, then refusing to pay the bill. The newspaper stories soon bring the curious to pack his theater. Flo and Anna then get married.
However, one success is not enough for the showman. He has an idea for an entirely new kind of show, one that will "glorify" the American woman. Thus, the Ziegfeld Follies is born, a lavish production filled with beautiful women. This makes Anna very nervous, as she is still performing in her own show and will be unable to keep an eye on her husband. It is a smash hit, and is followed by more versions of the Follies. Soon Flo hires Fanny Brice (playing herself) away from vaudeville and gives stagehand Ray Bolger (himself) his break as well.
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