Ziegfeld Girls

How little the public realizes what a girl must go through before she finally appears before the spotlight that is thrown upon the stage.

Florenz Ziegfeld
From 1907-1931, the Ziegfeld Follies (named after producer Florenz Ziegfeld) were an annual Broadway production based on the Folies Bergere in Paris. Top headliners were showcased. But the real attraction were the Ziegfeld Girls, chorus girls who wore amazing costumes (created by top designers, like Erte and Lady Duff Gordon) and essentially walked up and down an enormous set of stairs on stage. Here are their stories…
Peggy Shannon
After performing in The Follies, Peggy Shannon was groomed to be the next "It Girl" of 1931 (replacing Clara Bow who had experienced a nervous breakdown.) She endured grueling 16-hr workdays, sometimes working on two films in one day. It's no wonder that she became an alcoholic, which ended her acting career. She died in 1941, of an alcohol-related heart attack, seated at her kitchen table. A month later, her husband killed himself in the same kitchen chair because he could not live without her.
Peggy Fears
After appearing in the Ziegfeld Follies four times, Ziegfeld Girl Peggy Fears married a millionaire. Using his money, she produced Broadway shows. After her divorce in the early '30s, she moved to Fire Island, where she joined the Arts Project of Cherry Grove - "the nation's first gay summer theater in America's first gay town" (Carl Luss). It was there that she came out as a lesbian and opened, along with her partner, a resort called the Fire Island Yacht Club and Hotel, and thus supported the gay activism that followed in the '60s and '70s. In 1971, when Hal Prince produced Stephen Sondheim's "Follies", she was listed as a Technical Adviser.
Gilda Gray
Ziegfeld Girl Gilda Gray was the original "shimmy" girl. When she sang and danced, she would shake her shoulders so her chemise would show. She was born in Poland, and, when asked about her shoulder moves, she said in her Polish accent that she was shaking her "shimee" (chemise).
Justine Johnstone
In school, everyone expected that Justine Johnstone would go into the arts. She acted, sang, and danced. She performed on stage from 1917-1926 - until her producer/husband became ill in 1927. She developed a friendship with his doctor, who encouraged her to take science classes at Columbia University. She impressed the head of Columbia's Science department so much that he hired her as a research assistant. She conducted research that led to the cure for syphilis. She co-wrote two papers that led to medical advancements we still use today: the intravenous (I.V.) system and the procedure for resuscitation. Just like the actress Hedy Lamarr, who developed and patented the system that we now use with Bluetooth, Justine was a woman who developed the future.
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