Anna Held and the Birth of Ziegfeld’s Broadway
I have been on a glorious roll when it comes to reading exceptional old Hollywood biographies and delicious books about film history lately. Vitagraph (link to my review of Vitagraph), for example, opened my eyes to a whole new world from early Hollywood I had pictured entirely incorrectly!
I didn’t expect to read (and thoroughly enjoy) another book that opened up a whole new world right on the heels of Vitagraph, but here we are. Anna Held and the Birth of Ziegfeld’s Broadway by Eve Golden is also from The University Press of Kentucky and, like Vitagraph, introduced me to people I have never “met,” while introducing me to people I only thought I knew.
Before going any further, I have to say how gobsmacked I am by the research that went into this book. While writing, say, a biography about Farrah Fawcett or Ava Gardner would be difficult, the level of difficultly would (in no way) compare with doing the necessary research to dig deep into the past. Furthermore, when individuals span several continents during their lifetime (as was the case for Vitagraph and Anna Held and the Birth of Ziegfeld’s Broadway), it adds even more challenges.
I can’t tell you how grateful I am that Eve Golden took the both the time and the (great) effort that went into writing such an exceptional book.
From the Back Cover:
Anna Held was America’s most popular musical comedy star during the two decades preceding World War I. In the colorful world of New York theater during La Belle Époque, she epitomized everything that was glamorous and provocative about turn-of-the-century Broadway. Overcoming an impoverished life as an orphan to become a music hall star in Paris, Held rocketed to fame in America. From 1896 to 1910, she starred in hit after hit and quickly replaced Lillian Russell as the darling of the theatrical world. The first wife of legendary producer Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., Held was the brains and inspiration behind his Follies. Together, they brought the Paris scene to New York, complete with lavish costumes and sets and a chorus of stunningly beautiful women, dubbed “The Anna Held Girls.”
While Held was known for a champagne giggle as well as for her million-dollar bank account, there was a darker side to her life. She concealed her Jewish background and her daughter from a previous marriage. She suffered through her two husbands’ gambling problems and Ziegfeld’s conspicuous affairs with showgirls. With the outbreak of fighting in Europe, Held returned to France to support the war effort. She entertained troops and delivered medical supplies, and was once briefly captured by the German army. Anna Held and the Birth of Ziegfeld’s Broadway reveals one of the most remarkable women in the history of theater. With access to previously unseen family records and photographs, Eve Golden has uncovered the details of an extraordinary woman’s life in 1900s New York.
Below are the things I love most about this meticulously researched book.
You Can Hear Their Laughter and See Their Faces
The entire era of showgirls and Ziegfeld has always fascinated me but finding really quality books is a challenge. I love a book that feels like you’ve stepped back in time to this particular era, so much so that you can practically hear their laughter, smell their p and see their faces. Few books, for whatever reason, have ever achieved this for this era – I have no idea why other than, perhaps, it’s all but impossible to send a reader back to a place you have never, yourself, visited.
Unless Eve Golden is a time-traveler, she simply has visited the era simply with exceptional research and unparalleled passion. Personally, I prefer the thought of her time-traveling but I’ll go with the latter explanation.
Anna Held Can, Finally, Have Her Story Told
Anna Held has always.. well, sorry for the pun, but she has always held my attention. The way I see it, Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. was such a fascinating man, surrounded by so much beauty, that any woman he was drawn to must have been a real force of nature. It’s fairly easy to find information about actress Billie Burke (Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. was married to Billie Burke from 1914 to his death on July 22, 1932), but Anna has always been presented in, sadly, a one-dimensional way. Even sadder, she has often been treated almost as comic relief. As in Ziegfeld and Billie Burke are the ones to be taken seriously, while Anna was a curvy, naughty clown.
I’m sure you can see now why I am BEYOND thrilled that Anna Held has been so respectfully and even affectionately brought to life as a flesh and blood human-being – one as capable of highs and lows as the rest of us. She had wonderful qualities and she had not-so-wonderful qualities… and boy could the lady stretch the truth!?!
Frankly that’s one of the things I love the most about her – she was a deliciously entertaining little star who loved the spotlight and lived by her own rules. Rules that she made up along the way.
The fact that she has finally received what she deserved, to have her story told, makes me ecstatic.
You See More of the Real Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr.
It’s up to the reader, of course, to decide whether the insightful, fleshed out look into Florenz Ziegfeld Jr makes him more or less likable to them, but (for me personally), I think I like him even better. Was he perfect? Oh, heck no… the man may not have been able to spell the word! But, let’s be honest, the same can be said for most people – especially people who are thisclose to all the fame and fortune they dared ever hope for.
Who wouldn’t do all in their power to grab all they can while they can?!
Anna Held and the Birth of Ziegfeld’s Broadway
The Book Reads Like a Fascinating Historical Novel
My favorite books to read are non-fiction, however, I do love an occasional work of fiction. About halfway through this book, it occurred to me that it read like a scrumptious blend of the two – the details, history, and wonderful fascination of a biography but with the drama, mystery, romance, and intrigue of a great historical fiction novel.
I can’t wait to read everything this wonderful author has written because I am in love with her writing style, attention to detail, and humor. Most of all, I am enthralled with her ability to place you in the setting. Whenever Anna unleashes her charms on members of the media, for example, you fall just as prey to them as they do.
I don’t want to give anything away that I very, very much want you to experience for yourself as you read the book, so allow me to simply say this: Anna Held and the Birth of Ziegfeld’s Broadway, by Eve Golden absolutely has to be the next book you read.