Monday, March 12, 2012

The Ziegfeld Follies of the Air!

The Ziegfeld Follies of the Air were broadcast on CBS during in the1930s. It was an attempt to convert their successful stage show to a successful radio. Ziegfeld wasn't doing attempting anything that the vaudeville transplants had already done. He was just doing it with a much bigger show. The radio show debuted April 3rd,1926.

The program was hosted not by  Ziegfeld, though he made appearances.It was hosted by no-name actor Eddie Dowling. Dowling is a sort of enigmatic figure. (Real name Joseph Goucher)  His role as host seems sort of odd for what should was a top-shelf radio program. He was a Broadway actor of minor renown.  His most famous role was as "Tom Wingfield" in the original Broadway production of The Glass Menagerie didn't happen for another 30 years! Perhaps if I followed Broadway that would impress me more. He appeared in the Broadway Ziegfeld Follies in  1918 and 1920 so that's clearly how he made that professional connection. But what I notice is that he had no prior radio experience, and no later experience. His one and only radio gig was hosting his A-list radio program for CBS, and he was pretty good. He remains enigmatic to me. The highlights don't add up. In 1934 he ran for the US Senate in Rhode Island, and lost. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1940. He was also a big supporter of the IRA. Go figure. More here.

The Ziegfeld Follies (the stage version) was created by Florenz Ziegfeld. It was a huge, nationally known Broadway revues. It ran for 24 years, from 1907 to 1931. Please to take into account that radio was virtually unknown for the first decade of that run, and TV non-existent for all of it. Entertainment, in all its myriad of forms appeared on stage in that era. It's a hard concept for today's youth to grasp. This show was a "revue,"  what we'd likely call a variety show now, replete with sketch comedy, monologues, live music and dancing girls. On the radio, some of that doesn't translate.

The radio program was sponsored by Chrysler. It ran as a  half-hour series on Sunday evenings.At first it ran at 8:30 PM but was moved back to 10:30 PM in April. Like any variety show it had a revolving door of guests, but it included some names we still remember today like Fanny Brice and Jack Pearl. The house band was the Al Goodman Orchestra. Goodman went on to lead his orchestra for Hit parade and Palmolive Beauty Box Theater in 1935. The The Prudential Family Hour in 1941 and later on, did the same for the Fred Allen Show in 1945. He finally made the jump to TV in 1951. Ziegfeld didn't last long enough for that to happen.

Ziegfeld himself died in 1922. The series out lived him doing a 5 month run starting in February of 1936. It was sort of a tribute show / victory lap. Al Goodman came back to lead the orchestra,  Fanny Brice even came back on board for a few comedy skits. Eddie Dowling came back to host and produce the show live from Winter Garden Theatre. But after June of that year it was over.  Al went back to his day job with Palmolive, and Dowling had to go play King Richard II. Ziegfield Follies got another revamp on film in 1936 as "The Great Ziegfeld," with some of the original cast.  They even went for a second dip in 1945 with "Ziegfeld Follies" in 1945 and invited Fanny Brice for another turn. The Ziegfeld Follies got one last run at the Winter Garden Theatre in 1957, but radio had long ago lost interest, and by then even Fanny Brice had died.