The Great Ziegfeld (1936) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • The ups and downs of Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., famed producer of extravagant stage revues, are portrayed.

  • At the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, sideshow barker Flo Ziegfeld turns the tables on his more successful neighbor Billings, and steals his girlfriend to boot. This pattern is repeated throughout their lives, as Ziegfeld makes and loses many fortunes putting on ever bigger, more spectacular shows (sections of which appear in the film). French revue star Anna Held becomes his first wife, but it's not easy being married to the man who "glorified the American girl." Late in life, now married to Billie Burke, he seems to be all washed up, but...


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. was born to an upper-middle class family in the late 19th century. From his father he inherited taste in classical music, and his mother taste in fashion and genteel manners. Dr. Ziegfeld had hoped that his son will takeover the family music reservoir, but after the success of his show in the 1893 World Fair, Flo Ziegfeld was determined to become a showman.

    Learning from his mistakes in the World Fair, Flo combined attraction with sex appeal and took Sandow the Strong Man on a successful nation-wide tour. After he and Sandow parted ways, Flo was on his way to Europe in search of new talent. He ran into best friend Billings during the crossing.

    Billings and Flo were both show producers and extremely competitive with each other. Sensing that Billings was in London to sign up a mysterious new talent, the conniving Flo found out who the girl was and put his womanising tricks to their best use. He convinced French singing sensation Anna Held to sign with him instead even though he was down to his last 50 cents.

    Always living lavishly on borrowed money, Flo managed to built some connections and got enough money to put on the show, but other than commenting on Anna's exceptional beauty, her singing received little attention from the American audience, especially the women. A master publist, Flo had 20 gallons of milk sent to Anna's apartment everyday and purposedly refused to pay the bill. The creditor sued him and Anna's alleged beauty secret - her milk baths - made headlines. Anna Held became household synonyms for what's beautiful and fashionable, Flo's accountant stopped seeing red in the books.

    By 1907, Flo and Anna had been married for some time and Flo found it boring to feature only one girl in a show. He wanted to produce a show featuring girls, lots of girls; and the stage would be so big that even the audience in the last row would be able to see the performance. Flo sold the idea to Billings, Billings sold it to famous producer Erlanger; and so began 24 years of the Zigfeld Follies.

    Flo's endless affairs, especially the one with Follies star Audrey Dane, eventually ruined his marriage and Anna divorced him. He later fell in love with stage actress Billie Burke, they got married and had a daughter named Patricia.

    Flo's extravagant lifestyle and debt began to catch up on him. In 1929, Billie sold all of her jewelry to finance Flo's new shows. He made a Zigfeld-style comeback with four hit shows running simoutaneously on Boardway. But Flo's glory was short-lived, the stock market crash ruined everyone and Flo lost everything.

    An old and beaten Flo became seriously ill and Billie had to work to support him. After a visit from old friend Billings, Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. died his apartment, located right across the street from the Ziegfeld Theatre sign.

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