Girls from the “Follies” Who’ve Made Good on the Screen (1932) 🇺🇸

Avonne Taylor |

February 05, 2022

The ex-“Follies” girls who are now in the movies all have that manner which makes them stand out. That’s why they’re in demand in Hollywood — and why some of them quickly become stars. Look at Marion Davies, Dorothy Mackaill and Billie Dove! While Ziegfeld discovered their beauty and developed their personalities, they had to show talent to get where they are. Did you know that nearly a hundred of his girls have made good on the screen?

by Paul Yawitz

The Ziegfeld “Follies”... the Rue de la Pais of American Femininity... the glittering show-window from which the shrewd motion picture magnate selects his hypnotic stars. The world and his brother stop in their tracks and turn to stare at the parade of the Ziegfeld beauties now in the Hollywood spotlight, as they go down the avenue.

Marion DaviesDorothy MackaillBillie Dove. Ina Claire. Marilyn Miller. Joan BlondellLilyan Tashman. Irene DunneMary Nolan. It is a brilliant procession! The glamour, the aloofness and the desirability of the girls who have benefited from the singular magic of the Ziegfeld touch form a shining aura about their lives.

Claudia DellClaire DoddPeggy Shannon. Ruth EttingLouise Brooks. Juliette Compton. Helen Morgan. Susanne FlemingClaire Luce. Mildred LunnayLina Basquette. Eleanor Hunt. On they march in double file! It is a long parade. And unquestionably an endless one, for the Ziegfeld wizardry shows no symptoms of an imminent breakdown.

Girlhood — the ordinary, every-day girlhood you see in any American home, school or night-club — is drawn to the Ziegfeld sanctum for approval, rehearses for five weeks under the master’s direction, and on opening night emerges through the glitter as a paragon of form and pulchritude. The girl who passed unnoticed yesterday, to-day becomes the sought-after Venus, the object of every young millionaire’s desires, the unit of measurement by which artists standardize feminine elegance, and, lastly, the recipient of a hundred and one Hollywood offers for picture stardom.

More of the Glorified

Blanche Mehaffey. Polly Walters. Christine Maple. Geneva Mitchell. Shannon Day. Noel FrancisBarbara Weeks. On and on they come, these glorified American girls — headed for Hollywood!

What is this glorification process that practically overnight turns the slightly-above-the-average-girl into a far-famed fascinator? What legerdemain goes into the glorification process? The answer is — Florenz Ziegfeld!

The Ziegfeld X-ray eye pierces to the innermost epidermal layers to uncover for the stage and screen many stars who otherwise might never have reached first base. With it all, more than a hundred “Follies” graduates have been given their chances to make good in Hollywood during the past fifteen years. And more than a score and a half of this number have made good.

Letters deeply embedded in its curved, stone facade proclaim the massive edifice at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Fifty-Fourth Street in New York City to be the Ziegfeld Theater, home of the celebrated “Follies.” On the sixth floor of the building are Mr. Ziegfeld’s lavish offices. Surrounded by his gallery of photographs and his inevitable elephants, carved of ivory and jade, the graying revue producer interviews from fifty to a hundred girls every day of his working year — blondes, jets, platinums, brunettes, and titians from every highway and hamlet in these United States.

One Out of 100 Makes Good

And out of each eight thousand of these applicants for glorification, he has discovered (or perhaps it would be truer to say he has developed) an average of two girls whose ultimate destinies led them to film stardom. And one out of every hundred girls who make the “Follies” has become a prominent figure on the screen.

When you consider the tens of thousands of girls who storm the citadels of Hollywood every hour of the day and also the depressingly small percentage who achieve the heights, you will readily agree that Mr. Ziegfeld*s average is far higher than that of the majority of the Hollywood executives and casting directors.

But it must not be forgotten that Mr. Ziegfeld’s principal concern is the selection of feminine beauty for his stage productions. In this direction, his average is much higher. For every two girls who scale the film pinnacles through the medium of his choice, there are ten who gain recognition on the stage. His records for the past fifteen years bear out this statement to the letter.

Mr. Ziegfeld has cast for his shows many young girls whom other producers have passed up in the whirling speed of Broadway’s routines. He has an uncanny selective skill in detecting beauty, which frequently is hidden beneath poorly begotten coiffures and ill-fitting dresses.

It Paid Her to Wait

It wasn’t so many seasons ago that a slender blonde girl with braids down her back waited outside the glorifier’s office for three days. He was busily engaged in the casting of a new “Follies” and it wasn’t an easy matter to gain his attention. The girl’s simple woolen dress, her unrouged lips, and her generally uncomely appearance failed to impress the secretary who kept her waiting in the hope that she would become discouraged and leave of her own accord. But she returned each morning, after having dried the tears of the previous day of disappointment.

On the evening of the third day, the secretary informed Mr. Ziegfeld that the only way to get rid of the tenacious lass was to see her. Her presence in the waiting room had finally become a nuisance. So the door to the producer’s office was opened and she was ushered in, her mincing steps betraying the tension of her hopeful wait. After a long moment of silence, she collected herself sufficiently to burst forth with one vocal assault. “I’m just out of a convent, Mr. Ziegfeld, and I want to get into your show.”

The producer surveyed the applicant for a full minute. “How long have you been waiting to see me?” The girl told him. “Well, just for that I’ll give you twice as much salary as the rest get,” he announced. The girl nearly fainted. The suddenness of his offer after three days of waiting in the outer office was unbelievable.

Ziggy Picks Them in Person

Mr. Ziegfeld then called in his secretary. “It’s up to me to do the choosing,” he said. “Hereafter I’ll decide whether a girl is beautiful enough for the ‘Follies’ or not! This little girl is one of the most exquisite beauties ever to come into this office and I’ll prove it to you.”

A few weeks later when Imogene Wilson made her debut on the stage on the opening night of the “Follies,” New York critics picked her out from among the large cast of show-girls for special mention. “One of the most startling beauties ever to appear on the American stage,” was the pronouncement of a morning newspaper.

Imogene’s fascinations had been buried beneath her convent simplicity, but the Ziegfeld X-ray found them, dressed them, and centered them in the proper spotlight. Later the famous showgirl became involved in the newspaper scandals of Frank Tinney the stage comedian, and she fled to Europe to escape. Upon her return she changed her name to Mary Nolan. And you know the rest.

Then there is the case of Barbara Weeks, a dark little dancer who wormed her way into Ziegfeld’s attention when he was producing “Whoopee” with Eddie Cantor at the New Amsterdam Theater in New York. Barbara was a sprightly terpsichorine whose chief ambition was to dance in the big Broadway revues. In Whoopee she achieved the goal she had set for herself. So far as she was concerned, she was sitting on top of the world. Life was wonderful!

Barbara Took Ziegfeld’s Advice

Then came the announcement that the show would close, that Mr. Cantor would go to Hollywood to produce it in the form of a talking picture and that Mr. Ziegfeld would supervise the entire production. Barbara took the news stoically and prepared to search for another job in New York.

However, Mr. Ziegfeld had had his eye on her for some time. “If you care to,” he told her, “you may go to the Coast with us and be in the chorus of the picture.”

“But that only means leaving New York, Mr. Ziegfeld. And I don’t want to do that. I’d rather stay here and get into some other musical revue. Thanks just the same.” she replied.

The glorifier then made a prediction. “If you go to the Coast, I’m willing to bet you’ll be there less than six months before a producer ‘discovers’ you. You’ll have a contract in your safe deposit box that will mean thousands of dollars to you, besides all the fame.”

Barbara wavered when she learned that jobs were scarce on Broadway and finally went to Hollywood under duress. The prediction came true. Warner Brothers “discovered” Barbara in short order, took her out of the chorus and provided her with a gilt-edged contract. Ziegfeld knew what he was talking about. And the episode built up his average.

They Thought Mackaill Was Dumb

Dorothy Mackaill made her first appearance on the Ziegfeld scene one cold autumn afternoon, in a white chiffon dress and a drab make-up that made even the elevator man wonder how she got into the building. Her complete lack of self-assurance prompted the information girl to announce her as the “dumbest dame that ever wanted to see the boss.” But Dorothy did see the boss, and, what’s more important, the boss did see Dorothy.

So she got the job. But the description of her by the information girl carried into the dressing-rooms, and for the first few months of the show Dorothy was considered the patsy of the company. Then came newspaper publicity. The writers had found a new beauty. A startling beauty! A ravishing beauty!! A terrific beauty!!! They used up a season’s superlatives. And they discovered she was not so dumb as her original self-consciousness had led people to believe — that in fact she was an unusually brilliant individual. And then came the film contracts. Dorothy has prospered ever since. And all because Ziegfeld was the only one who could see her. That meant the world would pay to see her.

From Waitress into “Follies” Girl

One wintry afternoon Mr. Ziegfeld and his dance-director lieutenant, Ned Wayburn, wandered into a white-tiled restaurant in Rochester, New York, where the “Follies” was taken for its initial try-out, before its appearance on Broadway. The young waitress who served the two gentlemen with steaming coffee attracted their attention with her refined smile and carriage. Ziegfeld always has his eyes open for beauties. “Would you like to join the ‘Follies’?” Ziegfeld asked her.

“Would I like it? Why, there’s nothing I’d rather do in my whole life,” she replied. “But how am I going to meet Mr. Ziegfeld? And if I did, what chance would a girl like myself have?”

Mr. Ziegfeld gave her a card and told her to report at rehearsal the next morning. The waitress nearly dropped her tray with its load of food. When they departed, the producer turned to Wayburn and said: “I can make that girl into one of the most beautiful women in New York. She has refinement and intelligence. Just watch and see what happens.”

The white-aproned waitress was Claire Luce.

A Texas Special brought a symmetrical blonde to New York three or four seasons ago and dumped her into the middle of teeming Broadway. She looked up and saw the Ziegfeld sign. So she entered the building and asked for “Mistah Zeegfield.” How was the daughter of a Texas minister to know the proper pronunciation? She had never been to a big city before in her life, and she was a bit bewildered by the rumble and roar of its million machines.

“Mistah Zeegfield, I’m scared,” she whispered when she entered his sanctum. So Mistah Zeegfield hired her on the spot and cast her as the sophisticated Mme. Recamier in his “Pageant of Beauty” number of his subsequent “Follies.” When it came time to produce “Rio Rita,” the bewildered Texas miss was living in a luxurious apartment, driving her own roadster and sporting a Borzoi at the end of a leash.

Of course, she was made a principal in “Rio Rita” and at a good salary. And under the producer’s guidance she spent her spare time perfecting her voice. “The movies will come for you sooner or later, so you’d better be prepared,” he advised. And the movies did come after her. That’s why Noel Francis — now platinum blonde — is looming to-day as Hollywood’s latest claimant to the superlative adjectives.

Christine Maple and Claire Dodd were extra girls in Hollywood. The going was hard, as it always is among the extras. Then one day Mr. Ziegfeld spotted them in a hotel lobby, marveled at their beauty and signed them for the movie version of Whoopee. Not only that, he persuaded them to join his current “Follies.”

The show is still running, but Christine and Claire have both been sent for by Hollywood producers to return as featured players. The Ziegfeld touch made them valuable to the films. Just a repetition of a standing story.

Who will be next?

If Billie Dove hadn’t had the good fortune to catch the eagle eye of Ziegfeld — and to become a “Follies” girl — would she be “the most beautiful woman in Hollywood” to-day?

Ziegfeld did not discover Marilyn Miller (left), but it was as a Ziegfeld star that she gained her greatest fame along Manhattan’s brightest canyon. That’s how the movie magnates noticed her.

Ina Claire’s wit, beauty and titian hair had their first real chance when Ziegfeld gave her a contract. From there on the road to fame was easy for Ina — both on Broadway and in Hollywood.

If Marion Davies is worth millions to-day, it’s because she was worth a few hundreds a week to Florenz Ziegfeld in his “Follies” only a few years ago. She started in the chorus.


When Dorothy Mackaill, just over from England, went to the Ziegfeld offices to ask for a job, the office girl thought she was “dumb.” Ziegfeld thought differently — and proved that the office girl was the dumb one.

Juliette Compton | Claudia Dell | Peggy Shannon 

Source: Motion Picture MagazineFebruary 1932

Photo by: Clarence Sinclair Bull (1896–1979)

Avonne Taylor

Source: Photoplay Magazine, July 1927