I write today with a heavy heart. Doris Eaton, the longest-living of the famed Ziegfeld Girls, died yesterday at the age of 106. She was a lithe, blonde beauty, who could still dance into her tenth decade.
Many people today have no idea who Florence Ziegfeld was, or why the Ziegfeld Follies were so important to popular culture during the years of World War One. In those days, showgirls, as they were called, set the styles of the day. Ziegfeld was known as “The Glorifier Of The American Girl.” He only picked the most beautiful women for his extravagant revues. The ideal measurements were bust 36, waist 26, hips 38. Excellent coloring did not matter; stage makeup took care of that. However, perfect teeth were a must.
Ziegfield’s shows were legendary for their expensiveness. Many of the women’s gowns cost $20,00 each. For a scene set in “The Orient,” he bought silk pillows at $300 each (and this was 1916 dollars). He produced his shows at the New Amsterdam Theater, which still stands today in New York. There was even a roof garden, where less elaborate (but no less costly) revues were staged every night.
Many Ziegfeld Girls went on to become stars in their own right, as did the comedians whose job was to perform between the lavish production numbers. Ziegfeld didn’t understand comedy and found none of the comics funny, but he knew they had a job to do and kept the audience reasonably entertained.
Doris Eaton went on to star in many Broadway shows, in the 1920s turning to the movies.
Marilyn Miller became a Broadway star, her name above the title on a number of musicals.
Fanny Brice became a world-famous comedy star, and was later played in two movies by Barbra Streistand.
Ann Pennington was a world-champion swimmer who invented the world’s first one-piece swimsuit. It was considered so scandalous she was repeatedly arrested.
W.C. Fields, Ed Wynn, Leon Errol, and the legendary Bert Williams (the first Black comic to attain true Broadway stardom) all received their tickets to stardom by playing in the “Follies.”
Eventually, Ziegfeld lost all of his money on his extravagant revues, not to mention changing tastes. His second wife was the actress Billie Burke, known to most viewers today as Glinda The Good Witch in “The Wizard of Oz.”
So let us not forget Doris Eaton, healthy, lovely and happy. Here is a video made several years before her death.
Rest in peace.
Elisa and Bucky the Wonderdog