Ziegfeld Girl

Image and Icon in Culture and Cinema

Ziegfeld Girl

Book Pages: 256 Illustrations: 23 b&w photographs Published: April 1999

American Studies, Cultural Studies, Media Studies > Film

In the first decades of the twentieth century, Broadway teemed with showgirls, but only the Ziegfeld Girl has survived in American popular culture—as a figure of legend, nostalgia, and camp. Featured in Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.’s renowned revues, which ran on Broadway from 1907 to 1931, the Ziegfeld Girl has appeared in her trademark feather headdresses, parading and posing, occasionally singing and dancing, in numerous musicals and musical films paying direct or indirect homage to the intrepid producer and his glorious Girl. Linda Mizejewski analyzes the Ziegfeld Girl as a cultural icon and argues that during a time when American national identity was in flux, Ziegfeld Girls were both products and representations of a white, upscale, heterosexual national ideal.
Mizejewski traces the Ziegfeld Girl’s connections to turn-of-the-century celebrity culture, black Broadway, the fashion industry, and the changing sexual and gender identities evident in mainstream entertainment during the Ziegfeld years. In addition, she emphasizes how crises of immigration and integration made the identity and whiteness of the American Girl an urgent issue on Broadway’s revue stages during that era. Although her focus is on the showgirl as a “type,” the analysis is intermingled with discussions of figures like Anna Held, Fanny Brice, and Bessie McCoy, the Yama Yama girl, as well as Ziegfeld himself. Finally, Mizejewski discusses the classic American films that have most vividly kept this showgirl alive in both popular and camp culture, including The Great Ziegfeld, Ziegfeld Girl, and the Busby Berkeley musicals that cloned Ziegfeld’s showgirls for decades.
Ziegfeld Girl will appeal to scholars and students in American studies, popular culture, theater and performance studies, film history, gender studies, gay and lesbian studies, and social history.


Ziegfeld Girl is well edited and its argumentation flows smoothly. Points are made with brevity, yet thoroughly and convincingly put across. . . . The primary contribution of the book is the significant addition it represents to what we know about the theatrical and cinematic history of stardom and the ways that stars carry social history.” — Diane Negra, Film Quarterly

“[Ziegfeld Girl] is not only thoroughly researched (utilizing an impressive array of primary and secondary sources) but is also well-written. . . . This study skillfully supplements the scholarship on stage, screen , and showmanship.” — James Deutsch , American Studies International

“[A]n intelligent and game work . . . . Mizejewski’s micro-analysis is insightful.” — Fred Nadis , Left History

“[Mizejewski’s] writing is fresh and accessible. The end result is an elegant and well-documented study that never oversteps the bounds of the evidence and that ought to make the most skeptical reader look at the Ziegfeld Girl through new eyes.” — Marybeth Hamilton , Journal of American History

“[Mizejewski] waxes eloquent in her contention that Ziegfeld-style eroticism was vacuumed of sweat and passion.” — Sight & Sound

“[W]ell written and focused. . . . Ziegfeld Girl . . . addresses a broad spectrum including film studies, American studies, history, cultural studies, fashion theory, race/ethnicity studies, women’s/gender studies, and sexuality studies. Within film studies Mizejewski contributes to discourse surrounding musical genre studies, spectacle, costume, star theory, and film history. . . . While Ziegfeld Girl can be placed on many fancy lists it would be a mistake to allow glib contextualisation to obscure the unique style, methodology and body of theory that Mizejewski develops.” — Nadine Wills , Scope

“Mizejewski’s Ziegfeld Girl demystifies the legendary status granted Florenz Ziegfeld and his paternal creation of the Glorified American Girl. . . . [F]illed with provocative readings . . . . [A] sensitive deconstruction of a powerful American icon.” — Shannon Jackson , Women's Review of Books

“This book offers readers an interesting study of one image of American women held by the male entrepreneurs controlling American entertainment.” — June Sochen , American Historical Review

"Gay men and lesbians agree on little, but fabulous Ziegfeld girls are common ground. Six-foot headdresses, a hundred nearly naked women rising out of the floor on tiered platforms . . . it’s enough to turn fags into dykes and vice versa. But cool down. This intellectually rigorous history dishes out the bad with the good. According to Mizejewski, the 20th century has Florenz Ziegfeld’s high-class girlie shows, which ran on Broadway from 1907 to 1932, to thank for definitions of glamour and beauty that insist on whiteness and virginity. Whether you want the headdress or the girl, you can bet that Ziegfeld—and the Hollywood that produced such marvels as Busby Berkeley—knew all about that desire and how much you would pay for it. — , Out

"Mizejewski provides a thorough analysis of the Follies phenomenon, focusing on major developments in Ziegfeld’s enterprise that she believes ‘defined and circulated the Glorified American Girl’ . . . . Illustrated, stimulating, well-written, and well argued . . . .” — D. B. Wilmeth , Choice

"You might think the Ziegfeld girls were just cute creatures in feather headdresses. Mizejewski undresses the whole business of the American glamour girl and reveals why, in a nation where immigration and integration were points of crisis, the white skin of showgirls had its part to play in creating the image of the American girl. The hope might have been that there would be no doubt about the femininity of the Ziegfeld Girls and therefore of the masculinity of the men who ogled them. But their perfection—their trying too hard—collapses into subversive camp. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." — , The Guardian

“A smart, assured book about the construction of an important figure in America who represents a contradictory, and perhaps uniquely American, constellation of types—the chorus girl, the ideal beauty, the golddigger, the perfect wife, and the tramp—all bundled into one glorified pulchritudinous package.” — Pamela Robertson, author of Guilty Pleasures: Feminist Camp from Mae West to Madonna

“Mizejewski brings together issues of consumerism, fashion, nationalism, and performance in a volume that is packed full of information and analysis. It is conceptually focused, theoretically sophisticated, and jargon free.” — Jane Desmond, author of Meaning in Motion: New Cultural Studies of Dance


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Linda Mizejewski is Associate Professor of English at Ohio State University and the author of Divine Decadence: Fascism, Female Spectacle, and the Makings of Sally Bowles.

Table of Contents Back to Top

Introduction: Glory, Legend, and the Ziegfeld Guarantee

1. Celebrity and Glamour: Anna Held

2. Chorus GIrls, New Women, True Bodies

3. Costume and Choreography: Fashioning a Body

4. Racialized, Glorified American Girls

5. The Ziegfeld Girl and Hollywood Cinema

Epilogue: Showgirls


Selected Bibliography

Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2323-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2303-7
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