Top Ten Songs You Didn’t Know Came From Ziegfeld Shows
You’ve probably heard certain songs a million times without knowing they are a lot older than you think! A large portion of American standards originated in one producer’s shows: Florenz Ziegfeld. Below is a list of just ten songs from Ziegfeld’s productions that have become standards. To read more about music of the golden era as found in Ziegfeld’s shows, see our book, Ziegfeld and His Follies: A Biography of Broadway’s Greatest Producer.
1) Shine On Harvest Moon
This standard from the great American songbook, written by Ziegfeld star Nora Bayes and her husband Jack Norworth (Norworth won fame by penning ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’) originated in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1908. Ziegfeld’s mistress, Lillian Lorraine, also sang the song in his first wife, Anna Held’s, show, Miss Innocence, which Ziegfeld also produced (Anna was naturally a bit peeved that the show’s hit song was sung not by her but her husband’s lover!). Ruth Etting, who Doris Day immortalized in the biopic “Love Me or Leave Me,” reprised the song in the nostalgic Ziegfeld Follies of 1931. Dozens of artists including Rosemary Clooney have recorded “Harvest Moon” over the decades.
2) By the Light of the Silvery Moon
Lillian Lorraine and Doris Day and Gordon MacRae
Another song about the moon became a hit after “Shine On Harvest Moon.” “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” was written by Gus Edwards and Edward Madden and debuted in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1909, sung by Nora Bayes. Lillian Lorraine, Ziegfeld’s mistress, sang it next. The song was such a hit that Ziegfeld inserted it in Miss Innocence to replace “Shine On Harvest Moon.” The song enjoyed newfound fame in the 1953 Doris Day film, By the Light of the Silvery Moon.
Eddie Cantor and Rosemary Clooney, Bing Crosby, and Danny Kaye
This classic by Irving Berlin debuted in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1919. Eddie Cantor sang it in a minstrel number. The song is best remembered today because of its colorful rendition in White Christmas (1954) by Rosemary Clooney and Bing Crosby.
4) Look For the Silver Lining
Marilyn Miller and Judy Garland
This song, written by Jerome Kern and B.G. DeSylva, premiered in Ziegfeld’s Sally (1920). The tune, sung by Ziegfeld’s greatest female star, Marilyn Miller, brought tears to audience’s eyes because it resonated with their hope for better during the difficult years following World War I. Judy Garland sealed the tune’s fame in Till the Clouds Roll By (1946), a biopic of Jerome Kern in which she portrayed Marilyn Miller.
5) Blue Skies
Poster for the Fred Astaire/Bing Crosby film and Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye in “White Christmas.”
This zippy tune has made its way into countless musicals including White Christmas and the Fred Astaire film Blue Skies (1946). It was written by Irving Berlin, Ziegfeld’s favorite songwriter. The song debuted in Betsy, a lesser known Ziegfeld production that premiered in 1926. The show was scored primarily by Rodgers and Hart, but Berlin’s tune stopped the show, much to the chagrin of the songwriting duo.
6) Old Man River
Paul Robeson and Frank Sinatra
“Old Man River” is perhaps the most famous and enduring tune to emerge from a Ziegfeld show. Written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein, it was first heard in Ziegfeld’s Show Boat (1927). Jules Bledsoe originally sang it, but the legendary singer Paul Robeson sang it in the show’s 1931 revival as well as the 1936 film adaptation. William Warfield sang it again in the 1951 lush Technicolor film version of Show Boat and Frank Sinatra sang it in Till the Clouds Roll By. It remains one of the most profound songs to come from a Broadway musical.
7) Can’t Help Loving That Man of Mine
Another song that came from Show Boat, this one has enjoyed numerous renditions by famous artists including Lena Horne in Till the Clouds Roll By and Helen Morgan in the original show as well as the 1936 film remake. Contrary to popular belief, Ava Gardner did not sing the tune in the 1951 film of Show Boat; she was dubbed by Annette Warren.
8) Makin’ Whoopee
This tune by Gus Kahn and Walter Donaldson made its way into the American lexicon in the 1920s after debuting in Ziegfeld’s show Whoopee in 1928, starring Eddie Cantor. The show was made into a film in 1930, which was produced by Ziegfeld himself with musical numbers directed by a young Busby Berkeley. “Makin; Whoopee,” risqué for its time, substituted the word “whoopee” for sex. Apparently Winston Churchill loved the song and recited every verse verbatim to Eddie Cantor upon meeting him at London’s Savoy Hotel! The song has been recorded by dozens of artists including Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Elton John, and Cyndi Lauper!
9) The American in Paris Ballet
This classic George Gershwin composition did not originate in Gene Kelly’s legendary 1951 film. Rather, it debuted in Ziegfeld’s Show Girl in 1929. Ballerina Harriet Hoctor danced to its strains, though the biggest star if the show was Ruby Keeler, who later became ubiquitous in Busby Berkeley films of the 1930s including 42nd Street. Sadly, in 1929, critics deemed Gershwin’s now revered composition as “subpar”!
The tune that is now known as the song that inspired Judy Garland to name her daughter Liza began, like “An American in Paris,” in Ziegfeld’s Show Girl. The tune was a showstopper when, for the first few weeks of performances, Al Jolson stood from his place in the audience and began singing the song to his wife, Ruby Keeler, as she danced onstage.
We hope this blog has left you humming a few tunes that bring back pleasant memories or, if you’ve never heard one of the songs, has filled you with the desire to hear them!
–Sara and Cynthia Brideson for Classic Movie Hub
Sara and Cynthia Brideson are avid classic movie fans, and twin authors of Ziegfeld and His Follies: A Biography of Broadway’s Greatest Producer and Also Starring: Forty Biographical Essays on the Greatest Character Actors of Hollywood’s Golden Era, 1930-1965. They also are currently working on comprehensive biographies of Gene Kelly and Margaret Sullavan. You can follow them on twitter at @saraandcynthia or like them on Facebook at Cynthia and Sara Brideson.