You might think that pin-ups started in the 1940s, but the beautiful Ziegfeld Girls were the pin up models of the 1920s. Gracing the covers of magazines and pulling in huge crowds in their stage shows they set a new standard of beauty for the bright young things of 1920s America. The Ziegfeld Girls were the chorus girls of the spectacular Ziegfeld Follies show which ran from 1907 until the late 1920s. Ziegfeld himself described his show as ‘Glorifying the American Girl’ and his showgirls dazzled their audiences while they “paraded up and down flights of stairs as anything from birds to battleships” and formed breath taking living tableaus.
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The Ziegfeld Girl: The Pin Ups of the Jazz Age
Being a Ziegfeld Girl was highly coveted. Some 15,000 girls a year auditioned to join the famous line-up.
Ziegfeld Follies was the epitome of opulence during a decadent age: in its reviews you would find the finest silks, glorious costumes, lavish flower arrangements and of course the most beautiful girls of the age.
The Ziegfeld Girls enjoyed huge celebrity status and were showered with jewels and expensive gifts from admirers. Some went on to become successful 1920s and 30s movie stars including Joan Blondell, Barabara Stanwyck and Louise Brooks. Many others used their beauty and fame to marry into the top ranks of 1920s society.
Ziegfeld himself didn’t do too badly out of the arrangement either. Rumour has it that he had 3 gold telephones on the desk in his office!
Not everyone who auditioned got to be chosen by Ziegfeld’s fastidious eye. Some notable names who failed to get through the audition process were Joan Crawford and striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee. Lucille Ball (of I Love Lucy fame) also joined as a chorus girl but didn’t last long. Perhaps they didn’t fit into Ziegfeld’s pin up model 36-26-28 ideal…
As well as the famous stage show, Ziegfeld also introduced a more intimate and risqué production called the Midnight Frolic, an event which took place after the regular show on the rooftop of the Amsterdam Theatre. It could house nearly 700 people and the girls danced on a glass walkway above the heads of the patrons. Audience members were asked to vote for the most beautiful girl and the winning girl had her salary doubled so you can imagine competition was fierce!
Another popular attraction of the Midnight Frolic were the balloon girls, who roamed the audience inviting gentlemen to pop the balloons that covered their costumes with cigarettes. The Midnight Frolic ran from 1917 through until 1922 when prohibition and a large police-presence rather killed the party atmosphere. The official photographer of the Ziegfeld Follies from 1916 until 1929 was Alfred Cheney Johnston, who took these photos. His job was to capture the beauty of the girls and the magic of the stage productions as well as publicity shots and photos for magazines.
His photos varied from portraits, to group-shots to pictures showcasing the girls’ elaborate stage costumes. It was only after his death however that a huge back-catalogue of nude portraits of the Ziegfeld Girls were discovered.
While surprisingly risqué photos of the girls were published in magazines at the time, full nude photos were far too daring to be published at the time, and nobody knows whether he took them for his own interest by request from Florenz Ziegfeld himself. Either way they are stunning photos, and have brought the beauty of the Ziegfeld Girls to a new generation of admirers.