The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

The Great Ziegfeld
"A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody"

'The Great Ziegfeld' is an epic musical drama made by MGM in 1936, directed by Robert Z. Leonard and starring William Powell, Myrna Loy and Luise Rainer. The movie gives a fictionalized account of the show business life of legendary producer and showman, Florenz Ziegfeld and showcases a series of spectacular musical productions.

The movie was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won three, for Best Picture, Best Actress for Luise Rainer for her portrayal of Anna Held, and Best Dance Direction for Seymour Felix for "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody".

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The movie is a long one at 185 minutes, and chronicles Ziegfeld's life from his youth as the son of a prominent music professor in Chicago and continues with his start in show business as a small-time carnival barker promoting a strongman act. He becomes a Broadway impresario and creator of of the famous Ziegfeld Follies, the spectacular collection of musical and comedy vaudeville acts which were so popular between 1907 and 1931. The Follies were inspired by The 'Folies Bergere' of Paris and featured the top performers of the day. Three such performers, Fanny Brice, Ray Bolger, and Harriet Hoctor, perform as themselves in the movie.


In 1933, Billie Burke, the widow of Florenz Ziegfeld, sold the film rights of her late husband's life story to Universal Studios. Two years later, deciding the production would be too costly, Universal sold the rights and William Anthony McGuire's script to MGM, making it one of the first movie projects to be transferred between studios.

William Powell was the first choice to play Florenz Ziegfeld and, under contract to MGM, he was originally loaned out to Universal to perform the role. When the rights were sold by Universal to MGM, he made 'My Man Godfrey' for Universal instead.

From the beginning, Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM decided on a spectacular movie made with no expense spared. The highpoint of the film is the "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody" number which uses 180 performers, took several weeks of rehearsals and cost $220,000 to make.

The final cost of the movie was $2 million, the studio's biggest budget up to that time. It went on to gross over $40 million.

Main Cast

The success of the movie was helped by the strong cast. William Powell as Ziegfeld and Myrna Loy as his second wife, Billie Burke, were already well known as an on-screen couple from 'The Thin Man' in 1934 and Luise Rainer who played Ziegfeld's first wife, Anna Held, was a rising young star from Austria whose part, although small, included a dramatic scene on the telephone, which helped win her the Best Actress Oscar. Her win made 'The Great Ziegfeld' the first ever musical for which one of its cast won an Academy Award.

William Powell ... Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr.
Myrna Loy ... Billie Burke
Luise Rainer ... Anna Held
Frank Morgan ... Jack Billings
Fanny Brice ... Herself
Virginia Bruce ... Audrey Dane
Reginald Owen ... Sampson
Ray Bolger ... Himself
Ernest Cossart ... Sidney, Billing's valet
Joseph Cawthorn ... Dr. Ziegfeld
Nat Pendleton ... Eugen Sandow
Harriet Hoctor ... Herself
Jean Chatburn ... Mary Lou
Paul Irving ... Erlanger, Billing's later partner
Herman Bing ... Costumer
Buddy Doyle ... Eddie Cantor


Director ... Robert Z. Leonard
Producer ... Hunt Stromberg
Written by ... William Anthony McGuire
Distribution Company ... Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Music ... Walter Donaldson, Irving Berlin
Format ... B & W
Release date ... April 8, 1936
Running time ... 185 minutes

Academy Awards

Three Wins:
Best Picture ... Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Best Actress ... Luise Rainer
Best Dance Direction ... "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody", Seymour Felix
Four Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Director ... Robert Z. Leonard
Best Art Direction ... Cedric Gibbons, Eddie Imazu, Edwin B. Willis
Film Editing ... William S. Gray
Best Writing,(Original Story) ... William Anthony McGuire