In the frenzy to get a sample chapter of a non-fiction book idea to a publisher, and in the heat of my brain wrapping itself in a new way around the memoir that might take longer to write than it did to live, the Ziegfeld poems I started a few years ago had all but fallen off the radar for me.
Not that the project hasn’t gone anywhere. At last count, I have about twenty-five pages of work, and have mapped out maybe a dozen more topics to explore as fill-ins. I’m trying ultimately to create a cohesive story in verse, and I’ve vacillated on how much emphasis I should place on Prohibition and the Actors Strike, both major events of the 1919 theater season. Also, although my focus is on the 1919 edition of the Follies, that one, although praised as the pinnacle of Ziegfeld’s elaborate revue series, is lacking two major performers.
Fanny Brice was still on maternity leave in the fall of 1919. Her daughter, Frances, would grow up to marry producer Ray Stark. Stark would produce the film version of Fanny’s life story, Funny Girl. And so goes the circles upon circles that connect the entertainment worlds of past and present.
Will Rogers, a clever character who toured the world as a trick roper, found his everlasting fame as a wisecracking political commentator (while still twirling that rope) in Ziegfeld’s shows. By 1919, however, Rogers had gone out West to try his luck in Hollywood.
So, I’ve broadened the scope to include events outside of the holy ’19, perhaps a mishmash of legends and rumors. And, just to make things interesting, I’ve been invited to be a part of the Monday night lecture series at the Ram Dass Library at the Omega Institute, in Rhinebeck, NY. On a whim, I suggested the topic of the Ziegfeld Follies, and a presentation including my poems. They bought it. So now I’m committed.
I’ve been fooling around with Power Point, too. Maybe I’ll play a CD of period music while the crowds pile in. It’s always good to find another angle to approach the old material from. I’ve dabbled in vaudeville and early musical theater for years now. I’m glad to be able to see the various shapes my research can be translated into. Hopefully a few others will, too.