Stars of Vaudeville #129: Anna Held
Today is Anna Held’s birthday, she of the famous milk baths. Before becoming Flo Ziegfeld’s second great entrepreneurial project (after strongman Eugene Sandow) the Polish-born Held was a star of the Parisian variety stage. Ziegfeld discovered her there in 1896 and brought her back to the states, where together they made millions of dollars on Broadway. Their most famous publicity stunt had Held taking frightfully decadent baths in in tubs full of milk carted in daily from a local dairy. Her pregnancy in 1908 kept her out of the first Follies (the format of which she is said to have suggested) and then caused Ziegfeld to dump her in favor of Lilliane Lorraine. Whereupon she went back to vaudeville, touring the U.S. and France throughout WWI. She died of cancer in 1918. The moral? Milk gives you cancer.
In the clip below from the movie Ziegfeld: The Man and His Women, Held is played by Barbara Parkins, best known as the lead in Valley of the Dolls who was neither Patty Duke nor Sharon Tate. Here she sings “I Just Can’t Make My Eyes Behave” (Parkins appears after about a minute into the clip). As usual in nearly every movie I’ve ever seen, the costumes are wildly innaccurate, anachronistic, preposterous. But I wouldn’t change a thing!
To learn more about the roots of variety entertainment, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.