Anna Held: She, of the Milk Baths


Before becoming Flo Ziegfeld’s second great entrepreneurial project (after strongman Eugene Sandow) the Polish-born Anna Held (1872-1918) 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.

Here’s some rare film footage of Anna Held in action:

In 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. In the film she sings “I Just Can’t Make My Eyes Behave”.  As usual in nearly every Hollywood period film I’ve ever seen, the costumes are wildly inaccurate, anachronistic, preposterous. But I wouldn’t change a thing! And of course, I’m sure you know the more famous portrayal, that of Luise Rainer in The Great Ziegfeld (1936).

To learn more about the roots of variety entertainment and old stage stars like Anna Heldconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


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