A tribute today today to impresario Nils T. Granlund (1890-1957), once a player in the realms of Broadway, vaudeville, nightclubs, radio, and movies, and with experience in print journalism and TV to boot. He was especially known for presenting chorus girls: in theatres, nightclubs, at world’s fairs, and on radio — a sort of Ziegfeld of everywhere BUT lavish Broadway revues in legit houses.
Granlund was born in Sweden and moved to Providence with his family as a teenager. By the time of his late teens he’d been a race car driver, piloted airplanes, was a professional press agent and a yachting reporter for the Providence Tribune. In a short time, he became sporting and entertainment editor for the paper.
In 1913, Marcus Loew hired him to be the publicity agent for the national tour of the Broadway show Hanky Panky. He did such a good job, the following year Loew hired Granlund, then only 24, to be the publicist for the entire Loews theatre chain. Granlund, nicknamed Granny by his friends, booked live acts for Loew’s film presentations, involving chorus girls, comedians, and singers, paving the way for the prologues and presentation houses that would be a staple at major cinema chains for decades, extending the life of vaudeville.
In 1922 Granlund got involved with WHN radio in Queens, announcing boxing matches and other programs using the handle “NTG”, which would be his professional nickname for years. Within a few months, he got Loew to buy the station and move it to Loew’s State Theatre in Times Square. Loew’s State was the flagship of his theatre chain, but now was also the home of the chain’s own radio station for promotion, of which Granlund was the station manager and announcer. This convergence of movies, radio and vaudeville all as one conglomeration would become the model for their competitors at RKO a decade later.
In 1924 Loews was part of the merger that formed MGM. As head of publicity , Granlund pioneered modern movie premieres, with huge floodlights, personal appearances by stars, flashing cameras etc.
During Prohibition throughout the Roaring ’20s, Granlund began producing chorus girl revues at speakeasies for people like Texas Guinan and at venues like the El Fey club. Sometimes he emceed these shows. He also broadcast early jazz from early venues like the Cotton Club.
In 1932 he played the Palace Theatre with “The Biggest Act in Vaudeville” fronting an act that featured “40 of the Worlds Loveliest Girls” dancing to music.
The now nationally known Granlund appeared in several Hollywood films, always as himself: Beauty of Broadway (1933), Mr. Broadway (1933), The Girl from Paradise (1934), Rhythm Parade (1942), Take it Big (1944), Goin’ to Town (1944)
In 1935, Granlund hosted the WEAF radio show at Nils T. Granlund Girls, sponsored by Bromo-Seltzer.
In 1939 he organized a Congress of Beauty show (featuring a Colony of Naked Sun Worshippers) at the New York World’s Fair.
From 1940 through 1948 he ran the revue at the Florentine Gardens in Hollywood. Yvonne de Carlo was one of the dancers in the chorus there. The show was packed nightly throughout the World War Two Era, presenting acts like Paul Whiteman, the Mills Brothers, Sophie Tucker, and Henny Youngman.
In the late 40s went back to NYC and produced revues at night clubs. These were panned by critics as old-fashioned. The joke became that N.T.G. stood for “Not Too Good”. At this point, for all his success from the ’20s through the War, he began to slide into penury and obscurity. He moved back to L.A. and kept hustling. One of the pioneers of the broadcast amateur show back at Loew’s State decades earlier, he presented a live amateur variety show that was televised on KTLS. Nonetheless he became largely forgotten by the ’50s. He was killed in a car accident in 1957. His memoir, Blondes, Brunettes and Bullets, came out that same year.
To find out more about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous