The Original “Victoria’s Secret” Beauties of the 1920s
When I see black and white portraits of women from the 1920s or early 19th century I always find them unflattering. Maybe it's the melodramatic make-up, or their strange, and sometimes even macabre, hairstyle, or maybe it's because the photography technology at the time weren't sophisticated yet, failing to capture their real beauty. Whatever it is it just seems that their preference for women's beauty way back then was rather un-natural.
But then I stumbled upon the Alfred Cheney Johnston portraits of the Ziegfeld Follies Girls with beauties and appeal that could rival today's rat pack of Victoria Secret supermodels.
See for yourself.
The Ziegfeld Follies were a series of Broadway productions in the 1920s well-known for featuring the most beautiful chorus girls in the world. Florenz “Flo” Ziegfeld was the legendary man behind the elaborate productions; he could be considered a sort of early model and talent scout extraordinaire.
At the dawn of the 20th century, Flo, a night-club owner at the time, went to Europe scout for new talent. There he met his first beauty, a café singer with a fantastic hourglass figure and a sexy French accent named Anna Held. He was enchanted by Anna and soon married her. It was Anna who said “Your American girls are so beautiful, the most beautiful girls in the world. If you dress them up chic, you’d have a better show than the Folies-Bergere.”
And so he did. Flo began searching for beautiful women in small towns and big cities alike. He wasn't looking for a high-fashion or particularly elegant beauty, but a beauty with sex appeal.
And so the Follies of 1907 opened at the spectacular rooftop theatre, Jardin de Paris, atop the New York Theatre in Broadway.
The Follies’ rooftop theatre in Broadway.
The Follies performed daily and was constantly updated to keep them fresh for returning audiences. It was said that Flo even provided little wooden hammers for the audience so they wouldn’t hurt their hands from clapping too much.
All of the Follies girls were immortalized in the portraits of New York City-based photographer Alfred Cheney Johnston, who became Ziegfeld’s official contracted photographer in 1917, and was affiliated with the Follies for the next fifteen years.
In 1931, the Ziegfeld Follies eventually folded at the hands of the Great Depression and Florenz died a year later from a recurring lung infection.