Musical Theatre in America: Papers and Proceedings of the Conference on the Musical Theatre in America

By Glenn Loney | Go to book overview

The American Revue Costume

JOHN E. HIRSCH

The revues of the first thirty years of the twentieth century were the standard to which the American woman looked: they were the most current aesthetic; they were the epitome of style. Until the movies of the 1930s, every revue entrepreneur was an arbiter of taste and the source of beauty advice. Florenz Ziegfeld pontificated; so did Earl Carroll. The French designer Erté played the same roles in fashion and beauty advice.

The designers and their creations were the stars of the revue. Most of the producers refused to acknowledge this--Ziegfeld and the Shuberts relegated costume design credits to the small print in the back of the programme. George White was an exception. Even though the revue was dependent on its designers (frequently there were several and often as many as six costume designers on one show), they were given little respect. Cora MacGeachy, an incredibly prolific designer for nearly twenty years, working on many Ziegfeld Follies, Miss 1917, lots of Passing Shows, a Music Box Revue, and a couple of Scandals, received little recognition. But some designers of this period became famous in Hollywood: Charles Le Maire, Orry-Kelly, Vincente Minnelli, and Gilbert Adrian.

It is fallacious to think that the girls were the raison d'être of revues. Ziegfeld would have had you think so. So would Earl Carroll. But a girl is a girl is a girl. One girl chosen by Ziegfeld was not much different from any other, and sixty girls parading on a runway or down a staircase could be boring. The raison d'être of the revue was the costume. It could only exist with the costume.

The Black Crook, produced in New York in 1866, was a theatrical phenomenon which started the craze for pulchritude on the stage, but The Passing Show of 1894 is generally considered the first American revue. Conspicuous consumption was the rule of the day: enormous "Edwardian" pageants. The Hippodrome spectacles, circa 1906, continued this tradition but in an even more American fashion. Ziegfeld Follies of 1907 began a tradition of beauty and fashion which lasted until his death in 1932. His

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