I've been wishing a lot lately that I could have a day- just one day- to do nothing. Well, ask and ye shall receive...although I received in the form of a stomach bug. No fun at all. So what else was there to do than to watch a movie? Ziegfeld Follies had been on my list for a while, and I was dying to see Tony Duquette's handiwork on the film's set. In case you're not familiar with it, the 1946 MGM film was a musical tribute to the late Flo Ziegfeld, Broadway producer extraordinaire. The extravaganza included musical numbers and skits by Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Fanny Brice, Red Skelton, and others. If musicals give you hives, I wouldn't watch this movie. It was good but I was glad when it was over. (I now wish that I had watched a darker movie like Leave Her to Heaven or Born to Be Bad. There is nothing like whiling away an afternoon with a twisted movie.)
But back to Ziegfeld. I captured some screen shots of the Fred Astaire & Lucille Bremer number that is pure Tony Duquette. The scene begins in a red ballroom with enormously tall masked pages keeping watch over the room.
And then there's an impressive chandelier that crowns the room. Another uniquely Duquette flourish:
Outside the ballroom, guests are shown arriving in front of a naive but totally charming blue backdrop with white flowering trees.
When Fred and Lucille decide to take the action outside, the walls of the ballroom close to reveal more Duquette statues:
They dance amongst a faux bois bench with tasseled feet (wouldn't you love to have this on your patio?) I also am taken with the white painted urn with white branches. Hmmm, that might look nice somewhere in my home...
And after much twirling and dancing, the number ends with couples surrounding Astaire and Bremer on a revolving dance floor. How beautiful is this scene with the female dancers and their pink-hued dresses? See how the dancers are arranged according to the shade of pink that they're wearing? And look at white barren trees that they're standing in front of. At first, I thought they were holding horns above their heads.
There was one other number that charmed me- yet another involving Astaire and Bremer, only this time they're supposed to be Chinese. I don't believe that Duquette was involved in this number, or at least not that I have been able to determine. This gorgeous Chinoiserie set may be the work of one of the Art Directors, perhaps Cedric Gibbons or Merrill Pye. Don't you think these shots, below, look like handpainted wallpaper. Perhaps something from de Gournay or Fromental? This has to be one of the most inventive and fantastical sets I've seen.
If something like this were recreated today, it would be computer generated, something which would have far less charm than these sets from sixty years ago. Then again, I doubt anyone would do a Chinoiserie scene like this today. How many theatergoers would want to see something like this? Not many, except perhaps you and me.
(All screen shots from Ziegfeld Follies, MGM, 1946)