Okay a week or two ago I had peacocks flying now I’ve got them gliding??? Okay they can fly but glide – you hardly call what they do on the ground gliding. If any bird can be accused of strutting it would be the peacock. But indeed one October evening – and many evenings after that – in 1919 a graceful peacock glided across the stage of the Roof Top Garden of the New Amsterdam Theatre. And this was no ordinary peacock – it was snowy white and, in defiance of all laws of ornithology, it was a female peacock spreading her showy plumage to the appreciative applause of the elite of Manhattan and their “companions”.
The Ziegfeld Midnight Frolics were the late night, slightly naughtier, younger sister of Florenz Ziegfeld’s famous Follies. After the show at the New Amsterdam the well-heeled patrons would head upstairs to Flo’s rooftop for a nightcap, a late night dinner and another look at the shapely chorines and the stately showgirls. The theatrical bill of fare was much as it had been below – musical numbers, comedy acts and tableaux – but a glass balcony circling the room and a stage almost within touch gave it an intimacy that hinted at forbidden delights.
Today the term “showgirl” conjures up an image of a scantily clad – if not actually bare-breasted – be-jeweled and be-feathered beauty descending a staircase in some slightly dated Parisian revue. But in Ziegfeld’s extravaganzas the showgirl was a fashion model dressed by the British couturier Lucille (Lady Duff Gordon) and taught to walk with a certain frosty elegance that showed the beauty of both the clothes she was wearing and the woman herself. And the most beautiful of Lucille’s showgirls was Dolores. She was known as the “most beautiful woman in the world” and few, at the time, would have disputed that claim. This tall and statuesque English girl – born into a poor family in Wimbledon – became the ultimate Ziegfeld showgirl between 1917 and 1922. The Ziegfeld ideal was tall, the height accentuated by a chin held high, with an aloof, unsmiling demeanor, and a languid indifference to the mere mortals that surrounded her. That aloofness suggested the desirable but unattainable. On the other hand the “ponies,” who danced in the show interacted closely with the audience – particularly the male clientele – popping the balloons they had handed out with little shrieks of (no doubt well rehearsed) joy. They were the “tired businessman’s” delight.
The photograph of Dolores as the White Peacock displaying the full splendour of Pascaud’s gown is well known; I was surprised to find these photos that show what it was like as she first glided on stage before revealing the full glory of it’s intricate design.
But when, at the climax of the Beautiful Birds tableau, Dolores as the White Peacock glided to centre stage in Parisian designer Pascaud’s glorious creation and using an intricate system of cords spread the 10 foot high paillette encrusted tail all thoughts of the bouncy chorus girls fled. It is said that one audience member asked, “Is she going to dance?” The reply? “A woman who can stand and walk like that doesn’t have to dance.”
On this day in 1669: Citing poor eyesight, Samuel Pepys records the last event in his diary.