Sunday, June 5, 2011

An Electric Sign Goes Dark

I finally got out of the house yesterday and spent the time with my lovely friend and creative sister, Lita.
We spent a good portion of our time perusing vintage images and postcards at our favorite antique store.
I found a few good ones, along with one image that I am so pleased to add to my collection!
Anna Held, Paris 1898.
Being a vintage image collector, I knew that having a woman in costume, with a name printed at the bottom was most likely to be an actress. I Googled the name "Anna Held" when I got home and lo and behold, discovered such a great story! She was born in Poland, worked as a singer in the Jewish theaters of Paris and ended up in London, working as an actress when who should discover her but Florenz Ziegfeld himself! Yep, that Ziegfeld of Ziegfeld's Follies. He brought Anna over to the USA where he created a wave of interest by feeding the press stories of her. She was known for her risque songs, her flirtatious nature and her willingness to show off her legs. Florenz and Anna became common-law husband and wife but Ziegfeld had affairs, one with Billie Burke (Glenda, the Good Witch of the North) who he ended up marrying after divorcing Anna.



Using my Ancestry.com membership, I was able to pull up her passport application which also notes her marriage and divorce to Florenz Ziegfeld. There have been two movies made about their relationship and even the poet Carl Sandburg wrote a poem about her after her death in 1918:

An Electric Sign Goes Dark

Poland, France, Judea ran in her veins,
singing to Paris for bread,
singing to Gotham in a fizz at the pop of a bottle's cork.

"Won't you come and play wiz me" she sang...
and "I just can't make my eyes behave."
"Higgedly-Piggeldy", "Papa's Wife", "Follow Me" were plays.

Did she wash her feet in a tub of milk?
Was a strand of pearls sneaked from her trunk? The newspapers asked.
Cigarettes, tulips, pacing horses, took her name.

Twenty years old...thirty...forty...
Forty-five and the doctors fathom nothing,
the doctors quarrel, the doctors use silver tubes
feeding twenty-four quarts of blood into the veins,
the respects of a prize-fighter, a cab driver.
A little mouth moans: It's easy to die when they
are dying so many grand deaths in France.

A voice, a shape, gone.
A baby bundle from Warsaw...legs, torso, head...
on a hotel bed at The Savoy.

The white chiselings of flesh that flung
themselves in somersaults, straddles for packed houses.
A memory, a stage and footlights out,
an electric sign on Broadway dark.

She belonged to somebody, nobody.
No one man owned her, no ten nor a thousand.
She belonged to many thousand men,
lovers of the white chiseling of arms and shoulders,
the ivory of a laugh, the bells of song.

Railroad brakemen taking trains across Nebraska prairies,
lumbermen jaunting in pine and tamarack of the Northwest,
stock ranchers in the Middle West, mayors in the Southern Cities
Say to their pals and wives now: I see by the papers Anna Held is dead. 




7 comments:

phoebe said...

What an amazing find Laura! I love her "head shot" and her story is just wonderful. Good idea to research her, you found so many fascinating things out about her. And I just love the line in the poem..."She belonged to somebody, nobody.
No one man owned her, no ten nor a thousand."
She kind of makes me think of the movie with Christina Ricci, Cate Blanchett and Johnny Depp called The Man who Cried. Have you seen it?

Laura said...

Thanks Phoebe! I have not seen nor heard of that movie which shocks me since I love Johnny so much! I will have to seek it out now. :)

Lita said...

OMG ~ What an exciting relic to stumble upon, Laura! And I'm psyched to have been the one there with you when you came upon it. It's so fascinating to discover who this amazing woman was ... Superb research and recounting, btw ☺

Nichole Renee said...

This post makes me want to run out and scour every antique store in a ten-mile radius!! What an amazing find...and so much cooler that you were able to discover so much information!

Bravo!!

Laura said...

Thanks girls! Lita, I so enjoyed hunting treasures with you! Nichole..yes, go and scour! I would love to come up there and do it with you too!

Alex said...

That is so amazing! I had no idea a printed name and costume would indicate a "Star". You find such wonderful treasures.

Laura said...

Thanks Alex! I sure have fun huntin' for them!