My Great-Grandmother Was A Showgirl

Unable to afford to live in the city (some things never changed) she lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It was the early 1900’s then, so, similar to my Gatsby-inspired visions of Elizabeth’s existence, I’ve allowed A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to paint a picture of how Mary lived, when in actuality it probably wasn’t even close. I highly doubt Mary was neighbors with Francie Nolan.

In 1907, inspired by the Folies Bergères of Paris, Florenz Ziegfeld created the legendary stage series known as The Ziegfeld Follies here in New York City. The Follies was an over-the-top Broadway production that ran until 1931 and was performed at the Jardin de Paris Theatre on 1514 Broadway at 44th street.

Whether it was luck, talent or beauty, my great-grandmother was a Ziegfeld Girl by 1909. Yes, she was living the dream of being a dancer, but it’s not as though anyone knew the names of the Ziegfeld Girls. They were stunning backdrops to some of the top performers of the time like W.C. Fields and Josephine Baker, but it’s not as though they were much more than pretty young things in sequins. Can you name a Rockette?

Honestly, Mary, who may or may not have used a stage name, is sadly no one anyone is probably even going to find on Google just like so many of those other “Girls” with whom she shared both their dreams and the nightly stage. Sure, some made it big, but most of them did their time, got too old to dance then moved on to something else.

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    • Ellen W.

      She left Allentown for Broadway! It doesn’t matter if it’s the wrong Allentown, it’s still 42nd street!

      • Amanda Chatel

        Very true! Even if it was short-lived… but I guess NYC does that to a lot of people (most of us.)

    • winifred beckmann

      my grandma was a ziefeld girl too they probably dance together and i also have a few pictures maybe she is in one of them.

      • Amanda Chatel

        I would love to see them, if you’re willing to share! As I said (evil) aunt swiped everything… I only have photos of her as an oldie but goodie. Email me some, maybe?

        Perhaps they were buddies…

    • Sugar

      My great grandfather was in NYC at that same time. He once inadvertently helped bank robbers escape when their car broke down. Ha!

      • Amanda Chatel

        If Mary was anything like me she probably dated one of those bank robbers… silly Chatels.

    • holleeta

      How long as your family been in this country for? I always assume that those with familial roots in New England have centuries of history with the States.

      • Amanda Chatel

        I’m not sure to be honest… but I think a long time on my dad’s side. I know we had one ancestor who was killed by a Native American… something my father thinks is great considering what the “white man” did to them… and, as a liberal, I agree, natch.

        I can’t believe I actually used “natch.”

        My mom’s side, which is Irish, doesn’t go back too far. My great-grandfather on that side was born in Ireland, came here and married a Swede. What is with Chatels and Swedes?!

      • Sugar

        Maybe it’s because Chatel is Swedish?

      • Sugar

        Ok, wow, that’s not what I meant to type. Ugh.

      • Amanda Chatel

        Such a typo, Sugar!

        We’re French… we just love the Swedes for some fucked up reason. Or at least two members of my family loved two particular Swedes, so maybe saying we love all Swedes is a stretch.

        I do not like Ikea. Or ABBA.
        I do love Håkan Hellström and Tiger Lou… and maybe an occasional Swedish vodka.