Synopsis by Hal Erickson
When it was first made available to television in 1978, the three-hour Ziegfeld: The Man and His Women was previewed to only a few carefully selected TV critics. Barred from the preview were those older columnists who would have most likely harbored pleasant memories of the Oscar-winning 1936 theatrical feature The Great Ziegfeld, which is approximately ten times the better film. The TV movie version stars Paul Shenar as Broadway showman Flo Ziegfeld, looking for all the world like a spoiled prep-schooler dressed up in his daddy's tuxedo. While the film admirably attempts to encompass every aspect of Ziegfeld's public and private life, the sense of beauty and grandeur, so vital to the success of the 21 "Follies" stage shows mounted between 1908 and 1931, is totally missing. The film's structure is curiously aloof: The four most important women in Ziegfeld's life dispassionately narrate the story, a couple of them "from beyond the grave." Valerine Perrine comes off best as actress Lillian Lorraine; Barbara Parkins struggles with a wavering foreign accent as Ziegfeld's first wife Anna Held (she even gets a "telephone scene" ripped off from The Great Ziegfeld's Luise Rainer); Pamela Peardon is shrill and unlikeable as dancer Marilyn Miller; and Samantha Eggar is saintly to the point of tedium as Billie Burke, the second Mrs. Ziegfeld. Those expecting to see an unending stream of Ziegfeld headliners will have to settle for fleeting cameos by "celebrity look-alike" actors playing Fanny Brice, Will Rogers and W. C. Fields. This is the sort of clichefest in which Ziegfeld announces that his greatest days are yet to come--just before we cut to a title reading "1929." Ziegfeld: The Man and His Women serves only one positive purpose--to whet the viewer's appetite for a cable-TV revival of The Great Ziegfeld.
life, showman, man, woman