DANCING AT THE CHANCE Historical Note

dancing chance front.inddDid Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr., entangle himself in the business of a vaudeville venue in New York called The Chance Theatre? No. The theater, like the characters associated with it, is fictional, although it was inspired by many of the small and struggling theaters that populated the city at the turn of the last century.

That entanglement aside, I tried to preserve the details of Ziegfeld’s life and work as much as possible. During the spring of 1907, when the bulk of this narrative takes place, Ziegfeld’s wife, Anna Held, was starring in his hit production of A Parisian Model at The Broadway and he would have been making preparations for his inaugural Follies, which in its first outing was titled Follies of 1907.

And while history records no evidence of the famous impresario ever intending to debut his landmark Follies anywhere but the New York Theatre Roof, a venue that was renovated and renamed Jardin de Paris for the occasion, there is ample evidence to suggest Ziegfeld’s relationship with the men who controlled that venue, Marc Klaw and Abraham L. Erlanger, would have been troubled. The Klaw & Erlanger partnership, and Abe Erlanger in particular, had a reputation for hostile business dealings, which earned the distrust, if not outright dislike, of colleagues and the industry at large.

Klaw and Erlanger were by no means alone in that regard. Theater owner Benjamin F. Keith and his partner, Edward F. Albee, as well as many others, regularly engaged in ruthless tactics to achieve and maintain power in an industry that was facing increasing competition from other theaters, as well as from the burgeoning moving picture industry. Keith, Albee, and many of their peers sought to protect their interests by forming alliances that allowed them to limit the earnings of performers appearing on their stages, as well as those performers’ ability to work elsewhere.

In the writing of this novel, I also took the liberty of placing pioneer moviemaker Edwin S. Porter on a Broadway sidewalk for the purpose of shooting a street scene. It might have happened, but it was far more likely he was devoting his time to the creation of story films at Edison’s rooftop studio on East Twenty-first Street and to the building of the company’s newer facility in the Bronx.

Finally, I would like to mention that while I invented the banquet where Erlanger and Klaw were expected to announce a partnership with their longtime rivals Jacob and Lee Shubert, such a partnership was in the works and resulted in the United States Amusement Company, a corporation dedicated to building and

operating a national circuit of vaudeville theaters. That merger proved to be short-lived, however. The New York Times announced its dissolution on July 16, 1909.

I relied on many books, interviews and online resources to research this story, but the books listed below were among the most influential and may be of interest to readers seeking more information on vaudeville, early cinema, and New York at the turn of the last century.

 

  • No Applause— JustThrow Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous (Faber & Faber, 2006), by Trav S.D.
  • Ziegfeld: The Man Who Invented Show Business (St. Martin’s Press, 2008), by Ethan Mordden.
  • Rank Ladies: Gender and Cultural Hierarchy in American Vaudeville (The University of North Carolina Press, 1999), by M. Alison Kibler.
  • The Emergence of Cinema: The American Screen to 1907 (University of California Press, 1994), by Charles Musser.
  • Old New York in Early Photographs: 1853–1901 (Dover Publications, 1973), by Mary Black.
  • New York Life at the Turn of the Century in Photographs (Dover Publications, 1985), by Joseph Byron.