Joseph Urban and Cosmopolitan Films

Urban and Ziegfeld

Ziegfeld Follies of 1915. Flower Curtain

Joseph Urban

Ziegfeld Follies of 1915

Watercolor drawing for Flower Curtain, New Amsterdam Theater, 1915

Joseph Urban Collection Box B9.15

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Florenz Ziegfeld’s discovery of Joseph Urban has been called a match made in heaven. Ziegfeld had started his Follies in 1907, and the New Amsterdam Theater became its semi-permanent home beginning in 1913.

Urban had come to the United States as designer for the Boston Opera Company, but after it folded with the start of World War I, he came to New York. His first New York production was Edward Sheldon’s extraordinary play in nine scenes, The Garden of Paradise, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. It opened on November 28, 1914 at the Park Theater on Columbus Circle. The show was so lavish, and expensive, that it ran for only 17 performances, but it made Urban’s reputation in New York when Florenz Ziegfeld bought the entire production, and hired Urban as head designer for his Follies.

For the Follies of 1915, the New York Times critic wrote: “It is not merely that [Joseph Urban] has used taste and a sense of color. He has used imagination, and in all the matters of decoration the latest of the Ziegfeld Follies not only surpasses the best that New York has seen in entertainments of its sort, but, in some of its scenes, equals the best that has been done in staging here this year.”

The 1915 Follies was also the first to have costumes by Lucile (Lady Duff Gordon), after Billie Burke took Ziegfeld, her husband as of the previous year, to see one of Lucile’s fashion shows. The cast included Ed Wynn, Olive Thomas, Bert Williams, Ina Claire, W. C. Fields, and George White. The song “Hello, Frisco, Hello” written for the Follies by Gene Buck, celebrated the first transcontinental telephone call, made on January 25, 1915, by Alexander Graham Bell during the Panama Pacific Exposition. The show ran for 104 performances.

The 1916 Follies at the New Amsterdam celebrated the Shakespeare tercentenary and included music by Jerome Kern, among others, with costumes by Lucile. It opened on June 16 and featured Bert Williams, singing among other songs the anti-war “I’m Gone Before I Go,” Ina Claire, W. C. Fields, and Ann Pennington. Fanny Brice and Will Rogers made their Follies debuts. Marion Davies, who had been a model for Lucile, joined the Follies as one of the Ziegfeld Girls. She had recently caught the eye and heart of William Randolph Hearst.

The Century Girl. Grand Central Newstand

Joseph Urban

The Century Girl

Watercolor drawing for Bubbles Drop, The Century Theater, 1916

Joseph Urban Collection Box B10.5

Click here for item information The Century Girl. Bubbles drop

Joseph Urban

The Century Girl

Watercolor drawing for Grand Central Newstand, The Century Theater, 1916

Joseph Urban Collection Box B10.6

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Ziegfeld's revue The Century Girl opened on November 6, 1916 at the Century Theater (formerly the New Theater), just north of Columbus Circle on Central Park West and 62nd Street. The music was by Victor Herbert and Irving Berlin, with costumes by Lucile. The cast included the great comedienne Marie Dressler, as well as Hazel Lewis, Hazel Dawn, Irving Fisher, Leon Errol and others.

The New York Times review, headlined “A HUGE SUCCESS,” continued, “Of such stuff is ‘The Century Girl,’ spectacle and vaudeville, glorified beyond anything we have had in the music hall world and multiplied by ten. It would be a difficult and delicate task to pick out the bright particular star.... Perhaps — and there is something to this theory — it is Joseph Urban, the artist from Vienna who has wrought such wonders in the great heights and depths of The Century.”

It was for The Century Girl that Urban designed the first grand staircase that would become such a trademark of future Follies productions. The show ran for 200 performances. And to mirror the success of Ziegfeld's New Amsterdam Roof venue, Joseph Urban created the Cocoanut Grove on the roof of the Century Theater.

Miss 1917. Garden of Eden

Joseph Urban

Miss 1917

Watercolor, “Garden of Eden” scene, Century Theater, 1917

Urban Collection Box B10.8

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Miss 1917, a Ziegfeld revue in 2 acts, opened on November 5, 1917 at the Century Theater and ran for 72 performances. The show had music by Victor Herbert, with book and lyrics by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse; the cast included Marion Davies, Irene Castle, and Lew Fields.

The New York Times’s critic wrote that it “succeeded beyond question. …  ‘Miss 1917’ is stupendous; and there is no square foot (or pointed toe) in its vast and multitudinous region that does not show intelligent, tasteful study brought to a happy issue.”

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