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  • historicalzg - 1Reply
    ziegfeldgrrl wrote on Jun 9
    Lovely, thanks so much David. I find it difficult to date when certain photos of Billie Burke were actually taken since so many seem to be used years later. She seems to have gotten younger as she got older. If only I could say the same for me.

    jsragman wrote on Jun 9
    Love these! Thanks Profdash!

© David S. Shields

Billie Burke-Sarony Studio the Early Sittings    Jun 3, '12 9:25 AM
by David for group historicalziegfeld #643

Billie Burke in her later maturity (think of her turn as good witch G in The Wizard of Oz) had a stately patrician demeanor that came off as a bit stuffy. She used her imperiousness to insure that the legacy of her late husband Florenz Ziegfeld would not be mishandled. Yet when she first burst on the New York theater scene in 1906, she was a winsome girl, candid, impulsive, and self-possessed. These qualities were well conveyed in her initial studio photo sessions with Sarony Studio in 1906, 1907, and 1910.

Sarony Studio at this juncture was under the management of Jonathan Burrow, and his son Ernest did the shoots. Burrow had purchased the negative stock, equipment, and back paintings from Otto Sarony at the turn of the 20th century. Yet with the exception of a prop desk, a grand sofa, and an antique chair, the old Sarony furnishings have been jettisoned in these images. Instead, Burrow has employed a neutral background, concentrating the viewer's attention exclusively on Billie Burke's expression and gestures.

Billie Burke was one of the best actresses off her feet (when seated, reclining, or lolling on a cushion). Her first lead was in "My Wife" of 1907 (for which several publicity images in costume appear below), but it was 1910's "Mrs. Dot" that propelled her to first rank stardom. The Sarony "Mrs Dot" portraits below are interesting historically in that they represent the last gasp of cabinet cards as publicity vehicles. They had dominated theatrical portraiture from 1868 to 1900, but after the turn of the century the postcard and the 8x10 silver print paper image became the dominant forms. These are among the very last cabinet cards issued by a major New York studio.

Billie, through the perod of these images, favored the chignon hair style that we associate with the Gibson Girl. You will note too that she had already determined that her coloring favored lighter shades in clothing. She wore white and pale colors until World War 1, and never surrendered them entirely thereafter. The latest of these images, the 1910 picture of Billie examining a piece of linen, dates from four years before her marriage to Ziegfeld. One can see the vivaciousness that attracted Ziegfeld--one can also see Billie's lack of saucy worldliness, that quality that dominated Anna Held, when she was Ziegfeld's common law wife. Profdash / David S. Shields

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