Inspired by the Folies Bergères of Paris, the Ziegfeld Follies were conceived and mounted by Florenz Ziegfeld, reportedly at the suggestion of his then-wife, the entertainer Anna Held. The shows' producers were turn-of-the-century producing titans Klaw & Erlanger.
The Follies were lavish revues, something between later Broadway shows and a more elaborate high class Vaudeville variety show. Many of the top entertainers of the era (including W.C. Fields, Eddie Cantor, Fanny Brice, Ann Pennington, Bert Williams, Will Rogers, Ruth Etting, Ray Bolger, Helen Morgan, Marilyn Miller, Ed Wynn, Gilda Gray, Nora Bayes, Sophie Tucker, and others) appeared in the shows. The Ziegfeld Follies were also famous for many beautiful chorus girls commonly known as Ziegfeld girls, usually decked in elaborate costumes by designers such as Erté, Lady Duff Gordon or Ali Ben Hagan, which became the talk of Broadway the following day.
After Ziegfeld's death, his widow Billie Burke authorized use of his name for Ziegfeld Follies in 1934 and 1936. The name was later used by other promoters in New York City, Philadelphia and again on Broadway, with less connection to the original Follies. These latter efforts failed miserably. When later it toured, the 1934 edition was recorded in its entirety, from the Overture to Play-out music, on a series of 78 rpm discs, which were edited by the record producer David Cunard to form an album of the highlights of the production and which was released as a Compact Disc in 1997.