Helene Anna Held (19 March 1872 – 12 August 1918) was a Polish-born stage performer, most often associated with impresario Florenz Ziegfeld, her common-law husband.
Her vivacious and animated personality proved popular, and her career as a stage performer began to gain momentum. She was soon known for her risqué songs, flirtatious nature and willingness to show her legs on stage. Around this time, she became the wife of a much-older Uruguayan playboy, Maximo Carrera, with whom she had a daughter, Liane (1895–1988), shortly after their 1894 marriage, and who became an actress and producer, sometimes billed as Anna Held, Jr.
Touring through Europe she was appearing in London in 1896 when she met Florenz Ziegfeld. Ziegfeld asked her to return to New York City with him and she agreed. He set about creating a wave of public interest in her, by feeding stories about her to the American press, such as her having had ribs surgically removed. By the time Held and Ziegfeld arrived in New York, she was already the subject of intense public speculation. When she finally performed, the critics were dismissive of her, but the public liked her.
From 1905 Held enjoyed several successes on Broadway which, apart from bolstering Ziegfeld’s fortune, made her a millionaire in her own right. Ziegfeld’s talent for creating publicity stunts ensured that Held’s name remained well known. Held suggested the format for what would eventually become the famous Ziegfeld Follies in 1907, and helped Ziegfeld establish the most lucrative phase of his career. Held could not perform in the first Follies as she had become pregnant by Ziegfeld. She later miscarried or had an abortion. In 1909 he began an affair with the actress Lilliane Lorraine; Held remained hopeful that his fascination would pass and he would return to her, but instead he turned his attentions to another actress Billie Burke, whom he would marry
Held spent the years of World War I working in vaudeville and touring France, performing for French soldiers and raising money for the war effort. She came to be regarded as a war heroine for her contributions, and was highly regarded for the courage she displayed in traveling to the front lines, to be where she could do the most good. She returned to the United States and starred in the film Madame la Presidente (1916).
The year 1917 was one of constant touring for Held, and as the year wore on her health began to deteriorate. She collapsed onstage in 1918, and died after a few months from multiple myeloma at age 46. She is interred at Cemetery of the Gate of Heaven in Hawthorne, New York. Ziegfeld was castigated by the media—the same media he had so studiously courted—for his mistreatment of Held and apparent indifference to her illness, and his notable absence from her funeral.
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