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Busby Berkeley Poster

Biography

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Overview (5)

Date of Birth 29 November 1895Los Angeles, California, USA
Date of Death 14 March 1976Palm Springs, California, USA
Birth NameWilliam Berkeley Enos
Nickname Buzz
Height 5' 9" (1.75 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Busby Berkeley was one of the greatest choreographers of the US movie musical. He started his career in the US Army in 1918, as a lieutenant in the artillery conducting and directing parades. After the World War I cease-fire he was ordered to stage camp shows for the soldiers. Back in the US he became a stage actor and assistant director in smaller acting troupes. After being forced to take over the direction of the musical "Holka-Polka" he discovered his talent for staging extravagant dance routines, and he quickly became one of Broadway's top dance directors. Producer Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. called him to direct the dance routines for his production of "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court". Eddie Cantor, who starred in the long-running Ziegfeld production "Whoopee!", suggested Berkley create the dance routines in the film version )Whoopee! (1930) and Ziegfeld agreed.

At first in Hollywood Berkeley wasn't satisfied with the possibilities of his job--at the time, dance directors trained the dancers and staged the dances. The director chose camera positions and the editor chose which of the takes were shown to the audience. Berkeley wanted to direct the dances himself and convinced producer Samuel Goldwyn to let him try. One of the first chances he took was that he used only one camera in his films. He also showed close-ups of the chorus girls. Asked about this, he explained, "Well, we've got all the beautiful girls in the picture, why not let the public see them?" With the decline of musicals in 1931 and 1932, he was thinking of returning to Broadway when Darryl F. Zanuck, chief producer at Warner Brothers, called him in to direct the musical numbers of Warners' newest project, the backstage drama 42nd Street (1933). Berkeley accepted and directed great numbers like "Shuffle Off To Buffalo", "Young and Healthy" and the grandiose story of urban life, the finale "42nd Street". The film was a smash hit, and Warner Brothers knew who made it such an extraordinary success--Berkeley, as well as composer Harry Warren and lyricist Al Dubin, got seven-year contracts. Berkeley created musical numbers for almost every great musical that Warner Brothers produced from 1933 to 1937. His overhead shots forced him to drill holes in the studio roofs, and he used more dancers with each succeeding picture. However, by the late 1930s the musical was in decline once again, and Berkeley had nothing to do as a choreographer. He directed two non-musical pictures for Warner Brothers then went to MGM, where he choreographed the final number from Broadway Serenade (1939) with Jeanette MacDonald. As a director and choreographer he worked on four pictures with teenage stars Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. He also choreographed the "Fascinatin' Rhythm" finale for MGM's reigning tapping star, Eleanor Powell in Lady Be Good (1941). He directed Gene Kelly in his first picture, For Me and My Gal (1942). Kelly, who choreographed his own numbers, learned a lot from Berkeley.

Berkeley worked for 20th Century-Fox in The Amazing Mr. Forrest (1939) with its surrealistic number "The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat". In 1949 he directed his last picture, Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949), but this time the choreography was by Gene Kelly. Berkeley did a few numbers in the early 1950s but, by the end of the decade, he was all but forgotten. A revival of his films in the late 1960s brought him some popularity and he was asked to return to Broadway and supervise the dance direction in the revival of a Vincent Youmans musical comedy from 1925. One of the actresses in this production was Ruby Keeler, one of his leading ladies in Warner musicals. When the production went on tour in 1972, one of the road cast was Eleanor Powell. The production was a smash hit. When he walked on stage after one opening night, the house exploded with applause.

A strange fact is that Busby Berkeley never had a dancing lesson and, in his early days, was very afraid of people finding out. He often drove his producers crazy when he gave orders to build a set and then sat in front of it for a few days, thinking up the numbers.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Stephan Eichenberg (qv's & corrections by A. Nonymous)

Spouse (4)

Etta Erickson Dunn Judd (23 January 1958 - 14 March 1976) (his death)
Claire James (29 March 1942 - 1943) (annulled)
Merna Kennedy (1934 - 1935) (divorced)
Esther Muir (November 1929 - 1931) (divorced)

Trivia (12)

Inspired the song "Busby Berkeley Dreams" by The Magnetic Fields.
Son of actress Gertrude Berkeley.
At age 12 he enrolled in the Mohegan Lake Military Academy near Peekskill. He graduated in 1914.
His parents were members of the Tim Frawley Repertory Company. His father was the director. He was named after two people in the Tim Frawley Repetory Company: Amy Busby (a young English soubret who later became prominent on the London stage) and William Gillette who went on to become a Broadway star, performing in a Sherlock Holmes play he had written.
In his early days, he worked for a shoe company in Athol, Massachusetts for three years. In his spare time he played semi-pro baseball, organized a dance band and played in local shows.
His brother George (ten years Busby's senior) graduated from Culver Military Academy where he was an accomplished athlete and captain of the Culver Black Horse Troop. Years later, as a result of drug abuse, George was found dead on a park bench in Plattsburgh, New York, U.S.A.
Biography in: John Wakeman, editor. "World Film Directors, Volume One, 1890-1945". Pages 23-28. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1987.
On his way home from a party thrown by William Koenig to celebrate the completion of In Caliente (1935), Busby hit two vehicles, killing three people in the second car: William von Brieson, his mother, and sister-in-law. Tried for murder, Berkeley, represented by Jerry Giesler, was acquitted in a third trial after the previous two ended in hung juries.
He was not the first person who used the famous overhead shot, a shot that looks like you're looking through a kaleidescope, with the dancers in a circle(s) in interesting patterns. (i.e A minor example of this technique precedes his work in Dancing Lady (1933).) But he did make the grandiose, kaleidoscopic overhead-shooting of musical extravaganzas his own unmistakable artistic style by expanding the concept to its limits and then beyond affordability.
Ex-brother-in-law of Lois James.
While under Jack Warner's Hollywood studio film contract, Broadway stage choreographer Busby Berkeley purchased a gated Spanish residence estate, 1800 Angelo Drive, built in 1926, facing the Jack L. Warner's gated estate (located across the street) on Angelo Drive, in Beverly Hills, California. Nestled behind private gates in prime Beverly Hills, North of Sunset Boulevard, a wonderful Spanish estate by one of Old Hollywood's most famous architects, Wallace Neff. Originally built in 1926, Neff showcased his unique blend of Spanish and Mexican architecture, which came to define the California style for which Wallace Neff became most famous. The home's subtle detailing included red Spanish Saltillo tile, hardwood floors, wrought iron railings, curved archways and classic tiling that echo from another era. Adding to the romantic architecture, the house is built against a hillside reminiscent of an Italian Villa on the Amalfi Coast. The interior features an expansive wood beam living room with a fireplace and a lounge with an abundance of natural light. A substantial and sleek chef's kitchen opens to a breakfast area and an indoor dining room with a patio. A private outdoor dining area with a BBQ grill and a fountain make it an entertainer's dream! The luxurious master suite, with sitting area and fireplace, opens to one of five private outdoor terraces. Natural light spills into a cozy family/media room. Three additional bedrooms complete the upstairs with individual access to a plant-lined walkway and patio. All of the closet interiors have been finished. Beyond the main residence, park-like gardens with fountains and pathways intricately weave around the property, providing intimate local lookouts and unimpeded views of the gorgeous Hollywood Hills. Further amenities include a swimmers pool with cabana, an oasis spa with a waterfall, an art studio, and a two-car garage and one-car motor court. The 1,778 sq.ft. property was listed in June, 2016, at the sale price of $7,980,000.00. In noting previous sale listings, the property was sold on October 8th, 2002 for $2,900,000 (at $646 sq.ft); previously sold on March 6th, 1998, for $1,330.000 (at $296 sq.ft.); the 2015 year property tax: $38,276.00, property tax assessment at $3,495,964.00; the 2014 year property tax: $38,276.00, property assessment at $3,427,484.00; the 2004 year property tax: $32.524.00, property assessment at $2,955,160.00.
The Gumm Sisters appeared during the 1934 Chicago World's Fair Exposition midway and at the Chicago Oriental Theater. Francis, now at age 12, was also featured as a solo act, a single entertainer on an eastern Vaudeville circuit with head-liner comedienne George Jessel acting as an emcee. Jessel encouraged their mother Ethel to choose a more appealing name after "Gumm" was met with laughter from the audience. According to theater legend, their act was once erroneously billed at the Chicago Oriental Theater as "The Glum Sisters." Several stories persist regarding the origin of the name "Garland". One is that it was originated by Jessel after Carole Lombard's character Lily Garland in the film "Twentieth Century," which was then playing at the Chicago Oriental Theater; another is that the girls chose the surname after drama critic Robert Garland. Judy Garland's daughter Lorna Luft stated that their mother Ethel selected the name "Garland" when Jessel announced that the trio of sisters "looked prettier than a garland of flowers." Francis changed her name to Judy soon afterwards, after changing their headline vaudeville family's last name to the "Garland Sisters." In the early spring of 1935, Louis B. Mayer asked songwriter Burton Lane and choreographer Busby Berkeley to go to the downtown Los Angeles's movie-vaudeville Broadway main street Orpheum Theater to watch the Garland Sisters' vaudeville act and to report back to him. A few days later the sisters, Mary Jane "Suzy/Suzanne" (born in 1915), Dorothy Virginia "Jimmie" (born in 1917), and Francis Ethel "Judy" (born in 1922), were brought for an impromptu audition at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's Culver City Studios. Judy Garland (13) performed solo "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart" and "Eli, Eli," a Yiddish song written in 1896, very popular in the sister's vaudeville repertoire. The Garland Sisters' final on-screen appearance came in 1935, in an MGM short entitled "La Fiesta de Santa Barbara," The Gumm Sisters' screen credit now was listed as "The Garland Sisters." The sister act broke up in August 1935, when Mary Jane Suzanne (Gumm) Garland, (at age 20), flew to Reno, Nevada, and married musician Lee Kahn, a member of the Jimmy Davis orchestra playing at Cal-Neva Lodge, Lake Tahoe. Louis B. Mayer's instructions demanded that Busby Berkeley supervise and stage any production number devised for Judy and Mickey in their film appearances which occurred after they were teamed in their MGM filming movie schedule.

Personal Quotes (1)

In an era of breadlines, depression and wars, I tried to help people get away from all the misery...to turn their minds to something else. I wanted to make people happy, if only for an hour.

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