Busby Berkeley

Busby Berkeley

Infobox actor
name = Busby Berkeley

imagesize = 200px
caption = c.1935
birthdate = 29 November 1895
birthplace = Los Angeles, California U.S.
deathdate = 14 March fy|1976 (age 80)
deathplace = Palm Springs, California U.S.
othername =
occupation = film director, choreographer
yearsactive = 1925–1951

Busby Berkeley (November 29, 1895March 14, 1976), born William Berkeley Enos in Los Angeles, California, was a highly influential Hollywood movie director and musical choreographer.

Berkeley was famous for his elaborate musical production numbers that often involved complex geometric patterns. Berkeley's quintessential works used legions of showgirls and props as fantastic elements in kaleidoscopic on-screen performances. He started as a theatrical director, just as many other movie directors. Unlike many at the time, he felt that a camera should be allowed mobility, and he framed shots carefully from unusual angles to allow movie audiences to see things from perspectives that the theatrical stage never could provide. This is why he played an enormous role in establishing the movie musical as a category in its own right.


He made his stage debut at five, acting in the company of his performing family. During World War I, Berkeley served as a field artillery lieutenant, where he learned the intricacies of drilling and disciplining large groups of people. During the 1920s, Berkeley was a dance director for nearly two dozen Broadway musicals, including such hits as ‘A Connecticut Yankee’. As a choreographer, Berkeley was less concerned with the terpsichorean skill of his chorus girls as he was with their ability to form themselves into attractive geometric patterns. His musical numbers were among the largest and best-regimented on Broadway. The only way they'd get any larger was if Berkeley moved to films, and he did when 'talkies' arrived.

His earliest movie jobs were on Samuel Goldwyn's Eddie Cantor musicals, where he began developing such techniques as a "parade of faces" (individualising each chorus girl with a loving close-up), and moving his dancers all over the stage (and often beyond) in as many kaleidoscopic patterns as possible. Berkeley's legendary top shot technique (the kaleidoscope again, this time shot from overhead) appeared seminally in the Cantor films, and also the 1932 Universal programmer " Night World". His numbers were known for starting out in the realm of the stage, but quickly exceeding this space by moving into a time and place that could only be cinematic, only to return to shots of an applauding audience and the fall of a curtain. As choreographer, Berkeley was allowed a certain degree of independence in his direction of musical numbers, and they were often markedly distinct from (and sometimes in contrast to) the narrative sections of the films. The numbers he choreographed were mostly upbeat and focused on decoration as opposed to substance; one exception to this is the number "Remember My Forgotten Man" from "Gold Diggers of 1933", which dealt with the treatment of soldiers in a post-World War I Depression.

Berkeley's popularity with an entertainment-hungry Great Depression audience was secured when he choreographed four musicals back-to-back for Warner Bros.: "42nd Street", "Footlight Parade", the aforementioned "Gold Diggers of 1933" and"Fashions of 1934", as well as "In Caliente" and "I Live for Love" with Dolores del Rio. Berkeley's innovative and often sexually-charged dance numbers have been analyzed at length by cinema scholars. In particular, the numbers have been critiqued for their display (and some say exploitation) of the female form as seen through the "male gaze", and for their depiction of collectivism (as opposed to traditionally American rugged individualism) in the spirit of Roosevelt's New Deal. Berkeley always denied any deep significance to his work, arguing that his main professional goals were to constantly top himself and to never repeat his past accomplishments.

As the outsized musicals in which Berkeley specialised became passé, he turned to straight directing, begging Warners to give him a chance at drama. The result was 1939's "They Made Me a Criminal", one of John Garfield's best films. Berkeley's drive for perfection led to a number of well-publicised run-ins with MGM stars such as Judy Garland. In 1943, he was removed as director of "Girl Crazy" because of disagreements with Garland, although the lavish musical number "I Got Rhythm", which he directed, remained in the picture. [Hugh Fordin, "The World of Entertainment: The Freed Unit at MGM", 1975]

His next stop was at 20th Century-Fox for 1943's "The Gang's All Here", in which Berkeley choreographed Carmen Miranda's outrageous ‘Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat’ number. The film made money, but Berkeley and the Fox brass disagreed over budget matters. Berkeley returned to MGM in the late 1940s, where among many other accomplishments he conceived the Technicolor finales for the studio's Esther Williams films. Berkeley's final film as choreographer was MGM's "Billy Rose's Jumbo" (1962).

Personal life

In private life, Berkeley was as flamboyant as his work. He went through six wives, an alienation of affections lawsuit involving a prominent movie queen, and a fatal car accident which resulted in his being tried and acquitted of second degree murder. In the late 1960s, the camp craze brought the Berkeley musicals back to the forefront. He toured the college and lecture circuit, and even directed a 1930s-style cold medication commercial, complete with a top shot of a dancing clock. In his 75th year, Busby Berkeley returned to Broadway to direct a successful revival of "No No Nanette", starring his old Warner Brothers colleague and “42nd Street” star Ruby Keeler.

Berkeley died in Palm Springs, California at the age of 80 from natural causes. [Johns, Howard, (2004). "Palm Springs Confidential: Playground of the Stars". Fort Lee, New Jersey: Barricade Books. ISBN 1569802971]

Cultural references

*On "The Jackie Gleason Show", an hour-long comedy-variety program which ran on the American CBS television network from ytv|1966 to ytv|1970, the June Taylor Dancers often provided dances which created Bubsy Berkeley-like patterns – shown with an overhead camera – only on a much smaller scale.

*The "Miss Piggy's Fantasy" musical number from "The Great Muppet Caper" (fy|1981) involving Miss Piggy and a number of chorus girls is directly influenced by the aesthetic.

*The music video for the Take That single, "Shine" was inspired by the work of Busby Berkeley.

*The ending sequence of the film "Jackass Number Two", in which the actors spoof a highly-stylized dance number, is based largely on Busby Berkeley's work.

*In the film "The Big Lebowski", actor Jeff Bridges has a psychedelic dream sequence that mimics the style of Berkeley's choreography.

*In the film "Blazing Saddles", Dom DeLuise plays a cameo role as effeminate film director/choreographer Buddy Bizarre, who is filming a number similar to those made by Busby Berkeley.

* The new "Bonds Kaledioscope" clothing advertisement is influenced by Busby Berkeley's style.

*In the British fy|2006 film "Confetti" in which three couples compete to have the most original wedding to win a house, one couple have a Hollywood Musicals themed wedding based on the films of Busby Berkeley.

*In "Hollywood Babble On II," an issue of Shade, The Changing Man, the opening sequence is "just like a Busby Berkeley movie" except all of the performers are plucked from their "ordinary folk" activities and thus unsynchronized until they are all devoured by a shark they fail to jump.

*A number of songs make reference to Busby Berkeley:
**"The Wonderful Tundra" by The Whiskers
**"Busby Berkeley Dreams" and "The Way You Say Goodnight" by The Magnetic Fields on "69 Love Songs"
** "Brawl" and "Da' Girlz, They Luv Me" by rapper R.A. The Rugged Man on Die, Rugged Man, Die (ymu|2005)

* Icelandic singer Bjork's infamous swan dress at the yf|2001 Academy Awards was supposedly inspired by Berkeley's musicals. [Brockes, Emma [http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2006/feb/13/popandrock1 Interview with Bjork] "The Guardian" (13 February 2006)]

elected works

*"A Connecticut Yankee" (1927) (Broadway)
*"Whoopee!" (1930) (choreographer)
*"Kiki" (1931) (choreographer)
*"Palmy Days" (1931) (choreographer)
*"Flying High" (1931) (choreographer)
*"The Kid from Spain" (1932) (choreographer)
*"42nd Street" (1933) (choreographer)
*"Gold Diggers of 1933" (1933) (choreographer)
*"Footlight Parade" (1933) (choreographer)
*"Roman Scandals" (1933) (choreographer)
*"Fashions of 1934" (1934) (director/choreographer of musical numbers)
*"Wonder Bar" (1934) (designer of musical numbers)
*"Dames" (1934) (director/choreographer of musical numbers)
*"Gold Diggers of 1935" (1935) (also director)
*"In Caliente" (1935) (director/choreographer of musical numbers)
*"Gold Diggers of 1937" (1936) (director/choreographer of musical numbers)
*"Stage Struck" (1936) (director)
*"The Singing Marine" (1937) (director/choreographer of musical numbers)
*"Hollywood Hotel" (1937) (director)
*"Gold Diggers in Paris" (1938) (director/choreographer of musical numbers)
*"They Made Me a Criminal" (1939) (director)
*"Broadway Serenade" (1939) (director of finale)
*"Babes in Arms" (1939) (director)
*"Strike Up the Band" (1940) (director)
*"Forty Little Mothers" (1940) (director)
*"Ziegfeld Girl" (1941) (director of musical numbers)
*"Babes on Broadway" (1941) (director)
*"Lady Be Good" (1941) (director of musical numbers)
*"For Me and My Gal" (1942) (director)
*"Cabin in the Sky" (1943) (director of "Shine" sequence)
*"Girl Crazy" (1943 (director of "I Got Rhythm" sequence)
*"The Gang's All Here" (1943) (director)
*"Cinderella Jones" (1946) (director)
*"Romance on the High Seas" (1948) (choreographer)
*"Take Me Out to the Ball Game" (1949) (director)
*"Two Weeks with Love" (1950) (choreographer)
*"Call Me Mister" (1951) (choreographer)
*"Two Tickets to Broadway" (1951) (choreographer)
*"Million Dollar Mermaid" (1952) (choreographer)
*"Small Town Girl" (1953) (choreographer)
*"Easy to Love" (1953) (choreographer)
*"Rose Marie" (1954) (choreographer)
*"Billy Rose's Jumbo" (1962) (choreographer)
*"No, No, Nanette" (1971) (production supervisor) (Broadway)


External links

*tcmdb name|14670
*amg name|
* [http://golden_age_films.tripod.com/html/berkeley/buzbio.htm Hooray for Hollywood: Busby Berkeley]
* [http://classicmoviefavorites.com/berkeley/ Busby Berkeley at Classic Movie Favorites] Tribute site: galleries, bio, filmography and more.

NAME= Berkeley, Busby
DATE OF BIRTH= November 29, 1895
PLACE OF BIRTH= Los Angeles, California USA
DATE OF DEATH= March 14, 1976
PLACE OF DEATH= Palm Springs, California USA

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