Busby Berkeley (b. 11/29/1895 d. 03/14/1976)
Busby Berkeley was one of the greatest choreographers in the US movie musical. He started his career in the US Army in 1918, when he was Lieutenant in the artillery conducting and directing parades. After the cease fire he was ordered to stage camp shows for the soldiers. Back in the US he became stage actor, assistant director in smaller acting troop. After being forced to take over the direction of the musical "Holka-Polka" he discovered his talent for staging extravagant dance routines, and he became one of the top Broadway dance directors. Producer Florence Ziegfeld called him for directing the dances of his Eddie Cantor production "Whoope", that was filmed in 1930. Berkeley was Hired for the film, too. First in Hollywood, he wasn't satisfied with the possibilities of his job - in this time the dance directors trained the dances, staged them, the director choose the position for the cameras and the editor choose which of the takes were shown to the audience.
Busby Berkeley wanted to direct the dances himself and convinced the producer Samuel Goldwyn to let him work. One of the first chances he made, was, that he used only one camera -he never used more in his films - and to show close-ups from 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?". But with the declining of musicals in 1931 and 1932 he was thinking of returning to Broadway, when Darryl F. Zanuck chief producer of Warner Brothers called him in to direct the musicals numbers of their newest project, the backstage drama "42nd Street". Busby Berkeley accepted, and directed those great numbers like "Shuffle Off To Buffalo", "Young and Healthy" and the grandiose story of urban life, the final "42nd Street". "42nd Street" was a smash hit, and Warner Brothers knew, who made it to such an extraordinary success. Busby Berkeley, as well as the composer Harry Warren and the lyricist Al Dubin got a seven years contract. Busby Berkeley created musical numbers for almost every great musical, Warner Brothers produced from 1933 to 1937. His overhead shots forced him to drill holes in the studio rooves, and he used from picture to picture more dancers, e.g. in "Lullaby of Broadway", he supposed it as his masterpiece, in "Gold Diggers of 1935" he used about 150 dancers tapping her hearts out. But with the second declining of the musical picture in 1938, he had nothing to do as a choreographer. He directed two non musical pictures for Warner Brothers, then he went to MGM, where he choreographed the final number from "Broadway Serenade" with Jeanette MacDonald.
As a director and choreographer, he worked on four pictures with the teenage stars and Mickey Rooney. He also choreographed the Fascinatin' Rhythm finale for MGM's reigning tapping star, Eleanor Powell in "Lady Be Good". He directed Gene Kelly in his first picture, in "For Me and My Gal". Kelly, who choreographed his own numbers, learned a lot from Busby Berkeley. He also worked for other studios in the 40s, e.g. for 20th Century - Fox in "The Gang's All Here" with its surrealistic number "The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat". At the end of the Forties he directed his last picture, "Take Me Out To the Ball Game", but this time the choreography was fully by Gene Kelly. He did a few numbers in the early Fifties, but at the end of the Fifties he was forgotten.
A revival of his films in the late Sixties, brought him back to the memory and he was asked to return to Broadway and supervise the dance direction in the Revival of Vincent Youmans musical comedy from 1925. One of the actresses in this production was Ruby Keeler one of his Leading Ladies in his Warner musicals. (When the production started to Tour in 1972, one of the members was Eleanor Powell). The production was a smash hit, too, and when he entered the stage after the first evening, the house exploded with applause. A strange fact in his career was, that Busby Berkeley never had a dancing lesion, and in his early days, he was very afraid of people finding out. He often drove his producers almost crazy, when he gave order to build a set and the sitting in front of it for a few days, thinking the numbers over.
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