Busby Berkeley


Choreographer, Director
Busby Berkeley

About

Also Known As
William Berkeley Enos
Birth Place
Los Angeles, California, USA
Born
November 29, 1895
Died
March 14, 1976

Biography

An innovative choreographer who freed dance in the cinema from the constraints of theatrical space, Busby Berkeley directed musical numbers that removed the confining proscenium of the stage to incorporate the fluid frame of the motion picture image. His geometrically unique dances were choreographed for that ideal. After a successful career on Broadway, Berkeley helped revolutionize the...

Photos & Videos

Strike Up the Band - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Footlight Parade - Lobby Cards
For Me and My Gal - Movie Posters

Family & Companions

Esther Muir
Wife
Actor. Married c. 1929; divorced in 1931.
Merna Kennedy
Wife
Actor. Married in 1934; divorced in 1935.
Etta Berkeley
Wife
Sixth wife.

Notes

Nicknamed after turn-of-the-century New York stage star Amy Busby.

Biography

An innovative choreographer who freed dance in the cinema from the constraints of theatrical space, Busby Berkeley directed musical numbers that removed the confining proscenium of the stage to incorporate the fluid frame of the motion picture image. His geometrically unique dances were choreographed for that ideal. After a successful career on Broadway, Berkeley helped revolutionize the musical at a time when the genre first took off, thanks to the advent of sound. He choreographed "42nd Street" (1933) and made his debut as a solo director with "Gold Diggers of 1933" (1933), while earning Oscar nominations for his dance direction for "Gold Diggers of 1937" (1936) and "Varsity Show" (1937). He eventually directed a few movies starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, including "Babe in Arms" (1939), "Strike Up the Band" (1940) and "Babes on Broadway" (1941), only to have a falling out with the troubled actress on "Girl Crazy" (1943) which led to him being fired. Berkeley achieved camp infamy with "The Gang's All Here" (1943), which famously featured Carmen Miranda performing "The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat." After directing his last movie, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" (1949), Berkeley was exclusively a choreographer until leaving Hollywood altogether following "Billy Rose's Jumbo" (1962). While some of his numbers were deemed overly campy by later audiences, Berkeley was nonetheless a pioneering musical director whose influence stretched across generations.

Born on Nov. 29, 1895 in Los Angeles, Berkeley was raised by his father, Francis, a stage director and actor who died when Berkeley was a child, and his mother, Gertrude, also an actor who toured with Tim Frawley's repertory company. When he was three years old, he moved with his family to New York and made his first stage debut when he was five. Berkeley enlisted in the army during World War I, serving as a second lieutenant in the artillery where he found himself conducting trick parade drills for as many as 1,200 men and training as an aerial observer - two experiences that clearly shaped his approach to dance on film. He later served with the Third Army of Occupation in Germany as an entertainment officer. After the war, Berkeley worked in the theater, acting in a stock company production of "The Man Who Came Back" (1920) and choreographing numbers for touring musicals. A few years later, he performed and directed a number of productions on Broadway and had his first major success as a dance director in a Rodgers and Hart production of "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" (1927).

As his reputation on Broadway grew, Berkeley found his talents being sought by Hollywood, which was considerable, give the fact that he had not seriously studied choreography and dance. He was given the opportunity to work in Hollywood on the newest movie genre, the film musical, then in its first flush of popularity after the arrival of sound pictures. Sam Goldwyn hired him to direct the musical sequences of "Whoopee!" (1930), starring Eddie Cantor. In one sequence, Berkeley filmed the Goldwyn Girls, deployed in symmetrical fashion from overhead, a technique that would become perhaps his most famous trademark. Berkeley worked on several other musicals for MGM before settling in at Warner Bros., where he choreographed "42nd Street" (1933). He made his debut as a solo director with "Gold Diggers of 1933" (1933), which was notable for its humorous and voyeuristic eroticism. The film opened with chorines, including a young unknown named Ginger Rogers, singing "We're in the Money" clad in nothing but large coins - a striking image of women as objects of exchange within a patriarchal society. His choreography earned an Academy Award nomination, while the following year he directed the dances for "Dames" (1934), which featured Berkeley's geometrical arrangement.

In 1935, Berkeley was involved in a fatal three-car automobile accident in which he was driving under the influence and which resulted in the deaths of three people. Others were severely injured, while Berkeley was seriously cut and bruised. A witness saw him speeding down a highway in Los Angeles county, where he changed lanes and crashed head-on with another vehicle. Two trials for second degree murder ended with hung juries and Berkeley was finally cleared of all charges following a third. Despite the high-profile scandal, Berkeley maintained his career, earning Oscar nominations for his dance direction for "Gold Diggers of 1937" (1936) and "Varsity Show" (1937), the latter of which marked the last time the Academy offered awards for the category. After directing and choreographing "Gold Diggers in Paris" (1938), he steered away from musicals to direct the crime thriller "They Made Me a Criminal" (1939) before leaving Warner Bros. He continued the trend of directing non-musicals while under a new contract with MGM, helming the B-movie mystery "Fast and Furious" (1939).

When he returned to MGM in 1939, Berkeley demonstrated that good musicals could be made with smaller budgets, but the development of the integrated dramatic musical left little room for his bravura approach. He directed the finale for "Broadway Serenade" (1939), before helming "Babe in Arms" (1939), starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. The pair reunited again for Berkeley's "Strike Up the Band" (1940) and "Babes on Broadway" (1941), while he staged the musical numbers for "Ziegfeld Girls" (1941) and "Lady Be Good" (1941). He began as the director of "Girl Crazy" (1943), but continued conflicts with Garland led to his firing, though his lavish choreography for "I Got Rhythm" remained in the picture. Berkeley moved on to direct "The Gang's All Here" (1943), a camp classic that featured Carmen Miranda performing "The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat." In 1946, Berkeley became seriously depressed when his mother died and attempted suicide, which landed him in a psychiatric hospital for a temporary spell. He moved on to serve as the choreographer on "Romance on the High Seas" (1948), before directing Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly in the box office hit "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" (1949), his last film as a director.

From there, Berkeley was the choreographer on "Two Weeks with Love" (1950), "Two Tickets to Broadway" (1951) and "Million Dollar Mermaid" (1952). For "Small Town Girl" (1953), he staged several memorable dance numbers, including Bobby Van's hopping street dance through town. After choreographing "Easy to Love" (1953) and "Rose Marie" (1954), Berkeley stepped away from Hollywood for a spell before returning to make his final film as a choreographer on "Billy Rose's Jumbo" (1962), starring Doris Day. He settled into semiretirement, traveling the lecture circuit and directing the occasional commercial, as well as appearing for the first time on screen in the spy comedy "The Phynx" (1970), before returning to Broadway for a revival of "No No Nanette" (1971). Berkeley entered into permanent retirement and died five years later on March 14, 1976 in Palm Springs, CA, from natural causes. He was 80 years old and was survived by his sixth wife, Elizabeth Berkeley (née Dunn). His previous five marriages were brief, and included the likes of silent film star Merna Kennedy and character actress Esther Muir.

By Shawn Dwyer

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

Jumbo (1962)
2nd unit Director
Million Dollar Mermaid (1952)
Fountain and Smoke number staged by
Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949)
Director
Cinderella Jones (1946)
Director
The Gang's All Here (1943)
Director
Girl Crazy (1943)
"I Got Rhythm" number Director by
For Me and My Gal (1942)
Director
Babes on Broadway (1942)
Director
Born to Sing (1942)
Finale "Ballad for Americans" Director
Ziegfeld Girl (1941)
Music numbers Director
Lady Be Good (1941)
Music numbers Director
Blonde Inspiration (1941)
Director
Strike Up the Band (1940)
Director
Forty Little Mothers (1940)
Director
Broadway Serenade (1939)
Finale number created and Director by
They Made Me a Criminal (1939)
Director
Fast and Furious (1939)
Director
Babes in Arms (1939)
Director
Men Are Such Fools (1938)
Director
Comet over Broadway (1938)
Director
Hollywood Hotel (1938)
Director
Garden of the Moon (1938)
Director
The Go Getter (1937)
Director
Stage Struck (1936)
Director
Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)
Director
I Live for Love (1935)
Director
Bright Lights (1935)
Director
Roman Scandals (1933)
Prod numbers Director
She Had to Say Yes (1933)
Director

Cast (Feature Film)

The Phynx (1970)
Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)
Backstage call boy

Dance (Feature Film)

Rose Marie (1954)
Music numbers staged by
Easy to Love (1953)
Music numbers created and Director by
Small Town Girl (1953)
Music numbers staged by
The Blue Veil (1951)
Dance Director
Call Me Mister (1951)
Dances staged by
Two Tickets to Broadway (1951)
Music numbers created and Director by
Two Weeks with Love (1950)
Music numbers staged by
Romance on the High Seas (1948)
Music numbers created and Director by
The Gang's All Here (1943)
Dances created and Director by
Gold Diggers in Paris (1938)
Music numbers created and Director by
The Singing Marine (1937)
Music numbers created and Director
Varsity Show (1937)
Finale created and Director by
Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936)
Music numbers created and Director by
Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)
Dances created and staged
In Caliente (1935)
Numbers created and Director by
Stars over Broadway (1935)
Numbers staged and Director by
Dames (1934)
Numbers created and Director by
Wonder Bar (1934)
Numbers created and Director
Fashions of 1934 (1934)
Numbers created and Director
Footlight Parade (1933)
Numbers created and Director by
Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)
Numbers created and Director
42nd Street (1933)
Dance Director
Night World (1932)
Dances staged by
Bird of Paradise (1932)
Choreographer
Sky Devils (1932)
Dance Director
The Kid from Spain (1932)
Numbers created and Director
Flying High (1931)
Dances created by
Palmy Days (1931)
Dances and ensembles by
Kiki (1931)
Dances staged by
Whoopee! (1930)
Dances and ensembles staged by

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

Going Hollywood: The War Years (1988)
Other

Cast (Special)

Ruby Keeler, The Queen of Nostalgia (1998)

Music (Special)

Robert Zemeckis on Smoking, Drinking and Drugging in the 20th Century: In Pursuit of Happiness (1999)
Song Performer

Cast (Short)

We Must Have Music (1941)
Himself
Things You Never See on the Screen (1935)
Himself
A Trip Thru a Hollywood Studio (1935)
Himself
And She Learned About Dames (1934)
Himself
Hollywood Newsreel (1934)
Himself

Music (Short)

Three Cheers for the Girls (1943)
Music

Dance (Short)

Calling All Girls (1942)
Choreographer
Plane Nuts (1933)
Choreographer

Life Events

1917

Enlisted in US Army the day before USA entered WWI; served as second lieutenant in the artillery where he worked out trick precision drills for 1200 men in parade formation; served with Third Army of Occupation in Germany as entertainment officer

1920

Acting debut in stock company production of "The Man Who Came Back" (date approximate)

1923

Performed and directed on Broadway and in stock before going to Hollywood

1927

First success on Broadway as dance director, Rodgers and Hart's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court"

1932

Loaned to Warner Bros. to choreograph "42nd Street" (1933)

1933

For First National, made co-directing debut (with George Amy), "She Had to Say Yes"

1933

Signed with Warner Bros.

1934

Provided dances for "Dames"

1935

Solo directing debut (also choreographer), "Gold Diggers of 1935"; received Oscar nomination in the dance direction category

1936

Received second dance direction Academy Award nomination for "Gold Diggers of 1937"

1937

Earned third Oscar nomination for dance direction of "Varsity Show"; category discontinued after this year

1943

Choreographed the MGM remake "Girl Crazy"

1943

Served as dance director for "The Gang's All Here"; choreographed the "Lady With the Tutti Frutti Hat" number for Carmen Miranda

1946

Attempted suicide and was temporarily placed in a Los Angeles psychiatric hospital (date approximate)

1949

Last film as director, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game"

1962

Worked as second unit director on "Jumbo/Billy Rose's Jumbo" (directed by Charles Walters)

1970

Appeared in feature film "The Phynx"

1971

Returned to Broadway as supervisor of revival of "No, No, Nanette"

Photo Collections

Strike Up the Band - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are some photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's Strike Up the Band (1940), starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland and directed by Busby Berkeley.
Footlight Parade - Lobby Cards
Here are several Lobby Cards from Footlight Parade (1933). Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
For Me and My Gal - Movie Posters
Here are a few original-release American movie posters from For Me and My Gal (1942), starring Judy Garland and Gene Kelly.
For Me and My Gal - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a few photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of For Me and My Gal (1942), directed by Busby Berkeley, and starring Judy Garland and Gene Kelly.

Videos

Movie Clip

Fashions Of 1934 (1934) - Spin A Little Web Of Dreams Nearly an hour into the picture and finally the big (and only) Busby Berkeley number, Verree Teasdale’s song, by Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal, introduces a feather and fashion-based production, gowns per usual by Orry-Kelly, in Warner Bros.’ Fashions Of 1934, 1934, starring William Powell and Bette Davis.
Gold Diggers Of 1937 (1936) - All's Fair In Love And War Busby Berkeley’s dance direction at last with some scale in the finalè number, Dick Powell and Lee Dixon, with Joan Blondell and Rosalind Marquis, in a Harry Warren/Al Dubin original composition for Warner Bros., in what was technically the 5th film in the series (counting the lost silents), in Gold Diggers Of 1937, 1936.
Gold Diggers Of 1935 (1935) - Our Brief Summer Season A dazzling though delicate opening by Busby Berkeley, to an untitled tune by Harry Warren, no vocals and no stars but remarkable design, shooting and editing, leading to Grant Mitchell addressing his hotel staff, in Gold Diggers Of 1935, 1935, starring Dick Powell and Gloria Stuart.
Gold Diggers Of 1935 (1935) - Name The First One After Me At the “Wentworth Plaza,” various staffs discussing tipping, Ray Cooke with bellhops, George Beranger with waiters, Nora Cecil with maids and Arthur Aylesworth with bartenders, then manager Grant Mitchell with Dorothy Dare and Dick Powell as couple Dick and Arline, early in Warner Bros.’ Gold Diggers Of 1935, 1935.
Gold Diggers Of 1935 - Lullaby Of Broadway Just a portion, featuring dancers "Ramon & Rosita" then the company, from Busby Berkeley's giant production of Lullaby Of Broadway by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, in Gold Diggers of 1935.
Easy To Love (1953) - -- You Said She Swims And Types New York night club attraction Barry (Tony Martin) has gotten an audition for visiting underpaid-overworked Florida aquatic star Julie (Esther Williams) with producer Levenson (Benny Rubin), with a small scale Busby Berkeley swimming bit, in MGM’s Easy To Love, 1953.
Easy To Love (1953) - -- Water-Ski Finalè These days it might prompt snark about “jumping the shark” but not in 1953, with Busby Berkeley’s giant undertaking on Lake Eloise at Cypress Gardens, Fla., Esther Williams playing aquatic star Julie, did lots of water-skiing but not the tricks, in Easy To Love, from MGM and producer Joe Pasternak.
Gold Diggers Of 1935 (1935) - I'm Goin' Shoppin' With You Dick Powell as med-student and summer bellhop “Dick” with Gloria Stuart as semi-debutante Ann, just hired to escort her on shopping and other business, song by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, Busby Berkeley directing, in Warner Bros.’ Gold Diggers Of 1935, 1935.
42nd Street (1933) -- Title Song Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell sing about "naughty, gaudy, bawdy, sporty 42nd Street" (1933) in Busby Berkeley's lavish closing number.
42nd Street -- I'm Young And Healthy Billy Lawler (Dick Powell) sings "I'm Young and Healthy," another Al Dubin/Harry Warren original, from Warner Bros.' musical within the musical 42nd Street (1933) choreographed by Busby Berkeley.
Hollywood Hotel (1938) - Mona Marshall In Glamour Girl The real Mona having a tantrum, her stunt double Virginia (Rosemary Lane) has been recruited to stand-in at her premiere, featuring another Louella Parsons appearance, escorted by studio hack Bernie (Allyn Joslyn) and newly signed singer Ronnie (Dick Powell), who doesn’t know about the swap, Ronald Reagan handling introductions, in Warner Bros.’ Hollywood Hotel, 1938.
Hollywood Hotel - Opening Credits Opening credits from Warner Bros.' Hollywood Hotel, 1938, directed by Busby Berkeley, starring Dick Powell and Lola and Rosemary Lane, songs by Dick Whiting and Johnny Mercer.

Trailer

Girl Crazy (1943) - (Original Trailer) A womanizing playboy finds true love when he's sent to a desert college in Girl Crazy (1943) starring Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney.
Lady Be Good - (Original Trailer) None of the plot but all of the Gershwin songs like "Fascinatin' Rhythm" in MGM's version of Lady Be Good (1941).
Singing Marine, The - (Original Trailer) A young Marine (Dick Powell) develops an inflated ego after winning a talent contest in The Singing Marine (1937), the movie that gave the U.S. Marines their theme song.
Garden of the Moon - (Original Trailer) A nightclub owner and a band leader compete for the heart of the lead singer at the Garden Of The Moon (1938) directed by Busby Berkeley.
Bright Lights (1935) - (Original Trailer) Husband-and-wife vaudeville stars separate when success goes to his head in Busby Berkeley's Bright Lights (1935).
Broadway Serenade - (Original Trailer) Career conflicts threaten the marriage of a singer (Jeanette MacDonald) to a young composer (Lew Ayres) in this MGM musical.
Born to Sing - (Original Trailer) The Busby Berkeley-choreographed "Ballad For Americans" is a highlight of the MGM musical Born To Sing (1942).
Blonde Inspiration - (Original Trailer) A pulp-fiction writer hires a curvaceous blonde to be his muse in Blonde Inspiration (1941) directed by Busby Berkeley.
40 Little Mothers - (Original Trailer) A girls' school teacher (Eddie Cantor) stumbles on an abandoned baby in 40 Little Mothers (1940) directed by Busby Berkeley.
Two Weeks With Love - (Original Trailer) Two sisters (Jane Powell, Debbie Reynolds) find romance during a turn-of-the-century family vacation in MGM's Technicolor musical Two Weeks With Love (1950).
Babes On Broadway - (Original Trailer) Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney "put on a show" in Busby Berkeley's Babes On Broadway (1941).
Varsity Show - (Original Trailer) Broadway producer Dick Powell has trouble staging a college variety show, so he calls in Busby Berkeley in Varisty Show (1937).

Family

Gertrude Berkeley
Mother
Actor. Died in 1946; acted and toured with Tim Frawley repertory company.
Francis Enos
Father
Stage director, actor. Died when Berkeley was a child.
George Enos
Brother
Died when Berkeley was in his teens.

Companions

Esther Muir
Wife
Actor. Married c. 1929; divorced in 1931.
Merna Kennedy
Wife
Actor. Married in 1934; divorced in 1935.
Etta Berkeley
Wife
Sixth wife.

Bibliography

Notes

Nicknamed after turn-of-the-century New York stage star Amy Busby.