His name was Berkeley William Enos, maybe, but fans of Depression Era America knew him as Busby Berkeley. He became the King of Dance Choreography starting with an Eddie Cantor musical in 1931. This is a look at his career between 1930 and 1937, that formed his legacy.
We know he was born on November 29, 1885, what we don't know is what his name was?
His father was Francis Enos, and his mother actress Gertrude Berkeley. Francis managed the "Tim Frawley Stock Company", of stage actors and performers, in which Gertrude was a member.
The problem is that his birth certificate doesn't have an entry under "Child's Name" and depending upon who you talk too, or what author's biography you read. The boy was christened either William Berkeley Enos, or Busby Berkeley William Enos. Adding to the confusion is that the name, or nickname, "Busby", came from his mother's friend, actress Amy Busby.
Whatever the truth about his name is, Busby Berkeley grew up with actors and performers learning their trade, but in 1917, or some state 1918. After the United States entered the First World War, Busby Berkeley became Army Artillery Lieutenant Berkeley and found himself drilling soldiers in complex movements and putting on shows to entertain the new and returning troops stateside.
After his service, Busby became a stage actor, but his dancing skills and choreography talents came to the forefront and he became a musical director. Berkeley became known for not caring about the dancing skills of the chorus girls, as their ability to form intricate patterns for production numbers. In 1927, Florenz Ziegfeld hired Busby Berkeley to create the dance routines for his Broadway musical production of Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court". The music was written by Richard Rodgers and the lyrics by Lorenz Hart, the show ran for 421 performances.
Eddie Cantor's Broadway musical "Whoopee" was about to be turned into a motion picture and the star requested that Busby Berkeley, who choreographed the stage play, choreograph the film, Florenz Ziegfeld agreed, and Busby's film career began.
WHOOPEE released on September 30, 1930
"Whoopee" was a pre-motion picture production code film. That meant the censors hadn't yet taken control, that would be in 1934, and at this time, as Cole Porter's future song title would say, "Anything Goes".
Western Sheriff "Bob Wells", played by Jack Rutherford, is preparing to marry the lovely "Sally Morgan", played by Eleanor Hunt. While "Sally" is in love with part Native American "Wanenis", played by Paul Gregory, whose race is an obstacle to marriage in her father's view. "Sally" comes up with a plan and tricks farmhand and hypochondriac "Henry Williams", played by Eddie Cantor, to drive her to the ranch of "Jerome Underwood", played by Spencer Charters. What "Henry" doesn't know is that "Sally" left a note that she just eloped with him. Meanwhile, the two are being followed by Henry's Nurse "Mary Custer", played by Ethel Shutta, who keeps trying to seduce him throughout the picture.
Busby not only had to learn how to make a movie, but the picture was also being filmed in two-strip-Technicolor, which added to his needed immediate education.
"Whoopee" was the motion picture that turned Broadway musical comedy star Eddie Cantor into a motion picture musical comedy star.
The feature was a Samuel Goldwyn co-production with Ziegfeld. Among the "Goldwyn Girl's" that Busby Berkeley didn't care about their dancing skills were future actresses, Virginia Bruce, Paulette Goddard, Betty Grable, and Ann Southern.
At the time of this writing, the following link will take my reader to videos from "Whoppee", including the first production number Busby Berkeley ever staged for a motion picture.
Eight movies followed with Busby only staging the dance numbers for dramatic pictures. These included Mary Pickford's 1931 "Kiki", 1932's "Sky Devils" starring Spencer Tracy, and the crime drama, 1932's "Night World" starring Lew Ayers, Mae Clarke, and Boris Karloff.
One of the eight was also:
SHE HAD TO SAY YES released on July 15, 1933
This forgotten Lorretta Young motion picture would be the only feature, until 1935, that gave Busby Berkeley on-screen Directing credit. He was the co-director with George Amy. There are no production numbers and the story is about Depression Era stenographers being made to "entertain business customers". I could not locate what part of the motion picture was directed by Busby Berkeley, but these "girls" would take their "customers" to see live shows and they're probably the areas in the film he directed.
Above the stars, Lorretta Young and Lyle Talbot.
42ND STREET premiering at "The Strang Theatre", in New York City, on March 9, 1933
This "Best Picture Academy Award" nominated musical drama was directed by Lloyd Bacon. The versatile director had also filmed the 1929 drama "Honky Tonk" starring Sophie Tucker, John Barrymore's 1930 "Moby Dick", and would film, the Joe E. Brown 1932 comedy "Fireman, Save My Child", and the Pat O'Brien, Ann Sheridan, and Humphrey Bogart, 1937 "San Quentin".
Bradford Ropes wrote the novel the screenplay was based upon and was also a professional dancer. Ropes also wrote the story for the Al Jolson and Ruby Keeler crime drama musical, 1935's "Go Into Your Dance", and Gene Autry's 1940 "Melody Ranch".
The actual screenplay was from two writers, Rian James would later adapt author S.S. Van Dine's novel "The Dragon Murder Case" into the 1934 movie starring Warren William as "Philo Vance", and co-write the horror comedy, 1939's "The Gorilla" for the Ritz Brothers.
James Seymour would co-write the next two Busby Berkeley motion pictures I want to mention. Seymour also worked on the screenplay for the W.C. Fields classic 1939, "You Can't Cheat an Honest Man", co-starring Edger Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.
For the year it was released, this was an all-star cast, and I've selected some members to introduce my reader too.
Warner Baxter portrayed "Julian Marsh". In 1928, Baxter was in one of the last silent movies, "West of Zanzibar" starring Lon Chaney and Lionel Barrymore, and the same year brought "The Cisco Kid" to the sound movie screen and repeated the role in 1931. In 1936, the actor was "Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd", who made the mistake of unknowingly treating John Wilkes Booth after he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in "The Prisoner of Shark Island". My article, "The History of the Cisco Kid on the Motion Picture and Television Screens", can be read at:
Bebe Daniels portrayed "Dorothy Brock". Daniels had been acting since 1910 and portrayed "Dorothy Gale" in that years "Wizard of Oz". In 1931, she had first billing portraying "Ruth Wonderly" in the original film version of Dashiell Hammett's "The Maltese Falcon" co-starring Ricardo Cortez as "Sam Spade". My article on the writing of the novel and all three motion pictures entitled, "The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of': The Maltese Falcon in Writing and on the Motion Picture Screen", will be found at:
George Brent portrayed "Pat Denning". Brent started out as an "Extra" in the 1924 western, "The Iron Horse", directed by the uncredited John Ford. In 1939, Brent co-starred in two major productions, "Dark Victory" with Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart, and, "The Rains Came" with Myrna Loy and Tyrone Power. The following year his co-stars were Pat O'Brien and James Cagney in 1940's "The Fighting 69th".
Ruby Keeler portrayed "Peggy Sawyer". At the time of this picture, the singer and dancer was married to Al Jolson. This was Keeler's second on-screen appearance, but her first was an uncredited cameo at a movie premiere.
Dick Powell portrayed "Bill Lawler". Most people overlook that the future dramatic actor and film director started his career as a song and dance man. This was his fifth motion picture, technically in one only his voice was heard on the radio, and later as an actor he portrayed "Philip Marlowe", which broke that song and dance image, in 1944's "Murder, My Sweet". As a director, Powell directed the 1956 "The Conqueror" starring John Wayne and Susan Hayward, look the film up, because it was shot unknowingly on the Second World War nuclear bomb test site and the amount of deaths from cancer within the cast and crew, including Powell, is legendary.
Una Merkel portrayed "Lorraine Fleming". She had an interesting career mainly in supporting roles. Her first major role was as "Ann Rutledge" in director D.W. Griffith's 1930 "Abraham Lincoln". In 1931, Merkel portrayed "Sam Spade's" secretary, "Effie Perine", in the original "The Maltese Falcon". However, fans of the Marlene Dietrich and James Stewart's 1939 "Destry Rides Again", know Una Merkel for her saloon fight with Dietrich. A year later, she co-starred with W.C. Fields in 1940's "The Bank Dick", and Merkel was the maid who figured out the truth of the switched twins in Walt Disney's original 1961 "The Parent Trap" starring Haley Mills, Maureen O'Hara, and Brian Keith.
Ginger Rodgers portrayed "Ann Lowell". Rodgers was ten motion pictures away from 1933's "Flying Down to Rio", in which she was first teamed with Fred Astaire.
Above left to right, Bebe Daniels, Ginger Rodgers, and Una Merkel.
Guy Kibbee portrayed "Abner Dillon". Character actor Kibbee had just co-starred with Joan Blondall and Wallace Ford in the crime drama, 1932's "Central Park". He followed this musical with a comedy mystery starring Glenda Farrell and Ben Lyon, 1933's "Girl Missing".
However, this picture is really about Busby Berkeley, and I quote film critic Dennis Schwartz looking back on August 5, 2019 :
The musical film was changed forever by this innovative one, while due to its tremendous box office appeal it not only saved Warner Brothers from bankruptcy but made it into a major studio. Busby Berkeley … created numbers tailored-made for this film that exceeded the previous conventional limits... One can’t say enough good things about what Busby Berkeley did for the musical...The unneeded melodramatics get in the way of the musical numbers and the fun atmospheric backstage happenings. But when the music is blasting away, this becomes a magical picture and all is forgiven.
The following three stills are from the three-minute and forty-two second "Grand Finale" number staged by Busby Berkeley for "42nd Street".
Warren William portrayed "J. Lawrence Bradford". He would play both fictional characters "Philo Vance" and "Perry Mason" on screen, and "Julius Caesar" in Cecil B. DeMille's 1934 "Cleopatra" starring Claudette Colbert.
Joan Blondell portrayed "Carol King". Blondell had been 4th billed in James Cagney's 1931 "Public Enemy", co-starred with Barbara Stanwyck and Ben Lyon in the 1931 drama "Night Nurse", showed her comic style starring in the forgotten 1932 "The Greeks Had a Word for Them", and had the title role in the equally forgotten comedy, 1933's "Blondie Johnson" co-starring with Chester Morris.
Dick Powell portrayed "Brad Roberts". This was Powell's follow-up to "42nd Street".
Ginger Rodgers portrayed "Fay Fortune". Rodgers had just been seen in 1933's "Broadway Bad" co-starring with Joan Blondell and Ricardo Cortez. She would follow this picture with 1933's "Professional Sweetheart" co-starring with Norman Foster and Zasu Pitts.
The screenplay makes reference to "The Great Depression", as does the great Ginger Rodgers and Busby Berkeley number of "We're in the Money".
Three of the four girls, "Polly", "Carol", and "Trixie" share an apartment. The three and "Fay" are to be in a show by producer "Barney Hopkins", played by Ned Sparks. Sparks was "Thomas Barry" in "42nd Street". "Hopkins" has everything to put the show on, but money. It just so happens that "Polly's" boyfriend and neighbor, "Brad Roberts", is a great song writer and offers his $15,000 dollars to back the show, but not to be in it. Of course, he's really a millionaire and his brother, "J. Lawrence Bradford" and the family lawyer, "Faneul H. Peabody", are trying to stop "Brad" from ruining the family fortune, but everything works itself out in the end with "Polly" and "Brad" married, "J. Lawrence" marrying "Carol", and "Trixie" marrying "Peabody".
So, let's look at three Busby Berkeley production numbers and start with four stills from "We're in the Money".
Busby Berkeley's name appeared in the cast and crew listing as "Additional Crew", "numbers created and directed by"
FOOTLIGHT PARADE premiered on September 30, 1933
The cast was familiar, but after begging the "Warner Brothers" executives for over two straight years, song and dance man, James Cagney, finally was seen in his first musical as "Chester Kent". Before this picture, Cagney was in the 1933 crime drama, "The Mayor of Hell", and afterwards, the comedy crime feature, 1933's "Lady Killer" co-starring with Mae Clarke.
Dick Powell portrayed "Scotty Blair". Powell had followed "Gold Diggers of 1933" with two musical shorts, 1933's "Sky Symphony" and "The Road is Open Again". After this feature he had first billing in a sport's drama, 1933's "College Coach", co-starring with Ann Dvorak and Pat O'Brien.
"Kent's" secretary "Nan Prescott" has fallen in love with her boss, who doesn't seem to notice, and is doing everything she can do help his career. While, "Kent's" business partners have a possible big deal with the largest movie theater group in the country, IF "Chester Kent" can come up with three big production "Prologues".
Enter Busby Berkeley:
The following stills are from the "Kitty Kat" number:
The story was from two writers, playwright George S. Kaufman, who also wrote the Marx Brothers stage play "The Cocoanuts", and their stage play "Animal Crackers".
Playwright Robert E. Sherwood wrote the stage plays "Waterloo Bridge", "The Petrified Forest", and the "Pulitzer Prize Winning" "Abe Lincoln in Illinois".
The actual screenplay was written by William Anthony McGuire. After this feature he wrote the screenplays for 1936's "The Great Ziegfeld", 1940's "Lillian Russell", and 1941's "Ziegfeld Girl".
As to plot, think Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court". As a kind hearted young man from Rome, Oklahoma, falls asleep and sees himself in ancient Rome, Italy.
Gloria Stuart portrayed "Princess Sylvia". Stuart portrayed "Flora Cranley", just before this picture, in director James Whale's 1933 "The Invisible Man" starring Claude Rains. At the age of 87, Stuart was "Old Rose" at the start of director James Cameron's 1997 "Titanic".
Eddie Cantor accidently vacuums a women's skirt off, moves a curtain to cover her, and reveals a naked woman in the shower.
The nude slave girls, seen below, have strategically placed coverings, that always didn't work and no one really cared but the censors, who had no real power yet.
Two scenes from the production numbers by Busby Berkeley.
FIASHIONS OF 1934 released on February 14, 1934
The picture was directed by William Dieterle. He had just directed Bette Davis in the 1934 drama "Fog Over Frisco", and would follow this feature with the mystery, 1934's "The Firebird".
When a Manhattan investment firm goes broke, the owners join a fashion designer to provide cheap knock-offs of Paris originals in a chain of discount clothing stores.
William Powell portrayed "Sherwood Nash". He had just been detective "Philo Vance" in 1933's "The Kennel Murder Case". He followed this picture co-starring with Clark Gable and Myrna Loy in 1934's "Manhattan Melodrama", the movie John Dillinger saw before being gunned down outside the movie theater by the FBI.
Bette Davis portrayed "Lynn Mason". She was just in 1934's "The Big Shakedown", and followed this movie with 1934's "Jimmy the Gent" co-starring James Cagney.
Busby Berkeley's name appeared under "The Music Department" with the credit as "musical numbers creator and director".
Under the heading of "Additional Crew" is "numbers created and directed by" Busby Berkeley.
The motion picture was directed by Ray Enright. Enright was a "B" director of dramas, and musicals. His films include both, Joan Blondell's' 1933 "Blondie Johnson", and, "Havana Widows", and her 1934 "I've Got Your Number". Also in 1934, Enright directed the musical comedy, "20 Million Sweet Hearts" starring Dick Powell, Pat O'Brien, and Ginger Rodgers.
Joan Blondell portrayed "Mabel Anderson". She had just been seen in 1934's "Smarty" co-starring Warren William, and followed this feature with 1934's "Kansas City Princess" co-starring with Glenda Farrell and Robert Armstrong.
Ruby Keeler portrayed "Barbara Hemmingway". Her previous film was 1933's "Footlight Parade" and she followed this picture with 1934's "Flirtation Walk" co-starring with Dick Powell and Pat O'Brien.
A multi-millionaire, "Ezra Ounce", decides to boycott "Filthy Broadway Shows". He decides to make a highly moral one of his own. To star, "Ezra" uses the perfect family, his own relatives, the "Hemmingway's". However, his niece "Barbara's" boyfriend, her 13th cousin, is song writer "Jimmy Higgins" with a show going nowhere. In the end, "Ezra" backs "Barbara" and "Jimmy", and makes his own "Filthy Broadway Show"
Once again, Busby Berekley was listed under "Additional Crew" as "numbers created and directed by".
Adolphe Menjou portrayed "Nicolai Nicoleff". Menjou had been on-screen since 1914, and had just co-starred with Wallace Beery, and Virginia Bruce in 1934's "The Might Barnum" written by contract writer John Huston. Among Adolphe Menjou's later films would be 1937's original "A Star is Born" starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, 1942's "Roxie Hart" starring Ginger Rodgers, and director Stanley Kubrick's 1957 "Paths of Glory" starring Kirk Douglas.
Winifred Shaw portrayed "Winny". She was just in the 1934 musical "Sweet Adeline" starring Irene Dunne, Donald Woods, and Hugh Herbert. Shaw followed this picture with 1935's "The Case of the Curious Bride" starring Warren William as "Perry Mason".
This film is famous for probably the greatest production number designed and directed by Busby Berkeley. In his 1981, "The Hollywood Musical", author Clive Hirschhorn writes this about the:
"Lullaby of Broadway" – One of the most famous Busby Berkeley numbers is actually a short film-within-a-film, which tells the story of a Broadway Baby who plays all night and sleeps all day. It opens with a head shot of singer Wini Shaw against a black background, then the camera pulls back and up, and Shaw's head becomes the Big Apple, New York City. As everyone rushes off to work, Shaw returns home from her night's carousing and goes to sleep. When she awakens, that night, we follow her and her beau (Dick Powell) from club to club, with elaborate large cast tap numbers, until she is accidentally pushed off a balcony to her death. The sequence ends with a return to Shaw's head, as she sings the end of the song. Of all the musical numbers Berkeley created in his career, he named this as his personal favorite
Two where 1935 musicals starring Dolores del Rio. For her "In Caliente", Busby was "Additional Crew" with credit for "numbers created and directed by", but for del Rio's second, the musical comedy "I Live for Love", Busby Berkeley directed the entire motion picture and was also the uncredited choreographer.
For, 1935's "Stars Over Broadway", Busby Berkeley was one of two members of the "Additional Crew" for the same billing of "numbers created and directed by". The other choreographer was Bobby Connolly, but what each actually did, I could not locate.
The leading lady in "Stars Over Broadway" was popular singer, Jane Froman, who portrayed the character of "Joan Garrett". In February 1943, the "USO" tour plane Jane Froman was on, crashed in the Targus River, in Lisbon, Portugal. She was rescued by the co-pilot and was one of the few survivors. However, Jane Froman's left leg was almost severed below her knee, she suffered multiple fractures of her right arm, a compound fracture of her right leg which almost had to be amputated. Yet, less than a year later, Froman appeared on the Broadway stage in a wheel chair. In 1952, Susan Hayward starred in the musical biography of Jane Froman, "With a Song in My Heart", with the singer providing Hayward's singing voice.
The fourth film was actually a short, 1936's "Changing of the Guard", and Busby Berkeley was listed under "Additional Crew" as the "coach to Sybil Jason", the short's star.
GOLD DIGGERS OF 1937 released December 26, 1936
This was the "Warner Brothers" proven formula with Lloyd Bacon back as director.
Dick Powell portrayed "Rosmer Peak". Powell was just in 1936's "Stage Struck" co-starring Joan Blondell and Warren William. After this picture he would appear in 1937's "On the Avenue" with his co-stars being Madeline Carroll and Alice Faye.
Joan Blondell portrayed "Norma Perry". Blondell's proceeding picture had been 1936's "Three Men on a Horse", and she followed this feature with 1937's "The King and the Chorus Girl".
This time we have hypochondriac stage producer, "J.J. Hobart", played by Victor Moore, who is always afraid he's going to die and is about to put on a big show. However, his partner has lost their money in the stock market, hasn't told "Hobart", and needs a way out. A chorus girl suggests getting an insurance policy on the "dying" (?) producer and when he dies, they'll have the money for the show. The partner takes out the policy, but the insurance agent discovers the real reason for the policy. He convinces his boss that it would be cheaper for the company to fund the show then pay the policy if "J.J. Hobart" really dies, which of course he doesn't.
Busby Berkeley was billed under the familiar "Additional Crew" as the "dance director". What was different, at least for Busby, on this picture then his others, was being nominated for the "Academy Award for Best Dance Direction" for "The All's Fair in Love and War" production number.
The plot has the students butt heads with the faculty advisor over doing the annual musical show.
Busby Berkeley was billed under "Additional Crew" as the "creator: finale/director: finale".
The motion picture was directed by Busby Berkeley, but is not remembered for that or the cast. Which includes an uncredited Ronald Reagan in his second motion picture as a "Radio Announcer", an uncredited Carol Landis as a "Hatcheck Girl", and the first on-screen appearance of an uncredited Susan Hayward as a starlet.
"Hollywood Hotel" is only remembered for two lawsuits filed against "Warner Brothers". The first from the "Campbell Soup Company", who sponsored the radio program the "Hollywood Hotel", and wasn't being compensated. The second lawsuit was from "The Hollywood Hotel", itself, for unauthorized use of its name.
From this point forward, even with a swan song for those big productions, 1938's "Gold Diggers in Paris", Busby Berkeley became just another choreographer, or dance instructor in the film industry. In 1939 he created and directed a dance number for Ray Bolger's "Scarecrow" in "The Wizard of Oz" and it was deleted. His next film work wasn't until the 1942 short, "Calling All Girls", and this was new, but outtakes from his previous "Warner Brothers" films.
Between 1943 and 1962, Busby Berkeley was involved with only 12 feature films, but of those 12, five are without credit, and 1950's "Anne Get Your Gun", had all his scenes deleted.