A Year: Day to Day Men: 29th of November, Solar Year 2018
November 29, 1895 was the birthdate of choreographer Busby Berkeley.
Born William Berkeley Enos in California, Busby Burkeley, enlisted for service in the military during World War I. He oversaw military drills for both the American and French forces, an experience which would give him inspiration in later years. Taking advantage of his mother’s theatrical connections, Burkeley became an entertainment officer, directing and producing plays for the American troops in postwar Germany.
Taking the name of Busby Berkeley, he turned to the stage after the war, finding his forte was directing musicals. In 1927, Berkeley choreographed the Rogers and Hart musical “A Connecticut Yankee”, which was a tremendous success, making him one of Broadway’s most-coveted choreographers. Following that success, he choreographed, directed, and produced the 1929 musical “The Street Singer”.
Success brought Busby Berkeley to the attention of Hollywood. Samuel Goldwyn had him work on comedian Eddie Cantor’s film “Whoopee”, previously a production on Broadway by Flo Ziegfeld. Berkeley choreographed and directed the dance numbers in the film. He late worked on the Bert Lahr musical “Flying High” and the 1932 “Night World” with its night club scenes.
Busby Berkeley decided to move to the Warner Brothers Studio; this is where his most famous work was done. In 1933, he staged the dances for three musicals now regarded as classics: “Gold Diggers of 1933”, “42nd Street”, and “Footlight Parade”. All three films were backstage stories, concerned with the production of a Broadway show. The musical numbers Berkeley created were a opulent fantasy universe, using camera angles and movements that produced views unable to be seen by a sitting audience. Placing his camera directly above the action, he often showed his ensemble of performers moving in precise geometric formations.
In 1935, Warner Brothers made Busby Berkeley a full-fledged director, He produced one of his best works, “Gold Diggers of 1935”, an account of the events at a summer resort showcasing the musical number “Lullaby of Broadway” sung by Wini Shaw. This song won an Academy Award in 1936 and Berkeley was nominated for an Oscar for best dance director. He won his second Oscar for his work of choreography in “Gold diggers of 1937”.
Beginning in the 1960s, Berkeley’s films enjoyed a nostalgic revival, with both critics and film lovers showing renewed interest in his work. He himself returned briefly to Broadway in 1970 to supervise a production of “No No Nanette” with Ruby Keelre, the star of his three great 1933 films.