5 Things You May Not Know about Busby Berkeley
Like that today is his birthday. Happy 121st Birthday to the legend Busby Berkeley!
1) He was a performer and a fighter
At least that’s what I gather from his childhood. His mother was an actress and this led the young Busby to appear in a few small stage productions as a kid. However, he received most of his formal education at the Mohegan Lake Military Academy in the Hudson Valley region of New York. Which means he trained more as a solider than a creative performer. Which brings us to fact number 2…
2) His started his career as a choreographer in the army
His military experience clearly seen in this number, Remember My Forgotten Man from Gold Diggers of 1933
That’s right, I said the army. Berkeley served as a field artillery lieutenant in World War I, where he was in charge of conducting and directing military parades. After a cease-fire was declared between the warring nations, he was then tasked with putting on stage camp shows for the military men. Considering how his choreography was all about losing the individuals dancers into the complex whole of the number, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that military drills were some of his earliest inspirations.
3) He was a doctor
OK, so he wasn’t an actual doctor. During his time working on Broadway, Berkeley wore many different hats: director, stage manager, producer, dance, director, etc. He often served multiple roles in a single production and was damned good at it. He was so good, in fact, that people referred to him as a “show doctor,” a person who could turn a failing production into a profitable hit. So, I guess that’s close enough to a real doctor, right?
4) He never took a single dance lesson
For a man who revolutionized the musical number, it’s amazing that he never took a dance lesson in his life. This was basically unheard of at the time, but that didn’t stop Berkeley. Because of his lack of dance training, Berkeley had a unique approach to creating musical numbers. He would often have elaborate sets built and sit in them for days on end, thinking about how best to utilize the space for dance numbers.
5) His numbers are subject to intellectual analysis
Since the beginning of the academic study of film, Berkeley’s numbers have been analyzed by film scholars everywhere. Many view his numbers, with their emphasis on how a group of individuals can create something greater than the parts, as a celebration of the collective, and much in the spirit of Roosevelt’s New Deal Program. Berkeley, however, states he had no lofty political ideas in mind when creating his dance numbers. His goal was simple: innovation and creating something that the soundstage had never seen before.
Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub