Birth Name: William Berkeley Enos
Visionary behind the camera
uzz 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 a stage actor and assistant director in smaller acting troops. After being forced to take over the direction of the musical "Holka-Polka" he discovered his talent for staging extravagant dance routines, and became one of the top Broadway dance directors.
First in Hollywood, he wasn't satisfied with the possibilities of his
job - in this time the dance directors trained the dances, staged them
and the director chose the position for the cameras and the editor chose
which of the takes were shown to the audience. Berkeley wanted to direct
the dances himself and convinced the producer Samuel Goldwyn to let him.
One of the first decisions he made, was to use only one camera -he never
used more in his films - and to show close-ups of the chorus girls. Asked
about this he explained: "Well, we've got all these beautiful girls
in the picture, why not let the public see them?". But with the decline
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 were given
a seven years contract.
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 roofs, and he used more dancers from picture to picture, e.g. in "Lullaby of Broadway", his masterpiece, and in "Gold Diggers of 1935" he used about 150 dancers tapping there hearts out.
At the end of the Forties he directed his last picture, "Take Me Out To the Ball Game", but this time the choreography was by Gene Kelly. He did a few numbers in the early Fifties, but at the end of the Fifties he was forgotten. Berkeley was dedicated to his mother and she lived with him always. He was married three times, unsuccessfully.
Berkeley drank a lot. Often times he would sit in his daily bath and drink martinis. His drinking lead to a real tragedy. He was driving late one night and hit another car, killed two people. He went on trial, and after three trials was acquitted, (largely because he was his mother's sole support). He never got over this and it darkened his life from then on. He also attempted suicide after his mother's death and when his career began to slow by slitting his wrists and taking an overdoes of sleeping pills. He was taken to the hospital and kept there for many days and the experience almost drove him completely mad.