William Berkeley Enos was one of the greatest choreographers of the movie musical who came from a family devoted to entertainment. He was born on November 29, 1895, in Los Angeles, California, USA and both his parents were actors. Unfortunately, his father died when he was a small boy creating a truly strong bond between he and his mother. He 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. Producer Florence Ziegfeld called him to direct the dance routines for his production "A Connecticut Yankee on King Arthur's Court". Eddie Cantor, who starred in the long running Ziegfeld production "Whoopee!" suggested him for creating the dance routine's in its film version, and Ziegfeld agreed. Berkeley was hired for the film, too.
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. But with the second decline of the musical picture in 1938, he had nothing to do as a choreographer. He directed two non musical pictures for Warner Brothers, then he went to MGM, where he choreographed the final number from "Broadway Serenade" with Jeanette MacDonald. As a director and choreographer, he worked on four pictures with the teenage stars Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. He also choreographed the Fascinatin' Rhythm finale for MGM's reigning tapping star, Eleanor Powell in "Lady Be Good".
He directed Gene Kelly in his first picture, in "For Me and My Gal". Kelly, who choreographed his own numbers, learned a lot from Busby Berkeley. He also worked for other studios in the 40s, e.g. for 20th Century - Fox in "The Gang's All Here" with its surrealistic number "The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat".
Busby and The Squad From Gold Diggers
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. A revival of his films in the late Sixties, brought him back to the memory and he was asked to return to Broadway and supervise the dance direction in the Revival of Vincent Youmans musical comedy from 1925. One of the actresses in this production was Ruby Keeler, one of his Leading Ladies from the Warner musicals. (When the production started to Tour in 1972, one of the members was Eleanor Powell). The production was a smash hit, too, and when he entered the stage after the first evening, the house exploded with applause. A strange fact in his career was, that Busby Berkeley never had a dancing lesson, and in his early days, he was very afraid of people finding out. He often drove his producers almost crazy, when he gave orders to build a set and then sitting in front of it for a few days, thinking the numbers over.
Berkeley was dedicated to his mother and she lived with him always. He was married three times, unsuccessfully, to Merna Kennedy, Esther Muir, and Etta Judd.
Berkeley drank a lot. Often times he would sit in his daily bath and drink
martinis. His drinking was his downfall. He was driving late one night and hit
another car, killed two people. He went on trial, and after three trials was
acquitted. 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
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