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Busby Berkeley

Biography: 

(1895-1976)

Busby Berkeley, the most extravagant of Hollywood choreographers during the interwar years, was born into a family of show people in Los Angeles. His father, Wilson Enos, was himself a famed stage dance director. Shortly after his birth, they moved to New York, and introduced Berkelely into their vaudeville act at age five. A dancer with modest singing ability, he premiered as a performer in musicals in "Irene." Two years later, in 1921, he began arranging chorus routines. (He claimed to have choreographed entertainments for the occupying third army in Germany after World War I).

He labored for six years before his talents were recognized for their distinctiveness when critics lauded "A Connecticut Yankee." Berkeley won fame for having his ensemble dancers tap counter rhythms to the instrumental jazz score and then split the ensemble into groups creating polyphonic counter rhythms. This method, perfected in "Present Arms," characterized his Broadway work until he left for Hollywood in 1930.

A creator with decided ideas how to do things, Berkeley constantly sought power over the productions in which he participated. He directed several, even produced 1929's "Street Singer," but when the Stock Market crashed mid-way through that show's run, he determined he no longer wished to be financially liable for his productions. Another year on Broadway convinced him that the future lay in Hollywood. There he won immortality for his visual extravaganzas. David S. Shields/ALS