Busby Berkeley was the man responsible for all that wonderful choreography we see in those glamorous films of the 1930s. Lot’s of beautiful girls in rows or stacked on top of each other. He would create giant sets with hundreds of scantily clad beauties,smiling faces, arms outstretched, legs extended , parading in front of a camera mounted on a monorail. They were grouped in formations to create moving patterns which could weave in and out of the sets.
Some of the sets were pretty spectacular too. Whole city blocks were represented together with lavish gardens and swimming pools. Berkeley worked with some of the biggest stars of the day as well as being responsible for the establishment of some fresh new faces.
Ruby Keeler was probably one of the greatest discoveries of the 1930s and her clumsy hoofer appeal was all the rage. Ruby could dance up a storm on her own and yet still complement the line up without standing out too much on a limb. She and Dick Powell danced their way through ‘Footlight Parade’ and ’42ndStreet’ to an audience base dogged by the great depression and brought good cheer to all. Other films included ‘Zeigfeld Follies with Lana Turner, Judy Garland and Hedy Lamar which was, of course, a winner. With a cast like that how could it not be?
Who better to work with lines of chorus girls than Busby Berkeley just as Zeigfeld had done in his hey day. It was Busby,however, who added dance to what had traditionally been just lines of gorgeous gals in glamorous costumes. Rows of men in tuxedos were also added and they danced too. Busby Berkeley was apparently married six times but these marriages didn’t last long as he was very close to his mother who was herself a former broadway star and a hoofer to boot. Pardon the pun. In 1935 he was driving whilst drunk and crashed. Two people died as a result and Berkeley was charged with manslaughter. His career was put on hold for the duration of the trial but continued to flourish afterwards. He turned to directing and was equally as successful with films including ‘ They Made Me A Criminal’ with John Garfield one of Garfield’s best films. It was always going to be the musicals, however, in which Berkeley excelled and to this very day he is revered as one of the greatest choreographers ever both in film and on the Broadway stage.
So for all you hoofers out there look out for the musicals of the 1930s when Berkeley was in full swing, put on your taps and dance.
© Renee Dallow (Hybiscus Bloom ) 14/10/2014