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Q & A with Jeffrey Spivak about Buzz: The Life & Art of Busby Berkeley

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Re: Q & A with Jeffrey Spivak about Buzz: The Life & Art of Busby Berkeley

Postby Lomm » August 22nd, 2015, 10:09 pm

buzzbbiographer wrote:Let me take a moment to applaud this wonderful site and its beautiful graphic at the top of the page. It is, of course, taken from "The Shadow Waltz" in "Gold Diggers of 1933". The inspiration for the number came from Berkeley's memory. One night, many years before, Buzz saw a lady violin player performing in a night club setting. She twirled while she played, and would elegantly kick her leg high in the air, and drop it slowly to the floor. The cover of my book features the ribbon-like set of the number.

His vision was complete and he instructed his Berkeley girls on the proper method of spinning while playing. Watch the number again and you'll see the slow high kick that was etched permanently in Busby Berkeley's mind:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iN_JXwNudh8

Thank you, I made it myself in anticipation for your visit! :) I don't have a question, (was going to ask about the alcoholism, but you covered that), but I am enjoying reading along very much.

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Re: Q & A with Jeffrey Spivak about Buzz: The Life & Art of Busby Berkeley

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » August 22nd, 2015, 10:27 pm

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I adored all the choreographed synchronized swimming sequences in Million Dollar Mermaid. Do you have any special stories you can share with us about Busby Berkeley's experience on this film?

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Ryan Gosling and Busby Berkeley....

I can imagine how excited you must be to have your biography optioned for a film. Can you share with us what your hopes are once the project is completed? Are there any specific episodes in Busby's life that you have a fondness for seeing on the big screen?

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Re: Q & A with Jeffrey Spivak about Buzz: The Life & Art of Busby Berkeley

Postby Moraldo Rubini » August 23rd, 2015, 1:31 am

I'm a fan of Mr. Berkeley's movies and look forward to reading your book. Though I'm daunted, as my impression is that the bright spots of his life is reflected only in the end product of his work; behind the celluloid it seems a dark tale of alcohol, tragedy and tyranny. Yes?

I'm curious about Busby's transition from black and white kaleidoscopes to the even more dazzling Technicolor spectacles he gave us. Did he prefer color to black and white? How much input did he have on color usage? Did he care, or did just hand the reins to Natalie Kalmus? My understanding is she could be a bit of tyrant herself. Did the two see red with respect to each other?

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Re: Q & A with Jeffrey Spivak about Buzz: The Life & Art of Busby Berkeley

Postby CoffeeDan » August 23rd, 2015, 8:34 am

Thanks for coming to SSO and talking about Busby Berkeley, Mr. Spivak. I too had a copy of The Busby Berkeley Book when it was first published, and I read it to pieces. I'll probably do the same with your book!

My first question is about Busby Berkeley and his working relationship with musical arranger Ray Heindorf. They worked very closely together for Samuel Goldwyn, and I've heard that Buzz refused to sign with Warner Brothers unless they also signed Heindorf as well, saying that Heindorf's arrangements inspired him as much as the girls of the chorus did. Heindorf certainly changed things musically at WB -- did he have the same effect on Berkeley's numbers?

And for that matter, how closely did Berkeley work with his musical arrangers in general?

Second question: How many cameras did Buzz really use when filming his numbers? He always claimed he used a single camera, and that he had a firm sense of how he was going to shoot ahead of time -- "editing in the camera," as it were. But there are so many angles and such rapid cutting in some of his numbers, plus his groundbreaking use of the moving camera, that it doesn't seem possible. Some post-production work had to be necessary -- can you shed some light on his working methods in this respect?

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Re: Q & A with Jeffrey Spivak about Buzz: The Life & Art of Busby Berkeley

Postby buzzbbiographer » August 23rd, 2015, 9:15 am

CoffeeDan wrote:Thanks for coming to SSO and talking about Busby Berkeley, Mr. Spivak. I too had a copy of The Busby Berkeley Book when it was first published, and I read it to pieces. I'll probably do the same with your book!

My first question is about Busby Berkeley and his working relationship with musical arranger Ray Heindorf. They worked very closely together for Samuel Goldwyn, and I've heard that Buzz refused to sign with Warner Brothers unless they also signed Heindorf as well, saying that Heindorf's arrangements inspired him as much as the girls of the chorus did. Heindorf certainly changed things musically at WB -- did he have the same effect on Berkeley's numbers?

And for that matter, how closely did Berkeley work with his musical arrangers in general?

Second question: How many cameras did Buzz really use when filming his numbers? He always claimed he used a single camera, and that he had a firm sense of how he was going to shoot ahead of time -- "editing in the camera," as it were. But there are so many angles and such rapid cutting in some of his numbers, plus his groundbreaking use of the moving camera, that it doesn't seem possible. Some post-production work had to be necessary -- can you shed some light on his working methods in this respect?


Ray Heindorf was among the many unsung (and uncredited) workmen in the studio era. He arranged the numbers in the Warner Bros. years (and, as you point out, for Samuel Goldwyn where Berkeley got his start). It was Leo Forbstein who always received credit as Musical Director. The arranger was never revealed.

I'm not aware of Buzz refusing to sign with Warner Bros. if Heindorf wasn't included. Sounds a bit preposterous, since Buzz jumped at the chance to leave Goldwyn's employ. He also struck up a great rapport with then studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck. I don't believe he jeopardized his new lofty position with an ultimatum.

As far as Berkeley's working relationship with arrangers, I couldn't gauge, nor did I mention such relationships in my book. Buzz did, however, confer with song writers frequently when he gave them ideas or they reciprocated.

Buzz worked with a single camera always. Hard to believe that this austere method of shooting could be successful in major motion pictures of the day. Berkeley edited in his head. He "measured twice and drilled once" to borrow an expression. Yes, things outside of what had been planned occurred (an earthquake took place during "The Shadow Waltz" shoot), so they had to regroup and shoot again, but with a single camera. It was Buzz's appendage, that camera, and he shot in sequence when at all possible. The studio editors had little to do but tack one camera roll after another since Berkeley didn't employ multi-camera setups. If there were rapid cutting between sequences (as in "By A Waterfall"), Berkeley supervised the final product, but each snippet was filmed with the single camera, a technique he employed from his first film "Whoopee!" to "Jumbo", his last.

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Re: Q & A with Jeffrey Spivak about Buzz: The Life & Art of Busby Berkeley

Postby buzzbbiographer » August 23rd, 2015, 9:31 am

Moraldo Rubini wrote:I'm a fan of Mr. Berkeley's movies and look forward to reading your book. Though I'm daunted, as my impression is that the bright spots of his life is reflected only in the end product of his work; behind the celluloid it seems a dark tale of alcohol, tragedy and tyranny. Yes?

I'm curious about Busby's transition from black and white kaleidoscopes to the even more dazzling Technicolor spectacles he gave us. Did he prefer color to black and white? How much input did he have on color usage? Did he care, or did just hand the reins to Natalie Kalmus? My understanding is she could be a bit of tyrant herself. Did the two see red with respect to each other?


It wouldn't be just Busby Berkeley whose earthly existence was a lot somber and darker than the spectacle of women playing neon violins. He led a full life, highs, lows, with self-inflicted wounds both physical and emotional. In a number of ways, the 1981 film "Pennies From Heaven" illustrates the dichotomy of the uplifting songs of the depression (danced in the Busby Berkeley style) with the drudgery of everyday life.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBGeMht0NTw


I laughed at the double meaning of your last question. I don't recall reading anything where Berkeley compared black and white to Technicolor, but I'll venture a guess that he liked color a great deal more. He was a showman, and when you add three-strip Technicolor to an artist's pallet, a definite preference will naturally occur. To me, it's an apples/oranges comparison, each highly artistic and deeply personal in its own right.

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Re: Q & A with Jeffrey Spivak about Buzz: The Life & Art of Busby Berkeley

Postby buzzbbiographer » August 23rd, 2015, 9:53 am

Sue Sue Applegate wrote:We love Lomm's banners!

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I adored all the choreographed synchronized swimming sequences in Million Dollar Mermaid. Do you have any special stories you can share with us about Busby Berkeley's experience on this film?

Image
Ryan Gosling and Busby Berkeley....

I can imagine how excited you must be to have your biography optioned for a film. Can you share with us what your hopes are once the project is completed? Are there any specific episodes in Busby's life that you have a fondness for seeing on the big screen?

Thank you so much for visiting us here!



Esther Williams was almost crippled for life when shooting the "fountain" number for "Million Dollar Mermaid". She dove into a studio swimming pool from 50 feet up. Halfway down she realized the crown she wore was exceedingly heavy. She snapped her neck upon impact and broke 3 vertebrae in her neck. Buzz was oblivious to this. He yelled "cut" and left the set. Esther's wardrobe woman was there and she help her employer whose arms had become paralyzed. It was a 6-month recovery for Esther, and she had recurrent headaches for the rest of her life due to the vertebrae fusing together.

I hope that Busby Berkeley finally gets his deserved Walk of Fame star on Hollywood Blvd. I still can't believe he hasn't been honored. There's an empty space next to Ruby Keeler just waiting for him.

I would also like to see Gertrude Berkeley get her full due in the story of her son's life.

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Re: Q & A with Jeffrey Spivak about Buzz: The Life & Art of Busby Berkeley

Postby Lomm » August 23rd, 2015, 10:11 am

buzzbbiographer wrote:Esther Williams was almost crippled for life when shooting the "fountain" number for "Million Dollar Mermaid". She dove into a studio swimming pool from 50 feet up. Halfway down she realized the crown she wore was exceedingly heavy. She snapped her neck upon impact and broke 3 vertebrae in her neck. Buzz was oblivious to this. He yelled "cut" and left the set. Esther's wardrobe woman was there and she help her employer whose arms had become paralyzed. It was a 6-month recovery for Esther, and she had recurrent headaches for the rest of her life due to the vertebrae fusing together.

Was that the same incident where she almost drowned? If I recall it correctly, no one realized she was in distress until the woman pulled her out. Very near tragedy. I read her autobiography, but it's been a while, so I might be combining two separate occasions in my head.

buzzbbiographer wrote:I hope that Busby Berkeley finally gets his deserved Walk of Fame star on Hollywood Blvd. I still can't believe he hasn't been honored. There's an empty space next to Ruby Keeler just waiting for him.

This boggles my mind. I had no idea that he didn't have one. Considering some of the names I've seen on there (just back from a trip this past June), it's astonishing that someone of his caliber doesn't have a star.

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Re: Q & A with Jeffrey Spivak about Buzz: The Life & Art of Busby Berkeley

Postby moira finnie » August 23rd, 2015, 10:18 am

Your mention of Gertrude Berkeley makes me wonder--do you think her effect on her son was largely positive or negative? Was she the ballast and inspiration in her son's life or was she a hindrance to his growth as a person, especially in his many marriages?

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Above: Gertrude Berkeley in her prime as an actress.
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Re: Q & A with Jeffrey Spivak about Buzz: The Life & Art of Busby Berkeley

Postby knitwit45 » August 23rd, 2015, 10:26 am

No questions, just a warm thank you for sharing so much about one of the stars of Hollywood. Your book is now a must read for me. Again, thanks for being here!
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Re: Q & A with Jeffrey Spivak about Buzz: The Life & Art of Busby Berkeley

Postby buzzbbiographer » August 23rd, 2015, 10:48 am

Lomm wrote:
buzzbbiographer wrote:Esther Williams was almost crippled for life when shooting the "fountain" number for "Million Dollar Mermaid". She dove into a studio swimming pool from 50 feet up. Halfway down she realized the crown she wore was exceedingly heavy. She snapped her neck upon impact and broke 3 vertebrae in her neck. Buzz was oblivious to this. He yelled "cut" and left the set. Esther's wardrobe woman was there and she help her employer whose arms had become paralyzed. It was a 6-month recovery for Esther, and she had recurrent headaches for the rest of her life due to the vertebrae fusing together.

Was that the same incident where she almost drowned? If I recall it correctly, no one realized she was in distress until the woman pulled her out. Very near tragedy. I read her autobiography, but it's been a while, so I might be combining two separate occasions in my head.

buzzbbiographer wrote:I hope that Busby Berkeley finally gets his deserved Walk of Fame star on Hollywood Blvd. I still can't believe he hasn't been honored. There's an empty space next to Ruby Keeler just waiting for him.

This boggles my mind. I had no idea that he didn't have one. Considering some of the names I've seen on there (just back from a trip this past June), it's astonishing that someone of his caliber doesn't have a star.



Yes, ol' Buzz almost killed his star a second time when shooting "Easy to Love" at Cypress Gardens, Florida. I recount the incident in detail in my book, but the short of it is that Buzz was filming Esther in a water ski sequence, coming dangerously close to her with his camera on her left, while on her right were metal geyser heads also dangerously close. Meanwhile Buzz is yelling at her through a megaphone while she is trying to dodge two potentially dangerous obstacles. She most definitely gave Buzz a piece of her mind after she caused a take to halt when she dropped her tether.

Regarding the Walk of Fame snub, I shook my head when I walked over Pee Wee Herman's star!

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Re: Q & A with Jeffrey Spivak about Buzz: The Life & Art of Busby Berkeley

Postby buzzbbiographer » August 23rd, 2015, 10:58 am

moira finnie wrote:Your mention of Gertrude Berkeley makes me wonder--do you think her effect on her son was largely positive or negative? Was she the ballast and inspiration in her son's life or was she a hindrance to his growth as a person, especially in his many marriages?

Image
Above: Gertrude Berkeley in her prime as an actress.
(Photo courtesy of NYPL.org)


I believe my book gives a fair and full accounting of their lifelong relationship. There was truly a spirit of sacrifice from the son to the mother. Long before there was a "Busby Berkeley", there was young man who saw the sufferings of his mother. She was the star of the family who was plagued with mental and emotional issues. She lost her husband early and her stepson died of a drug overdose. Gertrude and Busby against the world. She was his champion and confidant. He lived to please her. A momma's boy? Maybe. That's what one of his wives accused of him of being. She was there all through the Gold Digger years and beyond. When she died, her son couldn't cope, and he was suffering multiple losses at the time (his job, his latest wife, his finances). A botched suicide attempt was the result.

Her imprint on her son's life was almost indelible, and if it weren't for Buzz's final wife Etta, the imprint would have been permanent.
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Re: Q & A with Jeffrey Spivak about Buzz: The Life & Art of Busby Berkeley

Postby buzzbbiographer » August 23rd, 2015, 10:59 am

knitwit45 wrote:No questions, just a warm thank you for sharing so much about one of the stars of Hollywood. Your book is now a must read for me. Again, thanks for being here!


And a warm "you're welcome" in return.

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Re: Q & A with Jeffrey Spivak about Buzz: The Life & Art of Busby Berkeley

Postby kingrat » August 23rd, 2015, 12:32 pm

Thanks so much for meeting with us. Earlier this year I got to see a restoration of THE GANG'S ALL HERE on the big screen in all its Technicolor glory. What fun that was.

I'm interested in your saying that Berkeley wasn't particularly influenced by the art or psychology of the time. That fits with my feeling that Berkeley is an instinctual surrealist. His wild imagination simply works that way. For him, dozens of chorus girls wearing giant banana headdresses was just natural.

Was his experience with the 1960s Broadway NO, NO, NANETTE generally positive?

I look forward to reading your book.

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Re: Q & A with Jeffrey Spivak about Buzz: The Life & Art of Busby Berkeley

Postby buzzbbiographer » August 23rd, 2015, 12:43 pm

kingrat wrote:Thanks so much for meeting with us. Earlier this year I got to see a restoration of THE GANG'S ALL HERE on the big screen in all its Technicolor glory. What fun that was.

I'm interested in your saying that Berkeley wasn't particularly influenced by the art or psychology of the time. That fits with my feeling that Berkeley is an instinctual surrealist. His wild imagination simply works that way. For him, dozens of chorus girls wearing giant banana headdresses was just natural.

Was his experience with the 1960s Broadway NO, NO, NANETTE generally positive?

I look forward to reading your book.


Like all of the best work of Berkeley, the big screen is the preferred viewing venue. Yes, I agree with the "instinctual surrealist" descriptor, but whether or not banana toting chorines was a natural to Buzz is speculative. He most certainly was aware of the visual double entendre.

The sad saga of the rebirth of "No, No, Nanette" is recounted in my book in the chapter titled "The Figurehead". Busby Berkeley was used for his name value alone (at the time when national nostalgia brought his name to the fore), and the producers and subsequent director of the musical would just have dumped him altogether if they had their way.


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