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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 Professional Tourist » August 23rd, 2015, 1:05 pm

I don't have a question, but a comment.

I've noticed a previous post use the word "tyranny" in reference to Mr. Berkeley, and as a one-time fan of Judy Garland, that's a word that tends to come to mind upon thinking of Mickey and Judy's "Uncle Buzz." The reports where he drove them so hard -- particularly so with Judy -- are startling at best. The ends do not always justify the means. Here is a quote from Hedda Hopper who was on-set during filming of Girl Crazy:
I saw [Berkeley] work her over. He watched from the floor with a wild gleam in his eye while take after take he drove her to the perfection he demanded. She was close to hysteria; I was ready to scream myself. But the order was repeated again and again: 'Cut. Let's try it again Judy. Come on, move! Get the lead out.'

Berkeley had an (unfortunate) habit of forcing Mickey and Judy to open up their eyes as widely as possible, particularly during production numbers, so that they look at bit 'unnatural', to say the least. A few samples:

Image
Image
Image

It's certainly true that Mr. Berkeley was fired from some of Judy's films, including Girl Crazy and Annie Get Your Gun. In the first, Judy was able to bounce-back and complete the film with another director; in the second, she was not.

Some sources: Girl Crazy Annie Get Your Gun

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

Postby buzzbbiographer » August 23rd, 2015, 1:32 pm

Buzz was tough on Judy Garland, no doubt about it. So much so, that Judy couldn't conceive of working with the man on "Annie Get Your Gun". From the few snippets of test footage that remain, the production looked doomed. Buzz yelled at Judy during some takes during their many films together. He did implore his cast to open their eyes during medium closeups.

Now for the excuses. Berkeley practically invented the closeup of chorus girls in a musical number. As far back as "Whoopee!" the parade of faces became the man's trademark. Since the camera could move in closer than any seat in a Broadway theater, Berkeley sought to give the audience more, and his directive to make their eyes widen more than naturally expressive grew from that desire. If often worked quite well (I remember little Billy Barty humorously shifting his eyes in the "Honeymoon Hotel" number from "Footlight Parade"), and no other director in Hollywood gave such instructions to his cast. I don't think it's overused, nor is it displeasing.

Let's not forget that Judy Garland was fighting demons of her own during her final films with Buzz. To her defense, she said many nice things about her director and friend. And Buzz never spoke an ill word about his stars on the record.

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

Postby moira finnie » August 23rd, 2015, 2:51 pm

Image
Dolores del Rio with Joel McCrea in Bird of Paradise (1932).

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Dolores del Rio with Ricardo Cortez in Wonder Bar (1934)

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Dolores del Rio with Pat O'Brien in In Caliente (1935)

1.) While reading your book I realized that Berkeley's involvement with the pre-code Bird of Paradise (1932), the racy Wonder Bar (1934) and occasionally erotic In Caliente (1935) was responsible for introducing me to another, unexpectedly sultry side of Dolores del Rio, an actress whose only work I had previously seen presented her as a subdued, dignified madonna-like figure in John Ford's The Fugitive (1947) and Cheyenne Autumn (1964). (I am thankful also for TCM's airing these fairly forgotten films). Did Berkeley and del Rio work well together?

I realize that these three films aren't the best remembered of Berkeley's career (nor was he solely responsible for their content), but do you think that the filmmaker brought something special to these projects--especially in drawing out the leading lady's verve? Did Berkeley ever comment on The Production Code's impact on film or can you offer an opinion/example on how he worked around it? Was he likely to have invested as much of his imagination into movies that did not have the greatest scripts or larger budgets?

2.) As mentioned above regarding Judy Garland, flare-ups were described numerous times in your book showing Berkeley's lack of empathy for actors and dancers. Do you think that he was laser-focused on his technical, budgetary and aesthetic goals on the set throughout his career rather than concerned with individuals? Were there times when he reached out to help people he worked with? Is my impression correct that Berkeley seemed to have few real friends, other than his wives (particularly his last wife, Etta) and possibly George Amy, the editor and producer who helped him several times?

Thanks again for your answers. Your book is an essential in anyone's library if they are interested in the studio era.
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Re: Q & A with Jeffrey Spivak about Buzz: The Life & Art of Busby Berkeley

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » August 23rd, 2015, 3:04 pm

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.

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


I agree. Busby Berkeley deserves a star next to Ruby Keeler. Thank you so much for joining us here. Your visit has been a delight!
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Re: Q & A with Jeffrey Spivak about Buzz: The Life & Art of Busby Berkeley

Postby buzzbbiographer » August 23rd, 2015, 3:44 pm

moira finnie wrote:
1.) While reading your book I realized that Berkeley's involvement with the pre-code Bird of Paradise (1932), the racy Wonder Bar (1934) and occasionally erotic In Caliente (1935) was responsible for introducing me to another, unexpectedly sultry side of Dolores del Rio, an actress whose only work I had previously seen presented her as a subdued, dignified madonna-like figure in John Ford's The Fugitive (1947) and Cheyenne Autumn (1964). (I am thankful also for TCM's airing these fairly forgotten films). Did Berkeley and del Rio work well together?

I realize that these three films aren't the best remembered of Berkeley's career (nor was he solely responsible for their content), but do you think that the filmmaker brought something special to these projects--especially in drawing out the leading lady's verve? Did Berkeley ever comment on The Production Code's impact on film or can you offer an opinion/example on how he worked around it? Was he likely to have invested as much of his imagination into movies that did not have the greatest scripts or larger budgets?

2.) As mentioned above regarding Judy Garland, flare-ups were described numerous times in your book showing Berkeley's lack of empathy for actors and dancers. Do you think that he was laser-focused on his technical, budgetary and aesthetic goals on the set throughout his career rather than concerned with individuals? Were there times when he reached out to help people he worked with? Is my impression correct that Berkeley seemed to have few real friends, other than his wives (particularly his last wife, Etta) and possibly George Amy, the editor and producer who helped him several times?

Thanks again for your answers. Your book is an essential in anyone's library if they are interested in the studio era.
Last edited by buzzbbiographer on August 23rd, 2015, 6:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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

Postby buzzbbiographer » August 23rd, 2015, 3:50 pm

moira finnie wrote:
1.) While reading your book I realized that Berkeley's involvement with the pre-code Bird of Paradise (1932), the racy Wonder Bar (1934) and occasionally erotic In Caliente (1935) was responsible for introducing me to another, unexpectedly sultry side of Dolores del Rio, an actress whose only work I had previously seen presented her as a subdued, dignified madonna-like figure in John Ford's The Fugitive (1947) and Cheyenne Autumn (1964). (I am thankful also for TCM's airing these fairly forgotten films). Did Berkeley and del Rio work well together?

I realize that these three films aren't the best remembered of Berkeley's career (nor was he solely responsible for their content), but do you think that the filmmaker brought something special to these projects--especially in drawing out the leading lady's verve? Did Berkeley ever comment on The Production Code's impact on film or can you offer an opinion/example on how he worked around it? Was he likely to have invested as much of his imagination into movies that did not have the greatest scripts or larger budgets?

2.) As mentioned above regarding Judy Garland, flare-ups were described numerous times in your book showing Berkeley's lack of empathy for actors and dancers. Do you think that he was laser-focused on his technical, budgetary and aesthetic goals on the set throughout his career rather than concerned with individuals? Were there times when he reached out to help people he worked with? Is my impression correct that Berkeley seemed to have few real friends, other than his wives (particularly his last wife, Etta) and possibly George Amy, the editor and producer who helped him several times?

Thanks again for your answers. Your book is an essential in anyone's library if they are interested in the studio era.



There isn't any negative press that spoke to any caustic relationship between Dolores Del Rio and Buzz. She was already a star in her native Mexico by the time she worked at Warner Bros., and so had a wide exposure to different directors and their methods. But all who worked with Busby Berkeley when he was directing dance numbers were pawns on the cinema chessboard. A better question might be did he get along with his directors of photography, since they were his closest collaborators.

Of the three films you mentioned, I'd easily place "Wonder Bar" as one of Busby Berkeley's masterpieces, with "Don't Say Goodnight" in my top 5 of his musical numbers. The controversial "Goin' to Heaven on a Mule" is another argument for another day, but it's worth defending.

Yes, Berkeley was laser focused long before the term, or indeed the laser, was invented. His budgets were initially a blank check, then the checks got smaller, so he had to make do with less. "All's Fair in Love and War" from "Gold Diggers of 1937" is a perfect example of Busby Berkeley on a diet, after Warner Bros. shrunk his budgets, leaving him with a minimalist set and little else. His imagination propelled the number to an Academy Award nomination.

Buzz Berkeley knew many people as any big Hollywood director did, and he did have a few friends, but only one true confidant, his mother. When she passed, it was Etta, his sixth wife, who was there for him until the end.
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Re: Q & A with Jeffrey Spivak about Buzz: The Life & Art of Busby Berkeley

Postby buzzbbiographer » August 23rd, 2015, 3:50 pm

Sue Sue Applegate wrote:
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.

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


I agree. Busby Berkeley deserves a star next to Ruby Keeler. Thank you so much for joining us here. Your visit has been a delight!



My pleasure. Thank you for the invitation.

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

Postby Lomm » August 23rd, 2015, 4:03 pm

Talking of Judy Garland, one of the alternate banners I made:

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

Postby moira finnie » August 23rd, 2015, 5:25 pm

There isn't any negative press that spoke to any caustic relationship between Dolores Del Rio and Buzz. She was already a star in her native Mexico by the time she worked at Warner Bros., and so had a wide exposure to different directors and their methods. But all who worked with Busby Berkeley when he was directing dance numbers, were pawns on the cinema chessboard. A better question might be did he get along with his directors of photography, since they were his closest collaborators.


Oh, I didn't think there was any negative press. Based on what I saw in the films when Dolores del Rio and Berkeley worked together I thought they may have had a strong rapport and didn't mean to imply any negativity (I probably phrased it awkwardly, so mea culpa). Correctly or not, I thought that he must have had a good working relationship with several people he worked with, in particular Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler (who told him later in life that she didn't fully understand what he was trying to achieve back in the '30s) and--despite getting hurt working with him--Esther Williams.

Of cinematographers who worked with him, were George Folsey and Sol Polito his most frequent collaborators? You mentioned that Berkeley could be exceptionally demanding of his crews, but didn't he often try to work with the same behind-the-camera people, when possible?

Could you please tell us if you are planning another book related to the studio era?

Lastly, I want to thank you for visiting with us and for making me laugh out loud at one point in your book when describing a meeting Berkeley had with Andre Previn. While involved with Small Town Girl (1953) pre-production at MGM, he asked the young composer what he thought his chances were to get producer Joe Pasternak to agree to having Jane Powell arrive in one scene in a wagon pulled by forty eagles(!)...when Previn remained mute, Buzz showed an endearing side when he exclaimed with a smile, "By God, you didn't even flinch!"
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Re: Q & A with Jeffrey Spivak about Buzz: The Life & Art of Busby Berkeley

Postby mongoII » August 23rd, 2015, 5:52 pm

Hello, Mr. Spivak and welcome to the Oasis.
No doubt that Mr. Berkeley was an outstanding musical choreographer but
the alcohol related car accident made me sick. The circus at his trial with his sympathetic mother was a fiasco. Did he eventually ever offer his condolences to the family for their tragic loss and perhaps offer to pay for th funeral exspences?
Image
In September 1935, Berkeley was the driver responsible for an automobile accident in which two people were killed, five seriously injured; Berkeley himself was badly cut and bruised. Berkeley, brought to court on a stretcher, heard testimony that Time magazine said made him wince.
Thank you very much
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Re: Q & A with Jeffrey Spivak about Buzz: The Life & Art of Busby Berkeley

Postby buzzbbiographer » August 23rd, 2015, 6:16 pm

moira finnie wrote:
There isn't any negative press that spoke to any caustic relationship between Dolores Del Rio and Buzz. She was already a star in her native Mexico by the time she worked at Warner Bros., and so had a wide exposure to different directors and their methods. But all who worked with Busby Berkeley when he was directing dance numbers, were pawns on the cinema chessboard. A better question might be did he get along with his directors of photography, since they were his closest collaborators.


Oh, I didn't think there was any negative press. Based on what I saw in the films when Dolores del Rio and Berkeley worked together I thought they may have had a strong rapport and didn't mean to imply any negativity (I probably phrased it awkwardly, so mea culpa). Correctly or not, I thought that he must have had a good working relationship with several people he worked with, in particular Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler (who told him later in life that she didn't fully understand what he was trying to achieve back in the '30s) and--despite getting hurt working with him--Esther Williams.

Of cinematographers who worked with him, were George Folsey and Sol Polito his most frequent collaborators? You mentioned that Berkeley could be exceptionally demanding of his crews, but didn't he often try to work with the same behind-the-camera people, when possible?

Could you please tell us if you are planning another book related to the studio era?

Lastly, I want to thank you for visiting with us and for making me laugh out loud at one point in your book when describing a meeting Berkeley had with Andre Previn. While involved with Small Town Girl (1953) pre-production at MGM, he asked the young composer what he thought his chances were to get producer Joe Pasternak to agree to having Jane Powell arrive in one scene in a wagon pulled by forty eagles(!)...when Previn remained mute, Buzz showed an endearing side when he exclaimed with a smile, "By God, you didn't even flinch!"



True enough, your assessment of his overall working relationships. It was Buzz who coaxed a retired Ruby Keeler to join him when he went to Broadway in "No, No Nanette". Ruby also accompanied her mentor when he was honored at various film festivals in the 1960's.

Yes, both Folsey and Polito shot Buzz's musical numbers more than anyone in the golden years at Warner Bros. Together they had over 300 credits!

Buzz liked to work with the same group of people at Warner Bros. He also had his favorite Berkeley girls and he placed them in key small parts of his musical numbers. Sometimes they spoke or sang (see "Shanghai Lil" from "Footlight Parade"), and often they were situated front and center for their closeups.

No, I am not planning another book related to the studio era, but thank you for asking.

The Andre Previn anecdote is funny. Even funnier is what happened to Buzz when he went to check the nether regions of the painted ox, but I won't reveal it here. :D
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Re: Q & A with Jeffrey Spivak about Buzz: The Life & Art of Busby Berkeley

Postby buzzbbiographer » August 23rd, 2015, 6:23 pm

mongoII wrote:Hello, Mr. Spivak and welcome to the Oasis.
No doubt that Mr. Berkeley was an outstanding musical choreographer but
the alcohol related car accident made me sick. The circus at his trial with his sympathetic mother was a fiasco. Did he eventually ever offer his condolences to the family for their tragic loss and perhaps offer to pay for th funeral exspences?
Image
In September 1935, Berkeley was the driver responsible for an automobile accident in which two people were killed, five seriously injured; Berkeley himself was badly cut and bruised. Berkeley, brought to court on a stretcher, heard testimony that Time magazine said made him wince.
Thank you very much
Joe aka Mongo



I go into great detail about Berkeley's auto accident, the repercussions, the victims, the trial, and its aftermath in my chapter "The Cancerous Tire". There was restitution made on behalf of the victims and I specifically spell out the dollar amounts. Whether or not there was an apology from Buzz, I cannot say.

The photograph you attached is actually a reverse (a mirror image) of the actual photograph where Berkeley is facing left to right, also included in my book.


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