Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley

By Jeffrey Spivak | Go to book overview

5
The Cinematerpsichorean

On August 11, 1932, a Warnergram (interoffice memorandum) was delivered to M. Ebenstein from Jacob Wilk asking him to prepare a contract for the world motion picture rights of the unpublished novel “42nd Street.” Warner closed a movie-rights deal with former chorus boy–turnednovelist Bradford Ropes for six thousand dollars. The film was scheduled to start shooting in mid-September to coincide with the publication date of September 15. As of September 1, Buzz was still under contract to Sam Goldwyn until September 18, but that didn’t inhibit Warner Brothers’ plans. Mervyn LeRoy would direct the book; Buzz, the fifty-seven chorines. It was reported that Buzz studied his girls’ knees before making his final casting selections. A couple hundred dancers auditioned. If Buzz liked the girls’ faces and ankles, they made the cut. The 120 semi-finalists were whittled down to 57 (selected by the attractiveness of their knees) and were awarded contracts of sixty-six dollars a week. Buzz quite confidently said that any person in the audience will be able to find at least one girl who conforms to his or her idea of beauty.

One of the music publishing houses that Warner Brothers purchased was Remick in New York. Songwriter Harry Warren worked for Remick, and he was Zanuck’s choice to compose 42nd Street. He partnered Warren with lyricist Al Dubin, who had started his career on New York’s West Twenty-eighth Street (the Tin Pan Alley district), writing special material for vaudevillians. It was a simpatico collaboration, and they worked at a brisk pace. Four songs were written, and Harry also composed the film’s incidental music.

A studio executive viewed a 1928 two-minute Fox Movietone short featuring a tap dancer that showed how the sounds emanating from the dancer’s feet could be captured on film. The executive liked the test and offered its “star” a contract for 42nd Street. The actress, Ruby Keeler, had had small parts in a few Broadway musicals and was cast in the

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Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Screen Classics ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Prologue 1
  • 1 - Actress and Son 4
  • 2 - In Formation 20
  • 3 - The Show Fixer 27
  • 4 - A Cyclopean Vision 48
  • 5 - The Cinematerpsichorean 66
  • 6 - The Cancerous Tire 123
  • 7 - Post-Traumatic Inspiration 143
  • 8 - Buzz’s Babes 164
  • 9 - Art and Audacity 198
  • 10 - The Stage Debacle 211
  • 11 - Inconsolable 218
  • 12 - One Last at Bat 225
  • 13 - Jumping, Tapping, Diving 235
  • 14 - Out of Sight 257
  • 15 - The Ringmaster 262
  • 16 - Remember My Forgotten Director 266
  • 17 - The Figurehead 272
  • 18 - The Palmy Days 292
  • Epilogue 296
  • On Busby Berkeley’s Memoirs 300
  • Appendix- The Works of Busby Berkeley 303
  • Notes 327
  • Index 353
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