Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley

By Jeffrey Spivak | Go to book overview
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The Ringmaster

For a while the Berkeleys lived at 11968 Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, but Buzz became increasingly disillusioned with the industry that was reluctant to offer new opportunities to a sexagenarian with his singular talent. In a momentous decision, Etta and Buzz picked up stakes and moved to Palm Desert, 140 miles east of Hollywood, and one mile from the date groves where They Made Me a Criminal was filmed. They purchased what real estate agents might term a “modest” residence on a street named “Peppergrass.” The house, a one-floor unit with a sloping roof, minuscule front yard, and covered breezeway, blended anonymously with those of his nearby neighbors. The BeauxArts mansion at 3500 West Adams was, in every way, the antithesis of the Peppergrass house, but that grand residence had never made Buzz happy. It was purchased for Gertrude and sold in despondency. In Palm Desert, Buzz and Etta settled for a quieter life, less demanding, in a climate that suited them both. “The winters are delightful,” said Buzz. “As for the extremes of afternoon heat in the summer—thank God for air conditioning.” Weather notwithstanding, the fact was that the Palm Desert abode made Buzz happy. “Of all the beautiful homes and mansions, this little home surpasses them all,” said Buzz. “Now for the first time in my life I know what a home really means. I never had one before until now.” Such was Buzz’s not-so-veiled compliment to Etta.

Despite years of inactivity, Buzz retained his membership in the Directors Guild of America. Annually he received a confidential form on which he was required to list past earnings and estimate future ones so that his dues, based on income, could be calculated. Buzz wrote he had “No earnings for the year 1960,” and $3,500 for all of 1961. For the fill-in sentence that read, “I estimate my earnings for 1962 to be,” Buzz truthfully entered a question mark and signed the form dated January 8, 1962.


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