Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley

By Jeffrey Spivak | Go to book overview

2
In Formation

Gertrude was ready to quit the stage when Buzz entered the military, but there was an acting obligation in May. She starred in Old Friends, a premiere work produced, ironically, by Charles Frohman, Inc. His company had persisted long after his untimely passing. The play was by James Barrie, who had penned Peter Pan for Frohman in 1905. That same month, the dramatic film The Iron Heart was released to theaters. G er trude played the devoted (and suf fering) wife to a tyrannical nouveau riche factory owner. The owner is eventually given his comeuppance, after which his loyal wife welcomes the broken man with open arms.

Buzz wanted to go to France, and he had heard artillery service was the ticket. His goal was to be a commissioned officer. Buzz was one of two men selected for officer training in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. While down South he convinced the military brass that he was a bugler, a lie concocted to avoid the sweltering marching drills. Before Buzz played a rudimentary “Taps” one evening, a rowdy, lights-out pillow fight occurred in his barracks. He hadn’t dressed yet, but he reached for his bugle. All of a sudden a bunch of his bunk mates pushed him out the door. There he stood, in nature’s own, playing “Taps” for the company. He wasn’t aware that he had an audience of one: the Officer of the Day. As the young enlistee turned on his points in a textbook military aboutface, he came face to face with his superior. A bare Buzz was escorted humiliatingly to the gatehouse, stopping briefly to nervously don his standard-issue bronze collar and tunic.

Persistence paid off. He got his wish and was sent by ship to France to the Saumur Artillery School. A rumor that the purser on board willingly accepted bribes made Buzz and a friend seek out his company. They wanted some of the officers’ chow as an alternative to the standard-issue gruel and were willing to pay for it. The purser lifted what he could from the ship’s cargo, supplying the boys with French staples: champagne,

-20-

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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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