The Cancerous Tire
The movie-going public, those who paid eighteen cents for a thinly padded balcony seat and purchased a tawdry movie magazine afterward, didn’t know the real Busby Berkeley. On his own he was increasingly drawn to liquor’s potent comfort, though on-the-set colleagues swore to his sobriety when he was on the clock. The blistering details of scandalous anecdota from two bitter ex-wives were known only to the closest of colleagues and, of course, his mother. Mother, with her son’s interest at heart (balanced with bitterness toward her latest ex-daughter-in-law), might have been the author of Buzz’s $65,000 defensive plea. Who could disprove such a tall tale?
In August, Buzz contributed a witty number to Stars over Broadway, the only-in-Hollywood story of the meteoric rise, fall, and rise again of a bellhop with a remarkable tenor voice. James Melton, fairly new to pictures, was known for his concerts, radio performances, and operas. Along with the renowned radio singer Jane Froman, they star in Buzz’s comedy vignette “At Your Service, Madame.” It was another ditty in the Warren/Dubin canon (who are, as an inside joke, mentioned twice in the picture), describing the lady of leisure with a butler whose job description matches the song’s title.
The curtain opens to Berkeleyville, a street scene as a dozen blacksuited applicants outside of a job agency watch a lady customer through the glass. She leaves, and a sign is posted: butler wanted. Buzz moves his camera in tight to a screen-filling shot of a man’s coat, then back out again to reveal the same men dressed impeccably in black tie and tails. They sing their service motto in Madame’s circular, two-tiered, glass-lined apartment (a very impressive-looking set). Melton and Jane Froman take over the number, singing and dancing around each other on the oval stage. A close-up of two hands yields a sequence change in which a humorous reversal of roles occurs. Now it’s James Melton being