Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley

By Jeffrey Spivak | Go to book overview

17
The Figurehead

Harry Rigby, the Broadway producer, loved the films of Busby Berkeley. In the 1930s, his well-to-do Philadelphia family routinely gave him movie money that he spent eagerly every Saturday. Harry particularly enjoyed Ruby, Joan, Ginger, and other musical stars of the day, but the films of Berkeley remained at the top of his list: “I was mad for them.”

Harry was not what you would call a successful producer. In 1951, his first production, Make a Wish, closed in fewer than three months. It was especially painful to Harry as his family and friends had provided a good portion of the backing. Two years later, a revue Harry produced with two others called John Murray Anderson’s Almanac fared no better. The show ended after 229 performances. In 1959, after a six-year absence, he produced two short plays to be run “in limited engagement.” Nineteen performances later they confirmed their booking pronouncement. A demoted “gopher,” Harry now found himself on the low rung of the production ladder, working as a production associate on Edward Albee’s Ballad of the Sad Café. He regained producer status with the moderately successful Half a Sixpence in 1965. Jane Nusbaum, an associate producer of the show, worked well with Harry, and together they produced a new musical for the spring of 1967 with the catchy title Hallelujah, Baby. It wasn’t a big financial success despite its winning the Tony Award for best musical of the season.

Harry didn’t have a project in mind, but he had Buzz Berkeley on the brain. He asked a show business friend of his to contact Mr. Berkeley in California to see if he would be interested in working on a Broadway show. The word back to Harry was that the great man was “ready, willing, and able.” Harry called Buzz directly upon hearing the news, and together they mapped out a promising future. Harry told Buzz that he and Jane wanted to revive a number of musicals from the 1920s and 1930s, among them Good News and No, No, Nanette. The first produc-

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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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