Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley

By Jeffrey Spivak | Go to book overview

On Busby Berkeley’s Memoirs

A fortunate convergence of timing and happenstance brought Busby Berkeley’s memoirs to my attention in the fall of 2009. While this book was being written, author and musical historian Miles Kreuger phoned me with the exciting news that famed cinema historian Marc Wanamaker of Los Angeles’s Bison Productions had presented him with the memoirs.

As noted within, Berkeley’s memoirs went up for auction in 1998, and I had assumed that they were in the possession of the anonymous highest bidder. The auction house (Butterfields) would not reveal the disposition of the memoirs much less the identity of the auction winner, so the search for the unique document ended before it started.

I later learned that there was no highest bidder. After the auction, the memoirs were returned to Etta Berkeley. She placed them in Buzz’s monogrammed briefcase and banished both to her small garage. After Etta’s passing, her house was being readied for sale, and—reminiscent of the final sequence of Citizen Kane—the garage was emptied without regard for the treasures it held. A nearby neighbor grabbed the briefcase and gave it to his friend Mr. Wanamaker, and it remained in his possession until Mr. Kreuger informed him of the work I was doing.

As stated, the memoirs amounted to some three hundred typed, double-spaced pages and were meant for publication as Busby Berkeley’s autobiography to be titled “Girls, Glamour, and Glory.” The pages contained proofreader’s notations, marginal additions, and crossed-out redundancies. Berkeley’s proficiency as an author was not evident, and one can assume that a skillful editor would have proffered numerous improvements.

The memories recounted in the memoirs were seen through Buzz’s rose-colored glasses. Although elucidating tidbits regarding his family,

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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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