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Wednesday’s news that Ryan Gosling may star in a biopic of the influential musical director Busby Berkeley hopefully lead Gosling’s fans to look up Berkeley’s career. If you’re still not aware of who this man was, he remains one of the most important musical directors in Hollywood history.
As previously reported, Warner Bros. just picked up Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley, a biography on Berkeley written by Jeffrey Spivak. Gosling is set to produce with Marc Plant, but he hasn’t officially signed on to act, The Hollywood Reporter noted.
So who was this Berkeley guy and why was he important? Berkeley was born in 1895 and died in 1976 at the age of 80, leaving behind a body of work that still leaves film fans in awe.
He began in Hollywood in 1930 and worked for Warner Bros., perfecting the pre-code musical form. He worked on five movies in 1933, which was easily his best year. He choreographed outrageous musical sequences in Footlight Parade, Best Picture nominee 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933.
The hallmarks of a Berkeley number included lots and lots of pretty girls with long legs who weren’t afraid to do anything for him. They danced, formed shapes and even swam. It didn’t matter that these were impossible to do on the stage.
In 1933, Berkeley also began directing his own films, beyond just choreographic single set pieces. Some of his best films include the Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney film Babes in Arms (1939), Gene Kelly's first movie For Me And My Gal (1942) and the Kelly/Frank Sinatra pic Take Me Out To The Ball Game (1949).
Berkeley’s work may have gone out of style, even by the mid-1930s as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers introduced more “realistic” musicals, but his ingenious choreography and camerawork is still an important part of movie history.