New in Our Book Pages: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley

When new books appear that relate to moving images in any format, Moving Image Archive News lists and describes them in the Books section. (If you know of any we’ve missed, please let us know through We also ask authors to share their experiences of locating source material for their books – moving images and publications of various kinds.

Among books just out is one about Busby Berkeley, the renowned Depression-era creator of stage and movie musical.

In Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley (University Press of Kentucky), the first full biography of Busby Berkeley (1895-1976), film critic Jeffrey Spivak describes the entrepreneur’s extraordinary career and catalogs his over-the-top life and similarly baroque song-and-dance numbers which featured ornate geometric patterns and influenced much that came after. Spivak studied personal letters, interviews, studio memoranda, and Berkeley’s private memoirs to explore Berkeley’s colorful life.

Here’s how Spivak describes his archival work for his book:

One of the things that attracted me to writing the biography of Busby Berkeley was the fact that there were very few sources extant. I owned 1973’s coffee-table tome The Busby Berkeley Book (autographed, incidentally, by Berkeley) and the equally limited-release of Bob Pike’s and Dave Martin’s The Genius of Busby Berkeley, but if I was to do justice to the man, I needed much more than these titles, the Internet Movie Database, and Wikipedia.
I spent countless hours at the Warner Bros. Archives at USC. I wore white cotton gloves as I leafed through the trove of archival stills. I copied interoffice memos from 1932-1934, and on index cards I wrote facts and figures dealing with director’s contracts and chorine’s working conditions. When I wasn’t at the Margaret Herrick library, I drove my local library crazy with hundreds of inter-library loans. It was also mandatory to view all my subject’s work. Filling in the gaps where no commercial release existed, I found private collectors and Ebay sellers and often overpaid greatly for titles I just had to see. The out-of-pocket expenses required to write the book were substantial (with no advance from which to draw), and there were photo-licensing fees that couldn’t be ignored.
The bottom line to all of this is a handsome volume, well received, and the wonderful feeling of pride and accomplishment shared with every published author.

Categories: Shorts

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