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INTEROFFICE MEMOApril 12, 1933
FROM: Busby Berkeley
TO: Jack Warner
First off, let me say I was delighted to see you at the premiere of "Gold Diggers of 1933" the other night along with your new protege, Miss LaTour. I think her studio dancing lessons are paying off -- she seemed very flexible. And then she did that high kick that knocked off Jolson's toupee when he was looking up her skirt! I thought May Robson was going to bust a gut laughing.
Second, many thanks for the gift of the spats. I can't think of a better way to mark the success of "42nd Street" except maybe a large bonus, ha ha!
Now to the point of this memo -- an update on our next musical project.
I know we have a title picked out -- "Step-Ins of 1934" -- and we have James Cagney set as our lead. I have a story sketched out that I'd like to tell you.
I have an idea that Cagney, basically, plays me in this picture -- he is a brilliant creator-choreographer of motion picture prologues. And he is a prisoner of his own success, something I -- if you will excuse a personal aside -- know a little something about.
Every time Cagney comes up with a brilliant musical number filled with drama, spicy humor, scantily dressed girls and dazzling geometric dance routines -- something that takes weeks to choreograph, costume, set up and shoot -- he gets but one response from his bosses:
"Whaddya gonna do next?"
It's enough to drive a person to drink! (Speaking of drinking, J.L., thanks for having a "talk" to the judge about that whole messy car wreck incident.)
So Cagney is the brains of the outfit, and he works for two oafish producers -- let's say Guy Kibbee and Arthur Hohl. They are lazy, leeching slobs who wouldn't know Art if they tripped over it. They contribute nothing of value, but they are content to ride on the back of Cagney's success. His creations make thousands for the company and yet he is rewarded with something puny and insignificant, like a lousy pair of spats.
Joan Blondell, of course. Everyone else in this picture is out only for themselves, unable to see past their egos, refusing to credit, even fleetingly, the genius of Berk -- I mean Cagney.
And speaking of Cagney, I think he will be swell in this picture. He has a natural pugnacious grace that fits the character perfectly and a background in dance. I know he will be happy to step away from gangster roles temporarily -- he and I have had many heart-to-heart talks about what it's like to be taken for granted by oafish producers who make millions while the performer gives his all and guarantees the success of a picture much more than anything contributed by the overpaid, empty suits in the front office.
But I digress.
Dick Powell and, of course, Ruby Keeler. A Warner's musical wouldn't be a Warner's musical without Keeler and her electric feet. Frank McHugh has only appeared in about 65 other Warner's films so far this year, so he's in. And Hugh Herbert keeps bothering me about a part, so I guess we can use him.
And before you ask me "whaddya got," I can tell you that the musical numbers will be sensational, J.L. These are, of course, the numbers Cagney's character slaves over while everyone else in the business is busy counting the money he makes for them.
And, of course, they will all feature Keeler. One will be called "By a Waterfall," featuring dozens of young woman in flesh-colored bathing suits, with strings of green vines as thongs.
Finally, just one more thought. While I recognize the box-office value of a title like "Step-Ins of 1934," I also know that the general feeling in Hollywood these days is that the Production Code we've been flouting for so long is about to get some teeth. So rather than ask for trouble, I've been thinking of another, less incendiary title. What do you think of "Footlight Parade"? Chew it over like one of those big expensive cigars you always have in your mouth and see what you think.
As for me, I'm convinced that, by any title, this movie is going to be a hit. How big a hit? Let's just say I look forward to getting a new pair of spats.