Busby Berkeley Charged With Manslaughter
September, 1935 – Famed Hollywood choreographer Busby Berkeley will be tried on charges of manslaughter. This news stunned the film industry when, at a preliminary hearing in the Los Angeles Municipal Court, it was learned that Berkeley faces two counts of second-degree murder in connection with a three car automobile accident.
It was reported that on the evening of September, 8th, Busby Berkeley attended a party held in Pacific Palisades by Warner Brothers production chief William Koenig. Berkeley left the party early, heading for Santa Monica, in order to make a scheduled appointment with bandleader Gus Arnheim.
While driving along the Pacific Coast Highway, Berkeley’s roadster crossed over into oncoming traffic hitting one car head-on and colliding with another. The collision resulted in the death of two people and serious injuries to five more. A third would later die. Berkeley himself was badly cut and bruised, appearing at the hearing on a stretcher.
The exact cause of the accident will be the main topic of contention during the trial. Defended by well-known celebrity attorney Jerry Giesler, it is the position of the defense that Berkeley was not driving drunk and a blowout of a front tire along with the winding stretch of highway resulted in Berkeley’s car being impossible to control.
However, the choreographer’s reputation for drinking, having just left a party, along with witnesses who have testified that the car was speeding and that Berkeley smelled of liquor has left many questions as to what really happened.
This tragic occurrence will prove to have a long-term and very profound affect on both Busby Berkeley’s personal life and career.