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Buddy Bradley (1908-1972), British film musical choreographer

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  • Buddy Bradley (1908-1972), British film musical choreographer

    From DMB:

    Bradley, Robert [Buddy] (1908-1972), choreographer, was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on 24 July 1908, the son of Robert Louis Bradley and his wife, Georgia Marguerite, nee Walker. He was educated at Harrisburg high school, and on leaving school was apprenticed as a sign writer. He made his stage debut as a dancer in 1926 at the Lincoln Square Theatre, New York, in a revue with Florence Mills. He then became the dance teacher and arranger for a number of Broadway musicals. In addition to Fred Astaire and his sister Adele, he coached many stars, including Mae West, Ruby Keeler, Lucille Ball, and Eleanor Powell. However (like other black choreographers) he was never credited for choreographing a show with a white cast in America. In 1928 he rechoreographed Greenwich Village Follies, even though Busby Berkeley's name appeared as choreographer in the programme. In 1968 he said: 'They called me in to patch them up when they realized how bad the dancing was. I never saw half the shows my stuff appeared in. I wasn't invited, and besides I was too busy teaching' (Stearns and Stearns, 162).

    Fred Astaire suggested that Jessie Matthews persuade the impresario Charles B. Cochran to invite Bradley to London to stage the dances for her show Ever Green (the title originally had two words) at the Adelphi Theatre in 1930. With a score by Rodgers and Hart, this became Matthews's greatest hit, and Bradley received his first choreographic credit. After Ever Green, he collaborated with Matthews again in Hold my Hand at the Gaiety Theatre in 1931. By the end of the decade he had choreographed over thirty musicals in London, including Cole Porter's Anything Goes (1935), and Blackbirds of 1936 (1936), which featured the Nicholas Brothers. He made his first appearance on the London stage in Cochran's 1931 Revue, and in 1943, in addition to choreographing It's Time to Dance with Jack Buchanan and Elsie Randolph, he also featured in the production as Buddy. In 1932 he collaborated with Frederick Ashton in creating Britain's first jazz ballet, High Yellow, in which Alicia Markova starred. He also created a cabaret act for the ballet dancers Vera Zorina and Anton Dolin.

    In 1934, at Jessie Matthews's request, Bradley was signed by Gaumont-British to choreograph her dances for the film version of Evergreen, in which he made his one and only screen appearance, dancing with some children on the pavement of a London street in the spectacular production number 'Springtime in your Heart'. He and Matthews also collaborated on It's Love Again (1936), Head over Heels (1937), Gangway (1938), and Sailing Along (1938). Ralph Reader was credited as the dance arranger for First a Girl (1935), although Bradley helped out. The Bradley-Matthews partnership was one of the most important in the history of dance, and yet books about the history of British musical theatre and cinema largely ignored Bradley's contribution. One of the few exceptions was John Kobal's Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance (1971). Kobal wrote:

    Her usual choreographic collaborator, an American resident in England, Buddy Bradley, must have understood Jessie Matthews and her abilities as a dancer almost as well as she did herself. There is hardly ever a moment in her dances that is not lyrical and harmonious or which looks awkward for her to do. She feels the music. At times she almost seems to be the music, always anticipating the next movement-not just clever choreography, but her body's intuitive expression of the pleasure she gets from dancing. (Kobal, 95)

    Matthews herself recalled:

    We worked on most of my films together marvellously well! We created together. Had he tied me down to his one type of dancing, I would have rebelled. I was a classical dancer, and I added to the classical arabesques, the high kicks of musical comedy. Buddy then added the coloured rhythm. (Kobal, 100)

    Bradley choreographed a number of other British film musicals of the 1930s, including Radio Parade of 1935 (1934), Brewster's Millions (1935), Oh, Daddy (1935), and This'll Make you Whistle (1936). He also choreographed a number of pre-war and early post-war television variety shows for the BBC. Broadcast live from Alexandra Palace, these included Night Lights (1939), Variety in Sepia (1947), Black Magic (1949), and a television version of the West End revue Sauce Tartare (1949). As choreographer, Bradley was responsible for Jessie Matthews taking over from Zoe Gail in Sauce Latter Tartare at the Cambridge Theatre in 1949. It was the last time they worked together, though he did make a guest appearance in BBC television's This is your Life tribute to Matthews in 1961.

    Bradley's teaching career continued to flourish after the Second World War. In 1950 the Buddy Bradley Dance School in London had over 500 students. It remained in operation until 1968 when he decided to return to New York. He died there on 17 July 1972, at the Beth Israel Hospital. He was survived by his wife, Dorothy. They had no children.

    Stephen Bourne

    Sources S. Bourne, 'Harlem comes to London', Black in the British frame: black people in British film and television, 1896-1996 (1998) + M. Stearns and J. Stearns, Jazz dance: the story of American vernacular dance (New York, 1968) + 'Our Busby Berkeley', Film Weekly (25 Jan 1935) + 'He gives the stars their legs', Picturegoer Weekly (7 March 1936) + J. Kobal, Gotta sing, gotta dance: a pictorial history of film musicals (1971) + C. Valis Hill, 'Buddy Bradley: the "invisible" man of Broadway brings jazz tap to London', Proceedings of the Society of Dance History Scholars (14-15 Feb 1992) + J. Parker, ed., Who's who in the theatre, 12th edn (1957) + C. V. Hill, 'Bradley, Buddy', ANB + Variety (26 July 1972)
    Likenesses photograph, 1934, repro. in Bourne, Black in the British frame, following p. 116 ยท photograph, 1934, Hult. Arch. [see illus.]