Filmmaker Stanley Donen, director and co-director of some of Hollywood’s greatest movie musicals, including “On the Town,” “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”, and what many critics consider to be one of the best-known movie musicals “Singin' in the Rain,” died in New York from heart failure on Thursday February 23rd. He was 94.
Born in Columbia, South Carolina in 1924 Donen fell in love with movies at an early age, viewing them as an escape from the tensions of being teased as one of the few Jews growing up in the rural community. Donen also took tap dancing lessons at an early age, and actually got his start in show business as a performer. Donen had his start on Broadway as a chorus boy, dancing in the original Broadway production of “Pal Joey” at age 16 and it was there that he met actor, singer, and future collaborator, Gene Kelly. Kelly would actually give Donen his first big break in Hollywood, helping him get the job as choreographer on his 1944 film “Cover Girl”.
A little more than 5 years after “Cover Girl” at the age of 25, Donen co-directed his first film with Kelly in 1949’s “On the Town”, but arguably Donen’s biggest film would come three years later when “Singin' in the Rain” was released in 1952 to critical, commercial and cultural acclaim.
Donen’s other directing credits include 1958’s “Indiscreet”, the marital comedy “Two for the Road” starring Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney, 1978’s “Movie Movie” and his final feature film “Blame It On Rio” from 1984.
Over the years, Donen worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood including George Abbott, Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor and Fred Astaire and his films were known for a certain charm and elegance in a time when movies were known for their glitz and glamour. Although Donen was never nominated for an Oscar for his expansive catalogue of films, the Academy did recognize his contribution to film and gave him the lifetime achievement Oscar at the 1998 Academy Awards “in appreciation of a body of work marked by grace, elegance, wit and visual innovation.”
Stephen M. Silverman, author of “Dancing on the Ceiling: Stanley Donen and his Movies” (Knopf, 1996); he was a journalist and editor for 20 years with Time, Inc., where he was also a founding editor of People.com; his upcoming book is “The Amusement Park: 900 Years of Thrills and Spills, and the Dreamers and Schemers Who Built Them” (Black Dog & Leventhal, May 2019); he tweets @stephenmsilverm