|09-29-2003, 08:36 AM||#1|
RIP Donald O'Connor
Musical Star Donald O'Connor Dead
Sun Sep 28, 3:50 PM ET
By Bridget Byrne
Donald O'Connor, the irrepressible "Make 'Em Laugh" song-and-dance man of Singin' in the Rain, died Saturday of heart failure at the Motion Picture Country Home and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California. He was 78.
O'Connor, whose greatest commercial success came a straight man to a yakking pack animal in the Francis, the Talking Mule comedies of the 1940s and '50s, spent his entire life as an entertainer and was a go-to star of Hollywood's Golden Age.
Born in Chicago to vaudevillian parents, O'Connor first appeared on stage days after his birth and joined the family act as a toddler. He had a successful career as a child actor, with his first movie credit coming in 1937's musical Melody for Two, but his specialty dance scenes were edited out.
As a youth, he was considered handsome enough to play Gary Cooper as a boy in the title role in the dashing Foreign Legion action adventure Beau Geste, but later in life he was usually cast as the comic best friend, most notably Cosmo Brown, sidekick chum of Gene Kelly (news)'s movie star, Don Lockwood, in the classic musical Singin' in the Rain, which spoofed the dawn of talking pictures. O'Connor's hugely energic hoofing style, ornamented by backflips, was at its peak in his pratfalling, wall-crashing solo show-stopper "Make 'Em Laugh." He also held his own with Kelly and the very young Debbie Reynolds (news), and even won a Golden Globe (over Kelly) for his performance.
"To call Donald O'Connor (news) as song-and-dance man is like calling Shakespeare a strolling player," New York Times dance critic Anna Kisselgoff wrote admiringly, when O'Connor was honored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center in 1997.
Other key credits came opposite Ethel Merman (news) in the musical Call Me Madam and the all-singing-all-dancing vaudevillian saga There's No Business Like Show Business; and in Anything Goes he costarred with Bing Crosby (news).
But O'Connor's attempt at playing famed silent-screen comic Buster Keaton (news) in the 1957 biopic The Buster Keaton Story was a dud, and afterward he refocused his energies on TV and stage.
By that point, O'Connor had won an Emmy, for The Colgate Comedy Hour in 1954, the same year he hosted the Academy Awards (news - web sites). He proved a likable host of three versions of the variety series The Donald O'Connor Hour on NBC.
He composed concert music, conducted classical orchestras, appeared in nightclubs and touring versions of musicals, such as Show Boat, in which he played Captain Andy. He had a cameo role as a dance instructor in the film Ragtime and played Robin Williams (news)' toy-manufacturing dad in Toys.
O'Connor had overcome a drinking problem, but had been sidelined in recent years from lung problems and a heart condition. Still, he managed to squeeze in show-biz jobs when his health permitted. His final film role was in 1997, playing one of the cruise ship dance hosts in Out to Sea, the grumpy old men comedy starring Walter Matthau (news) and Jack Lemmon (news).
O'Connor is survived by his second wife, Gloria Noble, their two sons, Donald and Kevin, and daughter, Alicia, as well as a daughter, Donna, from his first marriage to Gwen Carter.
Dark Helmet: There is something you should know. I am your father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate.
Lone Starr: So what does that make us?
Dark Helmet: Nothing! Which is what you are about to become. Prepare to die!!!
Dark Helmet: You have the ring, and I see that your schwartz is as big as mine. Now let's see how well you handle it!