Donald O’Connor – An American dancer, singer, and film actor

 

“I was born and raised to entertain other people. I’ve heard laughter and applause and known a lot of sorrow. Everything about me is based on show business – I think it will bring me happiness. I hope so.” – Donald O’Connor in 1955

 

Donald O’Connor was an American dancer, singer, and actor who came to fame in a series of movies in which he co-starred alternately with Gloria Jean, Peggy Ryan, and Francis the Talking Mule. He is best remembered today for his role as Gene Kelly’s friend and colleague in “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952).

 

Donald O'Connor  (August 28, 1925 – September 27, 2003)

Donald O’Connor
(August 28, 1925 – September 27, 2003)

Donald O’Connor was born August 28, 1925 in Chicago, Illinois. His parents were Irish-American vaudeville entertainers. When O’Connor was only a few years old, he and his sister Arlene were in a car crash outside a theater in Hartford, Connecticut. O’Connor survived, but his sister was killed. Several weeks later, his father died of a heart attack while dancing on stage in Brockton, Massachusetts. O’Connor began performing in movies in 1937. He appeared opposite Bing Crosby in “Sing, You Sinners” (1938) at age 12. Paramount Pictures used him in both A and B films, including “Tom Sawyer, Detective” (1938) and “Beau Geste” (1939). In 1940, when he had outgrown child roles, he returned to vaudeville. In 1942 O’Connor joined Universal Pictures where he played roles in four of the Gloria Jean musicals, and achieved stardom with “Mister Big” (1943). In 1944 O’connor was drafted into the Army. Before he reported for induction, Universal Pictures rushed him through three feature films, done simultaneously and released when he was overseas. After his discharge, Universal cast him in lightweight musicals and comedies. In 1949, O’Connor played the lead role in “Francis”, the story of a soldier befriended by a talking mule. The film was such a huge success that he made one Francis movie a year until 1955. In what is his most famous role, O’Connor starred opposite Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds in “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952) . His role as Cosmo the piano player in “Singin’ In The Rain” earned him a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Comedy or Musical. He also starred opposite Marilyn Monroe and Ethel Meriman in “There’s No Business Like Show Business” (1954).

 

Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly in "Singin' In The Rain" (1952)

Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly in “Singin’ In The Rain” (1952)

 

Donald O’Connor was a regular host of NBC’s “Colgate Comedy Hour”. He hosted a color television special on NBC in 1957 and he had his own television series in the late 1960s.  After overcoming alcoholism in the 1970s, he got a career boost when he hosted the Academy Awards, which earned him two Primetime Emmy nominations. He appeared as a gaslight-era entertainer in the 1981 film “Ragtime”, notable for similar encore performances by James Cagney and Pat O’Brien. O’Connor appeared in the short-lived “Bring Back Birdie” on Broadway in 1981, and continued to make film and television appearances into the 1990s. Donald O’Connor’s last feature film was the Jack Lemmon-Walter Matthau comedy “Out to Sea” (1997). O’Connor was still making public appearances well into 2003.

 

Donald O'Connor and Marilyn Monroe in "There's No Business Like Show Business" (1954)

Donald O’Connor and Marilyn Monroe in “There’s No Business Like Show Business” (1954)

 

O’Connor was married twice. In 1944 he married Gwen Carter. They had one child and were divorced in 1954. He married Gloria Noble in 1956 and they remained married until his death in 2003. Donald and Gloria had three children.

 

Donald O'Connor in "Francis" (1950)

Donald O’Connor in “Francis” (1950)

 

Donald O’Connor died from congestive heart failure on September 27, 2003 in Calabasas, California. He was 78 years old. As some of his last words O’Connor is reported to have expressed tongue-in-cheek thanks to the Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement that he expected to receive at a “future date”. His remains were cremated and buried at the Forest Lawn–Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles. He is survived by his wife, Gloria, and four children.

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One Response to “Donald O’Connor – An American dancer, singer, and film actor”

  1. […] Donald O'Connor – An American dancer, singer, and film actor April 14th, 2013 at 1:17 […]

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