“No matter what you do, have fun.”
– Donald O’Connor
It all started when Singin’ In The Rain came out in the West End recently. I really wanted to see it, but I decided that I would watch the original 1952 film first (which I am now ashamed to say that I hadn’t seen). I was going to watch it online or catch it when it was on TV, but my dear mother bought it for me on DVD for Christmas, which we watched a couple of days ago. I adored it from start to finish, from the big musical numbers to the humour to the outrageous characters. But there was one man who I was drawn to immediately, and that was Donald O’Connor’s character, Cosmo Brown. He was funny, full of life and always looked on the bright side – the perfect sidekick for Gene Kelly’s Don Lockwood.
At first I wasn’t sure if it was Donald O’Connor I liked or Cosmo Brown, so I decided to do some research and watch a few clips from some of the other musical films that he had starred in. Then it became clear that it was definitely Donald O’ Connor.
Donald David Dixon Ronald O’Connor was born in Chicago, Illinois on 28th August 1925. Both of his parents were vaudville entertainers, and while he was growing up he followed suit. His first film role was in Sing, You Sinners in 1937 with Bing Crosby when he was just 12 years old.
He then returned to vaudeville after starring in a number of child roles, and in 1942 he signed with Universal Pictures where he starred in a few Gloria Jean musicals. Since then he has been in many well-known musicals, such as Singin’ In The Rain (for which he won a Golden Globe for Best Actor), Walking My Baby Back Home, There’s No Business Like Show Business and Anything Goes. He even made many TV appearances right up to his seventies, and even had a role in an episode of Frasier in 1996 (Crane vs Crane) as a seemingly senile billionaire (I tried to find a clip of this episode but unfortunately there weren’t any that weren’t dubbed over in another language, but I’m sure you can watch it somewhere online).
Sadly he died in 2003 due to heart failure, but he will always remain as one of the greatest performers around.
Here are three reasons why he has given me a serious case of lapelaholism:
Straight away there is something about him that attracts you: the man is as cute as a button, with shiny brown hair, sparkling blue eyes and a kind smile, and his manner is so relaxed and carefree, you can’t help but feel happy when you see him.
2. Triple Threat (acting, dancing, singing)
When he dances it’s like he’s dancing on air and he makes the complicated look so easy. The man has got canned heat in his heels when he tap dances!
“Dancing is so wonderful. Once they start the music, your whole day, if it’s been rotten, seems to melt away. You get carried away in the tune that you’re moving to. It’s a marvelous catharsis, to be able to get on top and tap dance.”
– Donald O’Connor
And when he sings…the only word I can use to describe it is romantic – it’s just so light and lilting and he doesn’t force it, like some singers do these days. Acting wise, the guy’s a comic genius, whether it’s with dialogue or physically. It just comes to him so naturally, and like his singing, it’s never forced, unlike some of today’s actors who feel that they need to shout and burst a blood vessel to be considered a good actor.
“Bing Crosby was wonderful to me. The one thing he kept reminding me was that I didn’t have to yell. I was always working to the balcony and he told me the microphone would pick everything up, so I could calm my voice down. He was a tremendous help, always very encouraging, always patting me on the back…”
– Donald O’Connor
And his talent doesn’t stop there. He is also a composer and plays many instruments, including the piano and the drums. If someone told me he could fly I would believe them – he can pretty much do everything!
He was always dressed to impress, as most gentlemen were in his time, unlike some of the scuzzbuckets you see skulking around today:
Everything he wore suited him perfectly, especially in his film roles. I love his jumper from the Moses Supposes number in Singin’ In The Rain. Very sweet.
To finish, here are some of my favourite clips of him. I hope you will love watching him just as much as I do.
Make ‘Em Laugh, from Singin’ In The Rain (1952)
Had to put this one in. He choreographed and performed the whole thing himself, and wore himself out so much after filming he had to take bed rest for three days, only to return and find out the film had been destroyed and he had to do it again! But being the gentle soul that he is, he said that he didn’t mind doing it and in fact it was a lot better the second time.
Moses Supposes (with Gene Kelly), from Singin’ In The Rain (1952)
One of my fave moments from this film. Don’t get me wrong, Gene Kelly is fantastic too, but I always find myself watching Donald O’Connor (I say ‘always’ – I’ve seen this waaay too many times). Gene Kelly is very neat and precise with his movements, but he is more easygoing. It looks a little untidy, but that’s what’s so great about it.
Fit As A Fiddle (And Ready For Love) (with Gene Kelly), from Singin’ In The Rain (1952)
Another of my favourite moments from the film. They’re just so wonderfully in sync, and again, the choreography is fantastic.
Where Did You Learn To Dance? (with Debbie Reynolds), from I Love Melvin (1953)
Love his yellow shirt in this. And just watch how he is with Debbie Reynolds – very sweet and well-mannered. I’ve been trying to do that clapping rhythm he does at the start, but because I’m naturally slow and lazy I couldn’t do it properly.
What Chance Have I With Love? from Call Me Madam (1953)
He has to be the best kind of drunk. I’d gladly buy him a few shots if it meant that he would break out into song and dance. And the bit with the balloons…well, I’ll just let you watch it and see for yourself. Brilliant.
“Sitting Down Dance” (with Gene Kelly), from the Pontiac Star Parade (1959)
I cannot stop watching this. The way he can just tap dance without having to make any arm gestures or move about too much, it’s amazing. And once again he and Gene Kelly have proven that they are two of the greatest entertainers in history.