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Donald O'Connor (1925 - 2003)

A photo of Donald O'Connor
Donald O'Connor
1925 - 2003
Born
August 28, 1925
Chicago, Cook County, Illinois United States
Death
September 27, 2003
Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California United States
Summary
Donald O'Connor was born on August 28, 1925 in Chicago, Illinois United States. He died on September 27, 2003 in Los Angeles, California United States at 78 years of age.
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Updated: October 12, 2021
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Introduction
FILM HISTORY Melody for Two (1937) as Specialty Act (uncredited) It Can't Last Forever (1937) as Kid Dancer (uncredited) Men with Wings (1938) as Pat Falconer at Age 10 Sing You Sinners (1938) as Mike Beebe Sons of the Legion (1938) as Butch Baker Tom Sawyer, Detective (1938) as Huckleberry Finn Boy Trouble (1939) as Butch Unmarried (1939) as Ted Streaver (age 12) Million Dollar Legs (1939) as Sticky Boone Beau Geste (1939) as Beau Geste (as a child) Night Work (1939) as Butch Smiley Death of a Champion (1939) as Small Fry On Your Toes (1939) as Phil Jr. as a Boy What's Cookin'? (1942) as Tommy Private Buckaroo (1942) as Donny Give Out, Sisters (1942) as Don Get Hep to Love (1942) as Jimmy Arnold When Johnny Comes Marching Home (1942) as Frankie Flanagan It Comes Up Love (1943) as Ricky Ives Mister Big (1943) as Donald J. O'Connor, Esq. Top Man (1943) as Don Warren Chip Off the Old Block (1944) as Donald Corrigan Follow the Boys (1944) as Donald O'Connor This Is the Life (1944) as Jimmy Plum The Merry Monahans (1944) as Jimmy Monahan Bowery to Broadway (1944) as Specialty Number #1 Patrick the Great (1945) as Pat Donahue Jr. Something in the Wind (1947) as Charlie Read Are You With It? (1948) as Milton Haskins Feudin', Fussin', and A-Fightin' (1948) as Wilbur McMurty Screen Snapshots: Motion Picture Mothers, Inc. (1949, Short) as Himself Yes Sir That's My Baby (1949) as William Waldo Winfield Francis (1950) as Peter Stirling Curtain Call at Cactus Creek (1950) as Edward Timmons The Milkman (1950) as Roger Bradley Double Crossbones (1951) as Davey Crandall Francis Goes to the Races (1951) as Peter Stirling Singin' in the Rain (1952) as Cosmo Brown Francis Goes to West Point (1952) as Peter Stirling I Love Melvin (1953) as Melvin Hoover Call Me Madam (1953) as Kenneth Gibson Francis Covers the Big Town (1953) as Peter Stirling Walking My Baby Back Home (1953) as Clarence 'Jigger' Millard Francis Joins the WACS (1954) as Peter Stirling There's No Business Like Show Business (1954) as Tim Donahue Francis in the Navy (1955) as Lt. Peter Stirling / Bosun's Mate Slicker Donovan Anything Goes (1956) as Ted Adams The Buster Keaton Story (1957) as Buster Keaton Cry for Happy (1961) as Murray Prince The Wonders of Aladdin (1961) as Aladdin That Funny Feeling (1965) as Harvey Granson Just One More Time (1974, Short) as Himself (uncredited) That's Entertainment! (1974) as Himself - Co-Host / Narrator / Clip from 'Singin' in the Rain' The Big Fix (1978) as Francis Joins the Navy Ragtime (1981) as Evelyn's Dance Instructor Pandemonium (1982) as Glenn's Dad A Time to Remember (1987) as Father Walsh Toys (1992) as Kenneth Zevo Father Frost (1996) as Baba Yaga Out to Sea (1997) as Jonathan Devereaux (final film role) Television
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Biography
Donald O'Connor
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Donald O'Connor was born on in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois United States
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Donald O'Connor died on in Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California United States
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‘I Have a Ph.D. in Not Having Money’ Donald joined the act when he was about a year old, crossed the country several times before he was able to talk, and was singing and dancing regularly at age 3. He never went to public school. His mother gave him some elementary education between his lessons in the essentials -- tap-dancing, soft-shoe routines, double shuffle handstands and cannon-balls. Childhood was not an especially good time for Donald, but not because he was subjected to the vicissitudes of show business when other children his age were going to school and playing games. He thought that such conventional children were strange. But it was in this period that his sister was killed when a car struck her and the baby carriage he was in (he was not seriously injured). By age 12, he had appeared in a song-and-dance act with two of his brothers, Jack and Billy. They made a short film together in 1937, but Donald did not make his official Hollywood film debut until 1938, when he appeared in ''Sing You Sinners'' as Bing Crosby's younger brother who becomes a jockey. The next year, he appeared as a young Gary Cooper in the adventure film ''Beau Geste.'' Hollywood had tapped him for these roles after a talent scout saw him perform at a benefit in the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. He also was picked to play in a production of ''Tom Sawyer'' in 1938. But the next year he lost his brother Billy to scarlet fever, and, by 1940, the O'Connor family act was no more. Donald, however, snagged a contract to appear as a juvenile with Universal at $200 a week. He started to get more conspicuous roles. In 1943, The New York Times took note of his performance in ''Mr. Big'' and described his work as ''as fresh and delightful a performance as any jaded eye could care to see.'' The next year, The New York World-Telegram called him ''the funniest man around right now,'' and Variety praised his skills in singing, dancing and acting.

Nationality & Locations

Donald David Dixon Ronald O'Connor was born on Aug. 28, 1925, in Chicago, a son of John Edward O'Connor, an Irish-born circus strongman, dancer and comedian, and Effie Irene Crane O'Connor, who was a circus acrobat, bareback rider, tightrope walker and dancer. When Donald was just six months old, his father died of a heart attack in the middle of a performance. His mother, true to the traditions of show business, carried on, using her children in her vaudeville acts.
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Personal Life

Starting with ''Francis'' in 1950, Mr. O'Connor made a lot of money playing opposite a mule. The film proved so popular, it was followed by ''Francis Goes to the Races'' (1951), ''Francis Goes to West Point'' (1952), ''Francis Covers the Big Town'' (1953), ''Francis Joins the Wacs'' (1954) and ''Francis in the Navy'' (1955). Hollywood also turned out ''Francis in the Haunted House'' (1956), but by then, Mr. O'Connor had decided that a continued association with a mule was not a good thing for his career, and the human lead went to Mickey Rooney. Mr. O'Connor also did a great deal of television, starring in the 1950's in ''Colgate Comedy Hour.'' John Crosby, the television critic for The New York Herald Tribune, saw him perform with Jimmy Durante on ''Texaco Star Theater'' and called Mr. O'Connor ''one of the greatest all-around talents in show business.'' But the golden age of the Hollywood musical was over, and as Mr. O'Connor aged and thickened, he no longer looked perfect for juvenile roles. His career faded, not to be revived by his performance in the title role of ''The Buster Keaton Story'' in 1957. He appeared in few movies after that. His brief appearance in ''Ragtime'' in 1981 was the first film he had done in 16 years. Somewhere along the line, Mr. O'Connor developed a serious drinking problem. He said he started drinking while in the service in 1944, and later on, he said, ''instead of coming home and having one or two drinks, I'd have one or two bottles.'' Work was even harder to come by. He stopped drinking in 1979, but he developed heart trouble and began to use nitroglycerin pills before performances so that he would have the stamina to complete them. He underwent successful quadruple-bypass surgery in 1990. After that he began to watch his diet. He worked out three times a week, and, in 1992, told a reporter that ''sobriety has been my savior.'' Mr. O'Connor came to Broadway in 1983 in a revival of ''Show Boat,'' in which he played the boat's proprietor, Cap'n Andy. In his review in The Times, Frank Rich wrote of Mr. O'Connor: ''He gets his laughs, by hook and crook, and contributes a delightful (if brief) display of his old razzmatazz tap style in Act II.'' In 1997, at the age of 71, Mr. O'Connor made a rare movie appearance in ''Out to Sea,'' a comedy starring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. With him in that small part was Gloria De Haven, who had starred with him in ''Yes Sir, That's My Baby'' in 1949. His 1944 marriage to Gwendolyn Carter ended in divorce 10 years later. They had a daughter, Donna. His second marriage, to Gloria Noble in 1956, lasted for the rest of his life. They had three children, Alicia, Donald Frederick and Kevin. Mr. O'Connor prided himself on being forward-looking, and he was not inclined to dwell on his past. ''I'm no longer a superstar,'' he said in 1992. ''Now I'm working on being a quasar, because stars wear out. Quasars go on forever.'' He said that as a young man, he had always been afraid of failure but that stopped as he grew older. ''Now I look for the parts where I die and they talk about me for the rest of the movie,'' he said.

Military Service

He was drafted toward the end of World War II and spent much of his time in the service entertaining combat troops. His popularity was such that Universal paid him his regular salary -- $50 a day -- while he was in uniform. After the war, he won favorable reviews even when his movies did not. Among the films in those years were ''Something in the Wind'' (1947), in which he appeared with Deanna Durbin, then a major star; ''Feudin', Fussin' and A-Fightin','' in which he demonstrated his great physical agility (1948); and ''Yes Sir, That's My Baby,'' a campus romp with another frequent partner, Gloria De Haven (1949). Critics and audiences applauded the breathtaking tap dance routine he did on roller skates in ''I Love Melvin'' (1953), even if they felt differently about the movie. Mr. O'Connor agreed with them that the movie was ''a lousy picture,'' much to the dismay of his producers. By 1954, his stature was such that he was asked to be the master of ceremonies for that year's Academy Awards ceremony at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood.
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Amanda S. Stevenson commented on Nov 29, 2019
Biography by Hal Erickson The son of a stage acrobat, American actor/dancer/singer Donald O'Connor was hoofing away as a child in his family's vaudeville act. He was discovered for films in 1938's Sing, You Sinners, spending the next few years in movies usually playing "the star as a child" -- that is, cast as the younger version of the film's leading man for prologue and flashback sequences. A 1941 Universal contract led to a string of peppy medium-budget musicals with such pure-forties titles as Get Hep to Love (1941) and Are You With It? (1949); O'Connor's most frequent costar was another teenage vaudeville vet, Peggy Ryan. In 1950, O'Connor was cast in the non-dancing role of a hapless army private who can't convince anyone that a mule can talk in Francis (1950). The film was a major moneymaker, leading Universal to inaugurate a Francis series starring O'Connor, Francis the Mule, and Francis' voice, Chill Wills. O'Connor bailed out before the final film in the series, Francis in the Haunted House (1956), complaining that the mule was getting more fan mail than he was. During the Francis epics, O'Connor was loaned to MGM for what is regarded as his finest film role, happy-go-lucky Cosmo Brown in Singin' in the Rain (1952). If he'd never made another film, O'Connor would be a musical-comedy immortal solely on the basis of his Rain setpiece, the athleticly uproarious Make 'Em Laugh (1952). When the sort of musicals in which he specialized went into a Hollywood eclipse, O'Connor concentrated on TV and nightclubs, save for a few less than satisfying cinematic assignments such as The Buster Keaton Story (1957) and the Italian-made curiosity The Wonders of Alladin (1961). When O'Connor returned to films for 1965's That Funny Feeling it was in support of the musical flavor-of-the-decade Bobby Darin. In 1967, O'Connor tried his hand at a syndicated talk-variety program, where he proved excellent as usual at performing but ill at ease as an interviewer. The 1970s were a maelstrom of summer theatre appearances, club dates and an on-and-off liquor problem for O'Connor; when he resurfaced briefly in 1981's Ragtime, movie audiences breathed a sigh of satisfaction that an old friend was back and seemingly as fit as ever. One of Donald O'Connor's most high profile later day film appearance was a cameo at the beginning of Barry Levinson's Toys (1992), wherein the verteran actor supplied a much-needed chunk of solid entertainment value to an otherwise ponderous project. A year after appearing as menacing witch Baba Yaga in the 1996 family fantasy Father Frost, O'Connor made his final film appearance in the Jack Lemmon/Walter Matthau ocean cruise comedy Out to Sea. In late September of 2003, legendary actor Donald O'Connor died of heart failure in Calabasas, CA. He was 78.
Amanda S. Stevenson commented on Nov 29, 2019
I saw him in person in SHOW BOAT on Broadway.

Obituary

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Donald O'Connor, Who Danced Through Many Hollywood Musicals, Dies at 78 By Richard Severo Sept. 28, 2003 Donald O'Connor, the jaunty, versatile dancer, singer and actor whose acrobatic ''Make 'Em Laugh'' solo in ''Singin' in the Rain'' is considered one of Hollywood's finest dance moments, died yesterday. He was 78. Mr. O'Connor, who had been in failing health for some time, died at the Motion Picture and Television Fund Hospital in Woodland Hills, Calif., said Kenneth Scherer, chief executive of the Motion Picture and Television Fund Foundation. From his early days in Hollywood, Mr. O'Connor was admired for his many sides, his wide appeal as an impish man with a ready smile and his self-deprecating sense of humor. Although critics and audiences adored his dancing, he was also known as the actor who chaperoned the talking mule, Francis, through six movies, beginning in 1950. Sign up for the New York Today Newsletter Each morning, get the latest on New York businesses, arts, sports, dining, style and more. SIGN UP Mr. O'Connor was frequently asked how he came to dance as he did in the ''Make 'Em Laugh'' number. He explained that Gene Kelly, who co-directed the 1952 film with Stanley Donen as well as starred in it, told him he could do anything he wanted, so when the music started, he made up his dance as he went along. Whenever he did something clever, he stopped and told somebody off camera to ''write that down.'' After he completed the sequence with the cameras rolling, he was told that the film had been overexposed, so he did it all over again, achieving what he thought was a better take. You have 2 free articles remaining. Subscribe to The Times Audiences in movie houses spontaneously applauded as Mr. O'Connor tumbled through walls and tried to walk up them, stealing from his own material that he had used as a vaudevillian. ''To call Donald O'Connor a song-and-dance man is like calling Shakespeare a strolling player,'' the dance critic Anna Kisselgoff wrote in The New York Times when the Film Society of Lincoln Center saluted him in 1997.
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1925 - 2003 World Events

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In 1925, in the year that Donald O'Connor was born, on November 28th, radio station WSM broadcast the Grand Ole Opry for the first time. Originally airing as “The WSM Barn Dance”, the Opry (a local term for "opera") was dedicated to honoring country music and in its history has featured the biggest stars and acts in country music.

In 1938, at the age of just 13 years old, Donald was alive when on June 25th (a Saturday) the Fair Labor Standards Act was signed into law by President Roosevelt (along with 120 other bills). The Act banned oppressive child labor, set the minimum hourly wage at 25 cents, and established the maximum workweek at 44 hours. It faced a lot of opposition and in fighting for it, Roosevelt said "Do not let any calamity-howling executive with an income of $1,000 a day, ...tell you...that a wage of $11 a week is going to have a disastrous effect on all American industry."

In 1940, when he was just 15 years old, in July, Billboard published its first Music Popularity Chart. Top recordings of the year were Tommy Dorsey's "I'll Never Smile Again" (vocal Frank Sinatra) - 12 weeks at the top, Bing Crosby's "Only Forever" - 9 weeks at the top, and Artie Shaw's "Frenesi" - 12 weeks at the top.

In 1956, Donald was 31 years old when this was the year that the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, became an international sensation. He began the year as a regional favorite and ended the year with 17 recordings having been on the Billboard’s Top 100 singles chart, 11 TV appearances, and a movie. Elvis scandalized adults and thrilled teens.

In 1969, by the time he was 44 years old, on January 20th, Richard M. Nixon became the 37th President of the United States. Previously the Vice President to President Eisenhower, Nixon was the only President to resign in office - in his second term.

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