Consummate song and dance man Donald O’Connor died today in a nursing home at age 78. Born into a circus/vaudeville family, O’Connor was in show business nearly his entire life. His most memorable film was Singin’ In the Rain with Gene Kelly. I’d never seen it until a couple of years ago; it’s a truly great movie with a contemporary sensibility. O’Connor’s “Make ‘em Laugh” dance number is deservedly a classic. O’Connor reminisced about it:
“They didn’t have a solo for me. I couldn’t think of anything and just by chance [composer-arranger] Roger Edens came in with this number ‘Make ‘Em Laugh.’ Kelly said, ‘Why don’t you take the girls -his assistants- ‘and a piano player and see what you can come up with.’ So I started ad-libbing and doing pratfalls, and whatever they laughed at the most we used. I couldn’t think of a finish for the number until I remembered I had done the run-up-the-wall in two other pictures, but never where I run up two walls, and go through a third. That was the perfect finish.”
O’Connor is pictured below with Kelly in Singin’ In the Rain, with Marilyn Monroe in There’s No Business Like Show Business, and with Francis the Talking Mule. He made six Francis movies, which were among his biggest money-makers.
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