Best Known For
Trouper Donald O'Connor starred with Francis the Talking Mule, danced in Singing In the Rain, and was a familiar face on 1950s television.
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Actor. Born August 28, 1925, in Chicago, Illinois. He was the fourth surviving child of Effie and Edward O'Connor, two stars of vaudeville who had first won fame as Ringling Bros. circus performers. Ten months after O'Connor's birth, his 7-year-old sister Arline was struck by a car and killed. O'Connor's devastated father died of a heart attack weeks later.
During the Great Depression, the surviving O'Connors traveled from city to city, performing for food if necessary. Effie O'Connor had become extremely overprotective of her remaining children, seeming never to completely recover from the shock of losing her daughter and husband. O'Connor joined the family act when he was just a toddler. He enjoyed being on stage, which also served as escape from his domineering mother.
In 1937, O'Connor was spotted by Paramount Pictures, and hired to play Bing Crosby's brother in Sing You Sinners (1938). The hit musical launched his career as Paramount's newest child actor. He went on to make 11 films from 1938-39, usually playing an orphan or the younger version of the film's lead, including Men With Wings (1938), Unmarried, and Beau Geste (both 1939).
After an impressive start, O'Connor's film career was abruptly put on hold. He had to return to vaudeville in the latter part of 1939, when his brother Bill suddenly died. O'Connor served as Bill's replacement, touring with the family act until 1942. Later that year, he was hired by Universal Studios and paired up with dancer Peggy Ryan. The duet joined a new Hollywood dance troupe, The Jivin' Jacks and Jills, for a series of B-musicals. The ensemble debuted in the 1942 film What's Cookin'?, for which they were credited as a group. However, O'Connor and Ryan's well-received performance earned them separate billing in their next projects.
Assuming that O'Connor would soon be called into the Army, Universal held him to a stringent work schedule, hoping to cram in as much rehearsal time as possible. As expected, on his 18th birthday, he was drafted, and the films were rushed into production. Throughout the rest of World War II, Universal continued to release the popular and profitable O'Connor/Ryan films.
While in the Army, O'Connor served in the Special Services Corps, where he was given the suitable job of entertaining his fellow soldiers. After his discharge he returned to Hollywood where he starred in Something in the Wind (1947), opposite Deanna Durbin. He was cast in a few other minor musicals, including Fuedin', Fussin' and A Fightin' (1948), Yes, Sir, That's My Baby (1949), and Curtain Call at Cactus Creek (1950).
O'Connor launched a new phase of his screen career with his role as Peter Stirling in Francis the Talking Mule (1949). The films were among Universal's most profitable titles, and the success of the first Francis film spawned six sequels.
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Dance pioneers like Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and Gene Kelly—remembered for his groundbreaking performance in 1952's Singin' in the Rain—truly set the stage for Hollywood's dance-film genre. John Travolta, Jennifer Beals, Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey and Natalie Portman are some of the performers who took up where Astaire, Rogers and Kelly left off, repopularizing dance on film for later generations. Biography.com's Famous Movie Dancers group examines the lives and careers of these high-stepping performers who will always be remembered for their unforgettable moves.
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