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Trouper Donald O'Connor starred with Francis the Talking Mule, danced in Singing In the Rain, and was a familiar face on 1950s television.
Gene Kelly - Remembered (2:06)
While filming "Singin' in the Rain," Gene Kelly was ill, his suits were shrinking underneath the hot lights, and he filmed for days in the rain. Despite all of this, he managed to perform one of the most famous scenes in movie history.
Gene Kelly made his mark on Hollywood and, through his work both in front of and behind the camera, transformed the movie musical.
Gene Kelly, unlike Hollywood's other leading male dancer, Fred Astaire, brought an athletic quality to the movies when he danced on screen. His big break came in "Cover Girl" when he danced a duet… with himself.
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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. Over the next few years,
O'Connor reprised his role in five of the sequels, including 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).
O'Connor finally jumped onto Hollywood's A-list with the MGM musical Singin' in the Rain (1952). His solo dance number "Make 'Em Laugh" marked a defining achievement in his career. O'Connor's role as Cosmo Brown earned him a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor, and secured a place for him in film history.
After Singin' in the Rain, O'Connor was increasingly in demand for big-budget musicals, while at the same time he continued to work on the Francis films, and as a television entertainer. In 1953, he starred in three big screen musicals, Walking My Baby Back Home, I Love Melvin, and Call Me Madam. The latter featured Ethel Merman, and marked her return to the film after a 15-year hiatus. Later that year, O'Connor secured a niche in early television, by winning an Emmy Award for Best Male Star for his role as a rotating host on The Colgate Comedy Hour.
In 1954, O'Connor began working on the Donald O'Connor Texaco Show, a bi-weekly program for the Texaco Star Theater. Later that year, he appeared in There's No Business Like Show Business (1954), which featured an all-star cast, including Marilyn Monroe, Dan Dailey, Ethel Merman, Mitzi Gaynor and Johnny Ray. He attempted to shed his boy-next-door image with a more dramatic role in the 1957 biopic The Buster Keaton Story. However, as the 1950s came to a close, O'Connor came across fewer and fewer parts.
During the 1960's O'Connor made occasional TV appearances, hosting a few variety programs and specials. His film work was limited to a handful of features, including The Wonders of Aladdin (1961), Cry For Happy (1961) and That Funny Feeling (1965), with Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee. With the demise of his film and television career, O'Connor returned to his vaudeville roots, appearing in stage productions throughout Las Vegas, Reno, and New York. In 1968, he had a brief run on television with his own syndicated variety show The Donald O'Connor Show.
In the 1970s, O'Connor developed an addiction to alcohol. As a result of his problem, his only film contribution was as one of the many hosts of 1974's That's Entertainment. In 1981, he costarred with Chita Rivera in the Broadway production of Bring Back Birdie, which was a less impressive sequel to the original Bye Bye Birdie. His next Broadway effort as Cap'n Andy in the 1983 revival of Showboat proved to be a hit.
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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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