Day 143 of Colourisation Project – September 27
Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.
Exuberant singer-dancer-actor Donald O’Connor, the man who performed one of the greatest solo numbers in the history of musical comedy passed away eleven years ago on this day, 27th September in 2003.
Born in Chicago, the seventh son of circus performers who went into vaudeville, O’Connor, with his boyish charm found fame in Hollywood where he started out as a contract actor for Paramount, playing adolescent roles in several films, including Huckleberry Finn in Tom Sawyer – Detective (1938) and Bing Crosby’s kid brother in Sing You Sinners (1938), which he later ranked among his favorite roles.
O’Connor became one of Hollywood’s top musical stars in the 1940s and 1950s, appearing in many successful musicals including, Call Me Madam (1953), Walking My Baby Back Home (1953), There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954), and Anything Goes, (1956). In the early 1950s, he also starred in the wildly popular series of movies, Francis, (1950) the story of a soldier befriended by a talking mule. It was directed by Arthur Lubin, the same director of the TV series Mr. Ed, the talking horse. (When you’re on a good thing, stick to it!)
Universal Pictures produced one Francis film per year until 1955. As fate would have it, O’Connor contracted an illness transmitted by the mule, and consequently missed out on playing Bing Crosby’s partner in White Christmas. He was replaced in the film by Danny Kaye. He told an audience once that he eventually ‘quit working with Francis when he started getting more fan mail than I did.’
But it is his role as Gene Kelly’s friend and colleague, Cosmo Brown in Singin’ in the Rain (1952) that he is best remembered for and for which he won a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Comedy or Musical. Especially impressive was his show-stopping spirited rendition and dance routine in Make ‘Em Laugh. Demonstrating sheer athleticism, O’Connor combined comedy, acrobatics a dummy prop, and a series of back flips off a wall, while all the time belting out the song, Make ‘em Laugh. That performance continues to this day to delight and astonish new generations of audiences.
When asked how Make ’em Laugh was choreographed, O’Connor explained that he made it up in bits and pieces.
“Gene Kelly had injured himself, as I recall, and we had a couple of free days to make up something. We started with the set and the song.
There was a sofa, so that went in. Somebody handed me the dummy, and that was in. Whatever worked, we kept.”
You can watch it here. I guarantee it will make you laugh.
O’Connor who claims he smoked four packs of cigarettes a day during filming had to have three days bed rest after the Make ‘Em Laugh sequence. Apart from Make ‘Em Laugh, – O’Connor also danced two dynamic duets with Kelly, Fit As A Fiddle and the tongue-twisting tapper Moses Supposes.
O’Connor’s career in later years was temporarily derailed by his battles with alcohol and health issues. In 1972 he suffered a heart attack. In 1994, he and his wife, Gloria Noble, had a close brush with death during an earthquake, when their house started to shake and slide off its foundation. Luck was on their side as the house wedged up against a big tree which stopped it from crashing into a canyon!
1990 saw O’Connor undergo quadruple heart bypass surgery and in 1998 he survived a bout of double pneumonia. He passed away from complications of heart failure on September 27, 2003 at age 78.
He was awarded 2 Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; one at 1680 Vine Street for Motion Pictures and one at 7021 Hollywood Blvd for TV.
“I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is yes. I can still leap over the furniture and dance on the wall. And recite 24 bars of that popular tongue twister ‘Moses Supposes.” Donald O’Connor in 1992