Wednesday, November 19, 2014

"Va Va Voom" Star of the Day

Donald O'Connor
Donald O'Connor was born on August 28, 1925 in Chicago, Illinois, to a family of circus performers.  He entered the family business in the family's vaudeville act, becoming a featured dancer in low-budget musicals.  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'Connor's traveled from city to city, performing for food if necessary.  His mother had become extremely overprotective of her remaining children, seeming never to completely recover from the shock of losing her daughter and husband.  Donald enjoyed being on stage, which served as escape from his domineering mother.

In 1937, O'Connor was spotted by Paramount Pictures, and was 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 in the latter part of 1939, when his brother Bill suddenly died. O'Connor served as Bill's replacement, touring with the family vaudeville act until 1942. Later that year, he was hired by Universal Studios and paired up with dancer Peggy Ryan as part of a dance troupe, "The Jivin' Jacks and Jills," for a series of B-musicals. He continued to work in the troupe until his 18th birthday, when he was drafted, and his films were rushed into production. Throughout the rest of World War II, Universal continued to release the popular and profitable O'Connor/Ryan films.
He entertained his fellow troupes throughout WW2, but when he was discharged he went right back to work in minor musicals. In 1944, O'Connor married his childhood sweetheart Gwen Carter. (They had a rather turbulent relationship and divorced in 1953. ) O'Connor launched a new phase of his screen career with his role as Peter Stirling in Francis the Talking Mule (1949), which spawned six sequels.

But his big leap on to Hollywood's A-list was his performance in the MGM musical Singin' in the Rain (1952). His solo dance number "Make 'Em Laugh" marked a defining achievement in his career. His 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 the Mule films, and as a television entertainer. He starred in some big screen musicals, and 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." During the 1960's O'Connor made occasional TV appearances, hosting a few variety programs and specials. 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.

In 1999, he survived a highly publicized and nearly fatal battle with pneumonia.  Unfortunately, six years later, O'Connor died of heart failure on September 27, 2003, in Woodland Hills, California.

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