Stars - 1944
Donald O'Connor says, I'm Tired of Being a
Machine - 2/7/54
Comic and Pupil: How to Play Keaton By Buster In Person
Life Magazine Off Site Article - 5/6/57
Donald O'Connor at Benefit - 5/20/93
Step With Donald O'Connor Offsite Article - 3/14/93
The Arts: Somersaults to Stardom - 6/7/94
Actor and hoofer Donald O'Connor says he's
not just song-and-dance - 1995
Steppin' Out with Donald O'Connor - 8/31/97
O'Connor, 71, Still at Home on the Stage Off Site
Article - 5/4/97
Still Gotta Dance - 1997
Movie dance legend goes 'Out to Sea' -
Singin' in the Rain Star Hospitalized
Brave Donald O'Connor Risks His Life To Please
His Fans He insists the show must go on... - 2/99
Donald O'Connor Is Off Ventilator - 2/17/99
Donald O'Connor leaves Hospital - 3/1/99
Entertainer Donald O'Connor released from
hospital - 3/3/99
No Slack: Hagar Jams in the Gigs - 3/14/99
Entertainer Donald O'Connor Back After Illness
Follies Announces Triumphant Return of Legendary
Donald O'Connor from Near-Fatal Illness - 5/12/99
Friends, Family, Fans Give Mel Torme Fond
Farewell - 6/8/99
El Portal Press Release 8/27/99
Springs Press Release Off Site Article10/29/99
Article Off Site Article 11/17/99
Screen Album Magazine #25
Winter Edition 1944
Donald O'Connor's got a personality like
the "One O'Clock Jump". Loose limbed, jivy, boogin' on the
downbeat. The Coke crowd thinks he's snaky. The bridge set
thinks he's Henry Aldrich in a reet pleat. A chunky, sweet-faced
girl named Gwen, thinks he's Gable. We think he a good,
healthy kid who's had a tougher time than most - and now
he's so darn happy, it's spilling out of his eyes. It sneaks
into his grin. It's spread all over his silly-looking puss.
Mom's got a house; he's got a second hand job with free-wheeling,
and a room of his own and a contract and a girl and... seen
any pictures of his girl? She's tiny and round and her hair's
a shiny chestnut caught up in a bow. They argue. Don's always
wandering in half an hour late for a date. "Gad, I'm inconsiderate,"
he yells. "But honest, faldrass (which means honey), this
is the last time it'll happen (Which means til Sat. night.)"
He takes her to an ice cream place after the movie and finds
a couple of buddies at the fountain. So he leaves Gwen by
herself while he talks things over with the guys. Then all
the way home he keeps saying, "What've I done? I'm asking
you, what've I done?" Or she edits his pet story as he goes
along and finally he shrugs and gives up. "These women -
all alike." Mom he's got under his thumb. "You're working
to hard, Ma. Get a maid." She's says no. He says, "But-"
It's still no. Mom's not the chaise lounge and bon-bon type.
Don's different. Luxury has a certain charm," he says. His
room, some day, is going to be an indirectly lighted nightmare.
Zebra-striped wallpaper, white bear rugs, a hammock for
a bed. And big blue mirrors yet. "A frank extravaganza,"
he says, "but my own."
Donald O'Connor says, I'm Tired of Being
February 7th 1954
by Kay Sullivan and Sid Ross
Since he was 13 months old, he's had his
nose to the grindstone. Now he wants some "time to live"
I've still got to find a place in life as a human being,
not a machine," says 28-year-old Donald O'Connor, nimble-footed
funnyman of movies and TV.
Donald claims his life has been so full of
work, he hasn't had time to develop a philosophy and a personality.
People think of him in his movie roles - and forget there's
a Donald O'Connor, human being.
"I'm no angel," says Donald. "I'm the same
as everyone else, with the same temperament and temper.
I resent having people tag me as a perpetual, super-polite
juvenile. I'm subject to fever and headaches and bad-temper
just like anybody else."
Donald's been called the "youngest old-timer
in show business" - with justification. He toddled in front
of the footlights when he was 13 months old - and from then
on he was never away from them. Even the two years he spent
in the army, he entertained U.S. troops.
"I was born and raised to entertain other
people," says Donald. "I've heard laughter and applause
and known a lot of sorrow. Everything about me is based
on show business - I think it will bring me happiness. I
hope so. I'm working to make it that way."
Donald may not always be happy himself, but
he never fails to get a chuckle out of an audience.
He brought down the house at his debut. It
was in 1926 in a Cincinnati theater. Wearing a little white
dress, he shuffled on stage to the tune of "Black Bottom."
He ended his part of the act by turning around and vigorously
patting his backside. "My mother had to grab me before I
fell down," Donald says. "I didn't want to stop."
Life began for Donald on August 30th 1925
at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Chicago. He was the youngest
of seven children of Effie Serge O'Connor and Charles "Chuck"
The O'Connor Family Theater Act toured the
country, doing vaudeville shows and old standbys like "David
Harum" and "Shepherd of the Hills."
"My Father was glad I was born," says Donald.
"With each kid the O'Connor family act made more dough.
As soon as we could walk, we went to work, adding another
$25 a week to the family income."
(Donald and a brother, John Edward are the
only children living today - three died in childbirth, one
in an auto accident and one of scarlet fever.)
"My father started out as a circus 'leaper',"
says Donald. "He'd run down a ramp, jump over an elephant
and land on a mat."
Donald's mother, who ran away to join the
circus, when she was 14, was a bareback rider.
"When she and dad got married, she was only
15," says Donald. "Dad was much older, about 28. They formed
their own act which they called, "The Nelson Comiques" for
a while. I think they switched to Nelson because they owed
a hotel bill."
Not long after Donald's "Black Bottom" debut,
his father died backstage of a heart attack.
But the "O'Connor Family Theater Act" kept
going, thanks to the determination of Donald's mother. When
one of the boys married a dancer, the troupe got a new member.
"Everybody thought I was going to be a midget,"
says Donald. "I wore bangs and curls and was very small.
I'd come out onstage to 'Hail Hail the Gang's all Here'
in a suit that made me look like a little old man. I'd keep
strutting right out towards the audience till my brother
Billy caught me by the coat tails and swung me back on stage.
Then we'd go into some acrobatics."
Donald even did a solo song. "Keep Your Sunny
Side Up" and a dance. "I earned $25 a week but I didn't
get my own salary till I married," he says. "I lived on
an allowance and whatever I could snitch from my mother's
"Maybe it all sounds brutal, but it was our
way of life and we liked it. Our family was very close.
I didn't miss what other kids had because I really didn't
know how they lived. School? Between the ages of five and
12, I took correspondence courses with my mother as my teacher.
I finished up my education in studio schools."
Being a child actor had it's bumps and bruises
for Donald. Once in San Francisco, he was playing tag near
the stage door. A youngster slammed the door on his hand
just as his cue to go onstage came.
"I could hear them playing 'Hail, Hail the
Gang's all Here'," says Donald, "but I couldn't get the
door open. I kept yelling upstairs to vamp the music. Finally,
I pulled out my hand. I was crying, my finger hurt, but
I bounced onstage." It turned out that the finger was broken.
Another time, brother Billy missed catching
Donald by the coattails as he leaned out over the footlights.
"He grabbed me by my left ear and swung me back over before
I hit the orchestra pit," says Donald. "My ear was bleeding.
My white suit was a mess, and I was crying like mad. But
I still kept singing 'Keep Your Sunny Side Up'."
In Chicago he slipped off a wall while playing
between shows. "I didn't tell anybody, but went on and did
my handstands as usual," he recalls. "I got sicker and sicker.
Finally, after the fourth show, my mother took me to a hospital
where they told me I'd been balancing on a broken arm."
Donald's "big rebellion" came when he was
about 10. He got tired of hearing other kids call him a
sissy so he sneaked off to a barber and had his Buster Brown
bangs cut off. "My mother looked at me and cried," says
Donald. "She kept saying, 'My Baby has grown up and ruined
In 1938 , The O'Connor family played a benefit
for the Motion Picture Relief Fund in Los Angeles. After
the show, a movie scout asked Donald to take a test at Paramount.
He wound in a picture with Bing Crosby and Fred MacMurray.
It was called "Sing You Sinners".
"I was pretty excited," says Donald. "About
that time I had a terrific crush on a girl named Judy Garland.
She was about two years older than me, but we'd played the
same bills in vaudeville. As a movie 'star' I figured I'd
impress her. I didn't. She got in movies too!"
Donald worked hard during the year he was
under contract to Paramount. He made 11 pictures including
"Beau Geste," "Men with Wings" and "Million Dollar Legs."
At that time he began to wonder if there
wasn't more to life than work. "I saw how other boys could
stay home and play and I resented having to go to a studio
every day," he said. "I remember once, all us kids started
building a playhouse. I couldn't stay and finish it because
I had to go to work. So the kids started to tease me. 'Look
at the big movie actor,' they'd say. I didn't resent what
they said; I only resented having to go away and leave them."
Whatever he did, Donald strove for perfection.
He did well in baseball, boxing, swimming, bowling, and
any sport "that didn't take too much time to learn."
At 14, he lost his job at Paramount when
his voice began to change and he grew into the "awkward
age". "There was nothing left for us but to take the O'Connor
Family Act on the road again," he said. "Things got pretty
rough. My brother Billy died and I tried to do both his
act and mine."
A wire from a Hollywood agent saved the day.
It was an offer to do "What's Cookin'?" a musical for Universal.
Donald did that and 12 others for the same studio. Not one
of them made less than $2,000,000.
On February 6th 1944, the day before he reported
for Army Service, Donald married Gwendolyn Carter. They
were divorced last year, and have a little seven year old
His latest movies like "Singin' in the Rain"
(MGM) "Call Me Madam" (20th Century Fox) and "Walking My
Baby Back Home," (Universal) have established him as one
of Hollywood's top dancer actors.
His performances on NBC-TV's Colgate Comedy
Hour have earned him honors in televsion as a comedy star.
"I think I've learned to gratify the audience
instead of myself," says Donald. "and it's a satisfying
thing. A real entertainer would rather give than receive.
Now if I can just peel off the layers of stage superstition
and narrowness that my early years piled on me, I'll be
all right. I think I have a fifty-fifty chance."
Donald O'Connor at Benefit
SONG-AND-DANCE MAN Donald O'Connor may do
a time step or two at "The Dance of the Decade," a benefit
for the Missouri Historical Society's Media Archive Project.
The organization is dedicated to the preservation of local
media contributions with a special emphasis on television
and radio programming. O'Connor, best known for his role
in Singin' in the Rain with Gene Kelly, is the current
host of the American Movie Classic's "Comedy Classics" series.
The program will also include a ballroom
dancing demonstration, music by Jim Bolen's Gateway City
Big Band, and brief remarks by Ron (Johnny Rabbit) Elz of
WIL/WRTH Radio, and E.J. Glaser of Crown Cable. Sponsors
are the Cable Television Association of Greater St. Louis
(CTAGS), comprised of local cable television operators;
American Movie Classics (AMC) cable channel; and WRTH Radio.
The optional, black-tie event will be 8-11
p.m. May 21, St. Louis Casa Loma Ballroom, 3354 Iowa Street.
Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door. (664-8000).
Copyright (c) 1993, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
DONALD O'CONNOR AT BENEFIT., St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 05-20-1993,
The Arts: Somersaults to Stardom
The Daily Telegraph (London)
June 7th 1994
by Gerald Kaufman
Precisely one day in Donald O'Connor's life
turned him into a movie legend. It was the day in 1951 when
he filmed the astonishing Make 'Em Laugh number for
the MGM musical Singin' in the Rain. Thoug it is
43 years since he took part in it, O'Connor is still - perhaps
to his annoyance - best remembered for this one movie. Yet,
as he politely made clear to me at the West End hotel where
he is staying during the cabaret season he opens tonight
at Connaughts's Brasserie, Covent Garden, O'Connor's show-business
career did not start when he walked on to that sound stage
at MGM. Now aged 68, he first appeared before the public,
as part of his Chicago family's circus act, when he was
just three days old. By the time he was 13 months, he was
drawing the impressive salary of $25 a week. However he
offered me a guilty confession: "I didn't start to sing
until I was about two."
One of his early roles, as a child performer
in Hollywood, where he moved when aged 11, was to play Gary
Cooper as a boy in Beau Geste, but with his twitch
grin and gob-stopper eyes, O'Connor was never going to make
it as a romantic lover. Istead he squeakily coooned along
with Bing Crosby at the age of 13 in Sing you Sinners,
prompting his co-star to ask: "Isn't there anything he can't
do?" He appeared with Crosby again when aged 31, he made
Anything Goes. He was only prevented from co-starring
yet again with Crosby, in White Christmas because
of a rare fever. "They waited for me for four months, but
I was too weak." So Paramount had to fall back on Danny
Kaye. "Irving Berlin [composer of White Christmas]
was devastated," O'Connor recalls.
At the top of his Hollywood career, O'Connor
worked only with the best. He made two other films with
songs by Irving Berlin, and in the 1954 Berlin film There's
No Business like Show Business, he worked with Marilyn
Monroe. But after 1965, O'Connor did not make another movie
for 16 years, until he got a small part along side his friend
Jimmy Cagney in Ragtime. He had beome an alcoholic.
"Alcoholism was a disease," O'Connor told me. "A genetic
thing. I used to have a marvellous time drinking. Until
I passed that invisible line and I became an alcoholic."
His wife left him (though she later returned). His children
became alienated from him. When it was suggested to O'Connor
that he go into hospital to dry out, "I figured I could
master the programme, be out of there in a week, and go
back to drinking. But once I was there, something marvellous
happened. My obsession to drink left me. Now I have been
a recovering alcoholic for fifteen and a half years."
No one watching Make 'Em Laugh in
Singin' in the Rain, with its superb timing, its
apparently frenetic but utterly controlled humour, and its
incredible athletics would imagine that he had ever drunk
a drop. O'Connor nearly turned down the role as Gene Kelly's
dancing partner. His home studio, Universal, agreed to loan
him out to MGM on condition that it kept the fee MGM paid
for his services. O'Connor stood firm and won. "I said I
wouldn't make the picture unless I got the money. It wasn't
very much anyway." He was, in fact, paid $90,000 as against
the $102,000 received by Kelly, who not only co-starred,
but also co-directed and choreographed all the numbers -
except Make 'Em Laugh,
"They didn't have a number for me to do.
Then they came up with this number, Make 'Em Laugh.
Gene asked me if I'd take a pianist and see what I could
come up with." So O'Connor went off with the pianist and
Kelly's two dance assistants. "I started doing pratfalls.
Whatever they laughed at the most, I said, 'Write it down.'
That's how the number came about. I put it together real
fast." It ends with a succession of amlost impossible bakward
somersaults. O'Connor got the inspiration from similar acrobatics
in two films he had made at Universal, a hillbilly comedy
called Feudin', Fusssin' and A-Fightin' and pirate
pastiche, Double Crossbones. He filmed Make 'Em
Laugh in one day and, 'because my body was so stiff',
then took three days off. "I came back on the set three
days later. All the grips applauded. Gene appladed, told
me what a great number it was. Then Gene said: 'Do you think
you could do that number again?' I said: 'Sure, any time.'
He said: 'Well, we're going to have to do it again tomorrow'.
No one had checked the aperture of the camera and they fogged
out all the film." So he did it again and even improved
it. The reaction was extraordinary.
When O'Connor said to me, matter-of-factly,
"I was bigger than Kelly at that time", he was not being
gradiloquent. The Singin' in the Rain preview reports,
which I read in the MGM archive at the University of Sothern
California, show that O'Connor consistenly got better ratings
from audiences than did Kelly, and that Make 'Em Laugh
was preferred by a considerable margin to Kelly's now iconised
dance with the umbrella.
Although O'Connor is no longer supple enough
to perform Make 'Em Laugh, at Connaught's he will tap dance
part of his dazzling Singin' in the Rain duet with
Kelly, Moses Supposes. And his Fit as Fiddle
dance from the musical is included in the latest film compilation
from MGM musicals, That's Entertainment III, due to open
in Britain this summer. At the end of our conversation I
transmuted from interviewer to fan, and asked O'Connor to
autograph my prized script of Singin' in the Rain,
which Gene Kelly has signed "To GK from GK". O'Connor wrote
his name and added "Keep singin'". Through good times, bad
times, alcoholism - and a heart bypass, too - O'Connor has
certainly kept singin'. Long he may continue.
Actor and hoofer Donald O'Connor says he's
not just song-and-dance
Donald O'Connor still finds it odd to be
called a song-and-dance man.
The 70-year-old actor says it's a fluke that
he landed so many roles in musicals - among them "Singin'
in the Rain" with Gene Kelly.
"I started out as a `straight' actor, as
they used to call it. I didn't learn to dance until I was
15," O'Connor says. "It was very embarrassing making mistake
after mistake and not being able to do what some 5-year-old
O'Connor moved to Sedona last year after
he and his wife lost their Los Angeles home in an earthquake.
During a recent interview, he reminisced about his career
as he sat in his living room overlooking the red stone columns
of Bell Rock. Born to the stage O'Connor was born to vaudeville
parents and placed on stage when he was 3 days old. He started
making movies 13 years later after a talent scout spotted
him in an act.
"I had three dance routines, and I looked
like the world's greatest dancer, but I never knew any of
the basic steps. I just didn't have the formal training,"
he said. "I come from a circus and vaudeville family, and
that's really all I can do."
It was enough to land him roles in several
dozen films and tag him a "song-and-dance" man, a characterization
he appreciates, but doesn't necessarily care for.
"Back then, when you were typecast that way,
it was very difficult to get dramatic parts," he recalled.
"Look at Fred Astaire, who was a darn good actor. Gene Kelly
was even better, although he did get do some dramatic things."
Many still remember O'Connor for his "Make
'Em Laugh" routine with Kelly in "Singin' in the Rain,"
but his several dozen movie roles are varied.
Sing, You Sinners O'Connor made his
movie debut in 1938 with Bing Crosby and Fred MacMurray
in "Sing, You Sinners." A year later, he was in "Beau Geste"
as the young version of the character played by Gary Cooper.
Other film credits include On Your Toes,
There's No Business Like Show Business and six Francis
the Talking Mule movies.
O'Connor was one of few stars under contract
to three studios at the same time. He made movies at Twentieth
Century Fox, Universal Pictures and MGM.
He starred on television at the same time
he performed in such big musicals as "Singin' in the Rain"
and Call Me Madam. He won an Emmy as host of TV's
Colgate Comedy Hour and starred in "Here Comes Donald."
O'Connor said that now he accepts only projects
that he feels would be fun and different, such as appearing
in an episode of "Tales From the Crypt." He had a part in
"Toys" with Robin Williams in 1993.
He said he still sifts through scripts, but
has little desire to leave his desert home for more than
a few weeks at a time.
"Revivals are so popular now. But doing one
would mean being out in cold, cold New York for a year,
a year and a half," he said. "I'd rather do something where
I go in and work a week, maybe three days. Get it done and
come back home."
O'Connor said he has a hard time understanding
current movies that are filled with what he sees as gratuitous
sex and violence. He said when he first began making films,
violent scenes involving stabbings or shootings were done
off screen or shown in shadows.
"Sex, violence and crime have been going
on forever, but with the advent of television it's a more
personal thing," he said. "And now, of course, with the
technology they've got for killing, it's unbelievable. They're
so many ways of doing it now."
Copyright 1995 Star Tribune. Republished
under license to Infonautics Corp. All other rights reserved.
Steppin' Out with Donald O'Connor
August 31st 1997
If living well is the best revenge, life
must be sweet for dancer Donald O'Connor. In the Golden
Age of Hollywood, O'Connor ranked only behind Gene Kelly
and Fred Astaire because, with the exception of Singin'
in the Rain (1952), he was not showcased in a dazzling series
of prestigious musicals. Rather, at a critical juncture
in his career he was even paired with a talking mule. Donald
O'Connor is a show business survivor who has worked continuously
since the 1920s and still works 32 weeks a year, sometimes
with his former co-star Debbie Reynolds. Currently he can
be seen performing a show-stopping dance solo in the new
Jack Lemmon-Walter Matthau film Out to Sea.
O'Connor was in New York in late May for
twin tributes. First, he received the Flo-Bert Award at
Tap Extravaganza '97 from the New York Committee to Celebrate
Tap at Town Hall in recognition of his matchless tap dancing.
The award also recognized his promotion of scholarships
in dance and a retirement home for aged and indigent dancers
as president of the Professional Dancers Society. Then,
in two nearly sold-out evenings at the Film Society of Lincoln
Center's Walter Reade Theater, O'Connor discussed his long
movie career in the Capturing Choreography series.
O'Connor illustrates and defines the mainstream
Irish American experience, characterized by practical business
sense as opposed to the over- publicized dreamer. When the
major movie stars were set adrift in the 1950s by the collapsing
studio system, O'Connor had already secured his niche in
the early television industry, winning a 1954 Emmy for his
show the Colgate Comedy Hour. He made sure he would have
work by becoming his own director on Here's Donald, and
was one of the earliest performers to join the Directors
Guild of America.
O'Connor entered show business in the traditional
Irish way, through vaudeville. Look beyond the razzle-dazzle,
eccentric dancing and you can see pure Irish folkdance.
O'Connor admits that for much of his early career he was
a hoofer and danced from the waist down. When asked if he
sees a connection between his dancing and that of current
Irish dance troupes such as Riverdance, he replies "Riverdance
is incredible. My God, that's part of me and my background."
O'Connor's father John "Chuck" O'Connor emigrated
from County Cork. "My father, when he worked on circuses
as a kid, was a singer, a dancer, an acrobat, a trapeze
artist, a clown, a comedian, and also a strong man." Also
in the circus was Effie Irene Crane, who had run away from
home when she was 12. She married Chuck when she was 13
and had her first child the following year, but continued
to work as a tightrope walker, bareback rider and a dancer.
Donald David Dixon Ronald O'Connor, born
in 1925, was her seventh child, and Effie had her own way
of keeping an eye on her growing brood -- The O'Connor Family
act. O'Connor recalls, "As soon as they were born, they
went right into the act. I was only three days old when
I was next to mother on the piano bench, because it was
the safest place for me."
Donald never knew his father. Chuck died
on stage of a heart attack when Donald was 13 months old.
Donald recalls, "My father could do everything and so I
grew up with this phantom character, hearing all these stories
about all the things he could do, and so I tried to emulate
him. He was 5'5" and weighed 220 pounds. He was very light
on his feet though: he was known as the Njinsky of acrobats.
The height he could get was incredible."
After Chuck died, Effie kept the act going
with the help of her sons Billy and Jack, who taught Donald
to dance and do acrobatics by the age of three.
Donald was signed to Paramount Pictures in
1938. His sassy singing of "Small Fry" with Bing Crosby
in Sing You Sinners was his first triumph. He continued
with the family act until he was signed by Universal Studios
for a series of teenage musicals which capitalized on the
jitterbug craze. Surprisingly, O'Connor never took a formal
dance lesson until he was fifteen years old, well into his
starting career, and credits Universal choreographer Louis
Da Pron with turning him into a complete dancer by teaching
him to use his upper body and his arms. O'Connor co-starred
in the film There's No Business Like Show Business (1954).
He recalls that making the film was traumatic because of
the volatile personalities involved, including Ethel Merman
and Marilyn Monroe. Monroe was fearful that her jealous
husband, Joe DiMaggio, was having her watched by detectives.
On the day that she and O'Connor were to film a kiss, both
were scared stiff. His trepidation at kissing Marilyn Monroe
was not helped by the over 1,000 onlookers watching him.
"I was so nervous that I couldn't find her mouth."
To complicate matters on the set, Dan Dailey,
who was playing O'Connor' s father, was dating O'Connor's
wife of eleven years. After production, O'Connor divorced
his wife and she married Dailey. O'Connor eventually found
lasting happiness with his second wife, Gloria, and they
just celebrated their fortieth anniversary.
For a time in the early 1950s, O'Connor was
known for a series of low budget comedies with big box-office
returns in which he was partnered with Francis the talking
mule. "It was wonderful at first because it was a departure
from the song-and-dance man, but after three pictures Francis
started getting more fan mail than I did and I said, `This
can't happen.' But Francis retired from motion pictures
and went into politics."
His favorite film? "I really don't have one.
It was working with the people that made the pictures fun.
If I did, it would be Singin' in the Rain because of all
the fun we had in rehearsal." O'Connor won a 1952 Golden
Globe Award for best male performance in a comedy or musical.
The stars were a trio of Irish Americans: Kelly, O'Connor
and a teenaged, nervous newcomer Debbie Reynolds, who relentlessly
chewed gum which at one point she stuck on a ladder and
to which Kelly' s hairpiece became stuck.
Kelly, who was not only starting in the film
but choreographing and co-directing it as well, felt so
overwhelmed by the task that he was short-tempered with
O'Connor. He apologized one day when they were out drinking
and explained. "Donald, I'm terribly sorry. I'm having a
lot of trouble with Debbie. She's not getting these things
fast enough. I couldn't yell at her because I was afraid
that I would lose her for the rest of the picture, and so
I yelled at you."
But the two dancers complemented each other.
Whereas Gene Kelly had the roguish, swaggering quality of
Irish literary culture, O'Connor was an endearing altar
boy who created his niche through self-effacement, charm,
resilience and adaptability. While shooting the film, Kelly
required O'Connor. who at 5'8" was slightly taller than
Kelly, to move with him simultaneously because they played
vaudevilleans who were once in an act together. However,
as O'Connor recalls, "I turned to the left and ninety-nine
percent of dancers turn to the right. I fretted about that
all night and the next day I went in to see Gene and he
said, `Which way do you turn?' When I said, `To the left,'
he said, `Thank God, so do I.' That's why we look so well
together because our strong side is going toward the left.
He [Kelly] couldn't understand why dancers always turn to
the right because when you throw a football, baseball, or
anything, if you're right-handed, your momentum is taking
you to the left."
Throughout the evenings at Lincoln Center,
O'Connor deflected any praise or credit from the audience,
many of whom were dancers themselves. He lists his influences
as: "Every dancer I ever saw. Each one had something that
was wonderful." Fred Astaire was a major influence because
of his happy-go-lucky style and also the Nicholas Brothers.
"Harold and Fayard are the greatest dancers." O'Connor paid
tribute to all dancers: "We used to steal from each other"
he modestly claimed, indicating that he regards his place
in dance as part of an extended family.
Amazingly for someone who threw himself through
walls, danced on stairs in roller skates, and made acrobatics
an art, he never sustained injuries. "Once you're rehearsed
and warmed up, you rarely ever get hurt," he says. In 1957
O'Connor portrayed acrobat Buster Keaton, whom he had admired,
in The Buster Keaton Story. "Buster did the same kind of
act in vaudeville as I did. They threw me all over the stage."
Is an autobiography in the future? "Not yet. I've been writing
it over the years, and I have to wait for a few more people
to die," O'Connor says, his eyes glinting humorously.
Ethnic NewsWatch (c) SoftLine Information,
Inc., Stamford, CT
Steppin' Out with Donald O'Connor., Irish America, 08-31-1997,
Still Gotta Dance
Donald O'Connor steps lively in a club act
and in a new movie
By Blake Green. STAFF WRITER
DONALD O'CONNOR has been a part of our lives
for so long that to spy him, jaunty and trim, strolling
into the dining room of a Manhattan hotel with a turquoise
pendant holding his string tie intact is cause for one of
those all's-right-with-the-world feelings. He's battling
laryngitis - sips of orange juice or water frequently interrupt
his conversation - but otherwise, Hollywood's legendary
song-and-dance man seems fine, even if it's too early in
the day for any of that old soft shoe.
O'Connor is aware that a lot of people have
him pickled in their memories as the guy twirling with Peggy
Ryan, jiving with Francis the Talking Mule, going bananas
in "Make 'Em Laugh" while Gene Kelly looked on in "Singin'
in the Rain" or bussing Marilyn Monroe in "There's No Business
Like Show Business" - back in days when the century was
only half as old.
This is part of the reason O'Connor likes
to turn up in a new movie every so often. In "Out to Sea,"
the latest Walter Matthau-Jack Lemmon buddy comedy that
opens Wednesday, he plays one of the dance hosts on a cruise
ship. In one, much too brief scene - "my little break,"
he calls it - the camera focuses on O'Connor giving the
other hosts pointers on fancy footwork.
Oh, yes, O'Connor, almost 72, is still dancing,
although no longer the breathtaking acrobatic routines on
roller skates ("I Love Melvyn") or up and down - and through
- walls ("Feudin', Fussin' and A'Fightin' " and "Singin'
in the Rain").
"I jump around a little to let people know
I can still move," he said recently, but while he does this
in his nightclub act, he begged off at last month's "Tribute
to Donald O'Connor" that was the most recent in the Film
Society of Lincoln Center's series, "Capturing Choreography:
Masters of Dance on Film."
"There's a rug up here" on the stage, he
explained to the audience who watched film clips from O'Connor's
dancing movies from "Sing You Sinners" (1938) to "Out to
Sea." Fred Astaire is his favorite male dancer, he says,
"because he always seemed like a happy guy inside when he
was dancing." Vera Allen and Ryan are his favorite women
dancers, and, when he thinks about it, Mitzi Gaynor, too.
Kelly was a perfectionist, driving his dancers so hard in
"Singin' in the Rain" that, O'Connor says, "things were
building to such a crescendo that I thought I'd have to
commit suicide for the ending."
After viewing one of the many film snippets
in which he took a pratfall, O'Connor said he was never
injured making a movie. "Most of the times I got hurt were
in bed," he said, explaining, before the laughter died,
"I'd be dancing in my dreams and catch my feet in the sheets."
The dancing in real life goes back to his
childhood when O'Connor was part of his family's vaudeville
act in the 1920s. His parents, former circus performers,
put their seven children to work even before they were walking.
As an infant, O'Connor was carried onstage to help build
applause; when he was a toddler, he was a regular part of
the act and this continued until Hollywood called.
There was no formal education. "But I had
a lot of good teachers: my mother, the chorus girls, the
magicians, the acrobats," O'Connor says.
Nor are there any regrets: "When you're a
kid who likes to show off, be precocious, get applause and
laughter, what could be better? I never knew anything else.
I was never comfortable around children they seemed to me
like strange little things running around without any talent."
Working with his family for so many years meant O'Connor
never minded the sidekick roles that became his speciality
in the movies: "I was used to sharing the spotlight."
For all his early talents, he insists that
dancing wasn't one of them. "In the vaudeville act I looked
like a great dancer, but I only knew a couple of steps,
some triple wings and such. I'd never learned the fundamentals."
He really didn't learn to dance until he was 15 and in Hollywood,
he says. "I just woodshedded it until I got the routines
down," learning from the films' other dancers or the choreographers.
"I didn't develop a style until I was twenty
or so." Originally "a hoofer - I danced from the waist down,"
he said he became a "total dancer, using ballet movements"
after working with Robert Alton and Kelly.
O'Connor and Gloria, his wife of 40 years,
have lived in Sedona, Ariz., since their California home
was destroyed in an earthquake. He's had any number of careers
- "plateaus," he prefers to "comebacks," of which he says
there've been at least a dozen, starting when, after 14
films, he went into the military service in the '40s ("the
Elvis of my time") and emerged to discover Hollywood moving
in another direction.
He was under contract, and because "they
wanted to find a picture for me," he was cast opposite a
mule in 1949. It was the beginning of a very successful
relationship - O'Connor, as the character Peter Sterling,
made six Francis-the-Talking-Mule pictures. "Those movies
were ridiculous," he says, "but they were well put together
and a lot less crazy than some of the stuff they're making
It's given him a lot to talk about, which
he does affectionately, just as if Francis had been one
of his human costars. "Mules get dehydrated very fast, so
Francis had three understudies, but nine out of ten times,
they'd balk and he'd have to do it anyway. He was a trouper.
"It was fun," he says, and the experience
"was good for me as a departure from the song-and-dance
man. You can get typecast very easily in Hollywood" - which
was also the reason he bowed out of the final Francis film
and wasn't interested in the '60s television series that
featured a horse named Mr. Ed. It would have been downhill:
"Francis was a bon vivant, a bilingual person" - O'Connor
smiles at the slip - "who was well-traveled. Mr. Ed never
went out of the area. He was never in the armed forces.
"I think what always saved me," O`Connor
says of the changing fashions of show business, "was that
I was so versatile. If no one wanted a singer, I could dance.
If no one wanted a dancer, I was a comedian." If not movies,
there was TV - he's currently working on "Senior Lifestyles,"
a magazine-type show out of Phoenix which he'll cohost with
Jane Withers - and his club act.
When O'Connor's agent called him about "Out
to Sea," he was working in Atlantic City with Gloria DeHaven,
his old movie costar (1949's "Yes, Sir, That's My Baby")
who's also in the new production, playing one of the shipboard
widows who ends up with Lemmon. "She's one of my oldest
friends," he says. "I took her out to the Roller Bowl and
Skate in Hollywood."
Does that seem a long time ago? "Oh, it doesn't
bother me a bit to be older," he says. "I've never been
vain." When he thinks back, he says, it's to "the times
in rehearsal, the fun we had behind the camera; we just
danced from one film to the next." That's the nice thing
about selective memory. He suspects "It's like a woman having
a baby; you just forget the pain."
Copyright 1997, Newsday Inc.
Movie dance legend goes `Out to Sea'
The sight of Donald O'Connor hoofing it up
in the new Walter Matthau-Jack Lemmon comedy, Out to Sea,
is a joy to behold for fans of the legendary song-and-dance
Mr. O'Connor, who plays a dance host on a
luxury cruise ship, has been entertaining audiences for
seven decades. Beginning as a toddler in vaudeville, he
developed into one of the most fun, versatile and athletic
singer-dancers on the silver screen. In the 1950s, he starred
in such musicals as Call Me Madam, There's No Business Like
Show Business and I Love Melvin.
His greatest accomplishment, though, was
his phenomenal acrobatic "Make 'Em Laugh" number in 1952's
Singin' in the Rain, widely considered the best musical
Equally adept at comedy, Mr. O'Connor played
Peter Sterling, a young man with a talking mule as a best
friend, in the Francis movie series of the 1950s. He also
won an Emmy Award in 1953 for hosting the NBC variety series,
The Colgate Comedy Hour.
Now a lively 71, Mr. O'Connor lives in Sedona,
Ariz. Last May, he was honored by the Film Society of Lincoln
Center for his contributions to dance on film. Mr. O'Connor
recently chatted about his new movie, his life, career and
his future plans.
Q: Was your role in Out to Sea fashioned
for your talents once you came on board the project?
A: Yeah. They didn't have much for
me in the movie. I didn't want to do it at the beginning.
Then the gal who directed it (Martha Coolidge) said that
they would build up the part. I was there for the entire
picture because being a dance host, I was in all the scenes
while they were dancing. So I danced a lot in that movie.
I tell you, I got to hold a lot of nice ladies - all sizes.
Q: Gloria De Haven also appears with
you in Out to Sea. You both starred in 1949 in Yes, Sir,
That's My Baby.
A: She's one of my oldest friends.
I think I was Gloria De Haven's first boyfriend. We were
about 9 or 10. I would take her to a movie,and we would
go down to the front, and her mother would sit in the back.
We were performing in Atlantic City when (Out to Sea) came
Q: Do you appear in concert a lot
A: Quite a bit. I'm out on the road
about 32 weeks a year. It keeps me really busy. I sing,
dance, do comedy.
Q: So retirement is a dirty word to
A: Well, it really is. I was born
in the business. I come from vaudeville, and so I've always
been in it.
Q: I couldn't believe it when I learned
you really had no formal dance training.
A: I learned two dance routines when
I was 13 months old, but I didn't know any of the basic
steps. So when I went into movies when I was 13, I was fumbling
all over the place because I had nothing to fall back on.
It took me forever to learn the dance routines. I really
had to woodshed for years and years.
Q: What type of act did your family
have in vaudeville?
A: They came from the circus and they
did the trapeze. Of course, when they graduated to vaudeville,
they did slapstick comedy, singing, dancing and acrobatics.
I got paid a salary when I was 13 months. The first thing
I did was dance and do acrobatic tricks.
Q: How could you do that at just 13
A: There are little tricks you can
do. You can hold a kid up in your hand, and he'll try to
keep his balance. You put music to that, and it looks like
Q: Did you feel you missed out on
A: It's such a part of me. I was born
into it. There was never anything else. I thought other
kids were very strange. They didn't work or do anything.
Q: How did Singin' in the Rain happen?
Did Gene Kelly request you?
A: (Kelly and the producers) requested
me. At that time, I was terribly busy. I was doing the Colgate
Comedy Hour on TV. I was doing the movies and personal appearance
stuff. I was very hot at that time. I went over and met
with Gene. I had never met him. I had seen him in movies
and always liked him. It sounded great, so we did it.
They didn't have a solo for me (in the beginning).
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."
I started doing pratfalls and whatever they laughed at,
I said, "Write it down." That's how the number came to be.
Q: Is Singin' in the Rain your favorite
A: Parts of it (are). I really don't
have a favorite. "Call Me Madam" - my favorite number is
in there with Vera-Ellen. It's the number I do out in the
garden with her to "It's a Lovely Day Today." It's a beautiful,
lyrical number. I think she was the best dancer outside
of Peggy Ryan I ever danced with.
Q: Besides doing your nightclub act,
what are you up to now?
A: I began a TV show (out of Phoenix).
It's on the Senior Citizen's Network. It's a magazine format
show, which means we do everything. It's called Senior Lifestyle.
It's on once a week.
Q: You should do more movies.
A: Well, I know it. Get in there and
talk it up. Be my agent!
Distributed by Los Angeles Times-Washington
Post News Service (c) 1997 The Dallas Morning News All Rights
Reserved Movie dance legend goes `Out to Sea'
Singin' in the Rain Star Hospitalized
February 4, 1999, 12:35 p.m. PT
Donald O'Connor, the Golden Age entertainer
who tapped with Gene Kelly and rapped with Francis the Talking
Mule, is in critical condition in a Southern California
The 73-year-old song-'n'-dance man, best
remembered for his signature "Make 'Em Laugh" number in
Singin' in the Rain, has been hosptalized since Saturday
with pneumonia, and his condition is worsening.
"He was moved to intensive care because of
some heart and lung failure," said a spokesperson for Palm
Spring's Desert Regional Medical Center. "He's on a ventilator
and listed in critical condition."
A former vaudevillian born into a family
of circus performers, O'Connor got his start in Hollywood
at age 11, dancing in Melody for Two. Other early roles
included a turn as Huck Finn in Tom Sawyer--Detective (1938)
and as young Beau in the 1939 edition of Beau Geste.
He hit his stride in the '50s in such musicals
as Call Me Madam (1953), There's No Business Like Show Business
(1954), Anything Goes (1956) and, of course, the 1952 classic
Singin' in the Rain with Kelly and Debbie Reynolds. He also
scored with the Francis franchise, where he traded wisecracks
with a loquacious, military-loving mule a full decade before
Mister Ed met Wilbur.
He crossed over into television, too, winning
an Emmy for The Colgate Comedy Hour, and landing his own
series, The Donald O'Connor Texaco Show, from 1954-55.
O'Connor has worked sporadically in the '90s,
popping up in guest roles on sitcoms like Frasier and The
Nanny. His most recent film appearance was in the 1997 Jack
Lemmon-Walter Matthau vehicle Out to Sea.
He was born August 28, 1925, in Chicago.
Brave Donald O'Connor Risks His Life To
Please His Fans He insists the show must go on...
John South and Tony Brenna
The 73-year-old star of "Francis" the talking
mule movies and co-star of "Singin' In the Rain" suffered
heart and lung failure triggered by double pneumonia --
and lapsed into critical condition.
As friends prayed, the star was put on a
ventilator at Desert Regional Medical Center, in Palm Springs,
"Donald's a fighter," said "Sugar Babies"
star Ann Miller, a close pal. "In the same way, he fought
so stubbornly not to let his fans down, now he's fighting
just as hard for his life."
O'Connor was starring in "The Fabulous Palm
Springs Follies," a musical revue of songs from the '30s
and '40s, at the Plaza Theater in Palm Springs, and appearing
in 10 shows a week.
"Donald was not feeling well on Saturday,
January 30," said Joelle Casteix, spokeswoman for the theater.
"But he insisted, in the best music hall tradition, of going
on with the show. He wouldn't let the fans down."
Confided a pal: "His wife Gloria had a chair
ready for him right offstage and, at the curtain, he gave
one last wave -- and then collapsed in the chair, gasping
The next day, Sunday, their son Kevin visited
and with Gloria insisted Donald see the show doctor. The
alarmed physician immediately sent the performer to the
"Donald was still protesting that, if they'd
just give him a shot, he'd be fine and able to perform.
The doctor told him, 'You're not going anywhere!' " revealed
Donald was admitted to the hospital and for
awhile it was touch and go. His breathing had to be assisted
with a ventilator and at one point doctors used electric
paddles to fix an irregular heartbeat.
But happily, O'Connor family spokesman Glenn
Rose says the hoofer is now improving. Clearly, O'Connor
is one tough trouper -- who's proven his ability to bounce
"He had a heart attack many years ago, a
quadruple bypass nine years ago and more recently mild strokes
-- from which he quickly recovered," disclosed a close source.
"But they weren't enough to stop Donald,
who was eager for his role in the Palm Springs Follies."
Donald O'Connor Is Off Ventilator
February 17th 1999
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. (AP) - Song-and-dance
man Donald O'Connor was removed from a ventilator nearly
three weeks after he was hospitalized for pneumonia.
"I talked to his wife and she says he's doing
much better and they are all very optimistic," O'Connor
publicist Glenn Rose said Wednesday.
The 73-year-old O'Connor was hospitalized
at Desert Regional Medical Center on Jan. 30. He was removed
from the ventilator on Sunday. There was no indication when
he will be released.
"I don't think he's in any hurry until he
feels strong enough," Rose said.
O'Connor's roles include a part as Gene Kelly's
friend in 1952's "Singin' in the Rain."
Donald O'Connor Leaves Hospital
March 1st 1999
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. (AP) - After a month
in the hospital with pneumonia, song-and-dance man Donald
O'Connor is back with his family at his desert vacation
home, a spokesman said Monday.
"He was released Friday and he's doing fine,"
publicist Glenn Rose said.
O'Connor, 73, was hospitalized Jan. 30. He
was in intensive care on a ventilator.
O'Connor lives in Sedona, Ariz., and is best
known for his roles in movie musicals such as "Singin' in
Entertainer Donald O'Connor released from
Yahoo News - Reuters
March 3rd 1999
By Steve Gorman
Wednesday 4:41 AM ET
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Entertainer Donald
O'Connor has been released from a hospital, and is recovering
from a severe bout with pneumonia, his musical director
O'Connor, who turns 74 in August, checked
out of the Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs
on Saturday and was staying in the resort community with
his family to recuperate before returning to his home in
Sedona, Arizona, Tim Fowlar said.
"He's still very weak but he's recovering,"
Fowlar said. "His voice is a little gravelly but that will
clear up. He's very glad to be out of the hospital."
O'Connor, who starred with the late Gene
Kelly in the classic Hollywood musical "Singin' in the Rain,"
fell ill in late January and spent nearly three weeks in
the hospital's intensive care unit.
At the peak of his illness, the entertainer
was listed in critical condition and was placed on a ventilator.
Before his bout with pneumonia, O'Connor
had been starring in "The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies,"
a live variety show featuring professional performers over
the age of 50 at the Historic Plaza Theater in Palm Springs.
The legendary hoofer had been singing and
dancing through 10 shows a week since November. The show
is scheduled to run through May, but Fowlar said it was
unclear when O'Connor might return.
"It depends on how soon he gets his strength
back and how soon he starts climbing the walls to go back
to work," Fowlar said.
No Slack: Hagar Jams in the Gigs
March 14th 1999
(Excerpt from Article)
Donald O'Connor is recovering from pneumonia
in his apartment in Palm Springs, but he should be back
home in Sedona soon. The song-and-dance man spent a month
in Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs. "He had
a flu shot and a pneumonia shot, and his lungs filled up.
We almost lost him," said Mac Brainard, an old friend of
the entertainer. Brainard talked to O'Connor this week.
"He's a tough old bird. He came back. He'll be singing and
dancing before long."
Brainard met O'Connor in Hollywood in the
'40s through his mom, actress Jeanette MacDonald's hairdresser.
Brainard lives in Sedona with his wife, Janell. He encouraged
O'Connor to move from California three years ago after an
earthquake. "He's a sweetheart," said Brainard. "I've known
him since he was a pup."
Colleen Will is hoping she'll be lucky enough
to have O'Connor back for this year's American Ireland Fund
Gala on Friday at the Scottsdale Conference Center. "He's
been there every year," said Will, who is working on the
gala. "It won't be the same without him." This year's event
honors philanthropist Bill O'Brien and singer Glen Campbell.
That's right, the Rhinestone Cowboy's mom was Irish. In
fact, Campbell will play the bagpipes and sing Danny Boy
a cappella. Info: 257-1750.
Copyright The Arizona Republic (1999) DOLORES
TROPIANO 03-14-1999, pp B8.
Entertainer Donald O'Connor Back After Illness
May 12 1999
PALM SPRINGS, Calif., May 12 (Reuters)
Veteran dancer Donald O'Connor, stricken with pneumonia
in January and hospitalized in critical condition, will
soon be back performing his famous soft-shoe-shuffle, he
said on Wednesday.
"Rumors of my death were highly exaggerated,"
the 73-year-old performer said in a tongue-in-cheek statement,
paraphrasing the famous quote by American author Mark Twain.
He will return on May 28 to the Fabulous
Palm Springs Follies -- a band of hoofers whose ages range
from 53 to 86.
"We are so thrilled to have him back here
with us," Follies producer Riff Markowitz said. "This is
what the Follies is all about: hope and triumph in the face
of seemingly insurmountable adversity."
O'Connor who starred with Gene Kelly in the
classic Hollywood musical Singin' in the Rain, was
performing with the Follies at the end of January when he
fell ill. Before that he had sung and danced through 10
shows a week since November, showing no signs of illness.
The Follies' season ends on May 31 and O'Connor
will appear in the final three performances.
Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.
All rights reserved. Republication and redistribution of
Reuters content is expressly prohibited without the prior
written consent of Reuters. Reuters shall not be liable
for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions
taken in reliance thereon
This article, or variations
thereof, was also published by, Associated Press, Deseret
News, Philadelphia Daily News, San Jose Mercury News, Los
Follies Announces Triumphant Return of Legendary
Donald O'Connor from Near-Fatal Illness
May 12th 1999
Company Press Release
SOURCE: The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies
PALM SPRINGS, Calif., May 12 /PRNewswire/
-- The media and the nation thought he was close to death
and would never perform again, on any stage. But the Fabulous
Palm Springs Follies announced today that Donald O'Connor,
one of America's most beloved stage and screen performers,
will return to the Plaza Theatre stage on May 28, after
suffering a near-fatal illness in January.
"We are so thrilled to have him back here
with us," said Follies impresario Riff Markowitz. "This
is what the Follies is all about: Hope and triumph in the
face of seemingly insurmountable adversity."
Donald O'Connor's bout with pneumonia three
months ago nearly claimed the life of the 73-year-old show
business legend. "The rumors of my death were highly exaggerated,"
O'Connor said tongue-in-cheek. "And although many people
did not think I would make it, I have bounced back because
of the support of my family, friends and the Follies."
The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies is a song
and dance extravaganza featuring the music and dance of
the 1930's and 40's, with a cast all 53 to 86 years young.
Housed in the Historic Plaza Theatre in the downtown Village
of Palm Springs, the Follies is the creation of Producer,
Director and Compere Riff Markowitz. O'Connor was originally
the slated Follies headliner for the entire eighth season,
which began November 2, 1998.
Tickets are still available for these special
final shows. Call 760-327-0225 for reservations and more
Friends, Family, Fans Give Mel Torme Fond
LOS ANGELES (Reuters)
June 8th 1999
By Michael Miller
Family, friends and fans who had adored his
music for decades paid a tearful farewell to jazz singer
Mel Torme Tuesday to the refrain of Stardust, one
of his signature songs.
Torme, known as the "Velvet Fog" for his
smooth style, died Saturday at age 73 from complications
of a stroke. He was remembered not only as a singer, composer
and arranger of extraordinary talent, but as a loving and
Among the 500 mourners were comedians Red
Buttons and Mel Brooks, singers Nancy Sinatra, Jerry Vale
and Jack Jones, dancer Donald O'Connor and actors Cliff
Robertson, Robert Culp, Gloria DeHaven and Rhonda Fleming.
The funeral differed from most other celebrity
burials in that Torme's family actively invited fans to
attend, setting up chairs under three white awnings on the
lawn of the Westwood Village Memorial Park in west Los Angeles.
About 300 fans attended while about 200 family and close
friends were inside the chapel.
"The family very much wanted the public to
be invited because the audiences, the fans, were such an
important part of Mel's life," family spokesman Rob Wilcox
His son Tracy, one of five Torme children
to eulogize their father, said he thought Torme was now
playing with the greats. "I think he is playing music somewhere
with Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Buddy Rich on drums, and
dad singing along. What a band that would be. I'd love to
hear it one day."
Long-time friend Harlan Ellison remembered
Torme not as a musician or a dad, but in his little-known
role as an author.
"Not many people know this but when I first
met Mel 40 years ago he was writing 25-cent Western novels
under a pseudonym, the same as me, only I didn't use a pseudonym,"
Ellison, who described himself to the mourners
as "a Jew from Ohio," praised Torme using the Yiddish term
"mensch," which literally means man but which he translated
in Torme's case as "a class act."
Torme's son James lightened the mood when
he thanked his father for teaching him to love music of
all kinds, British cars, particularly Jaguars, "and for
his fierce pursuit of the TV Guide and the remote's (remote
control) physical whereabouts. He was relentless in that."
Old friend Charlton Heston, who was unable
to attend the funeral service due to a prior engagement
in New York, left a taped eulogy in which he recalled Torme
as the "ultimate movie buff" who knew who played every minor
character in every classic film.
Playboy magazine editor-in-chief Hugh Hefner
said Torme would visit the "Playboy Mansion" every week,
watching old movies and reruns of old TV series. "He is
teaching the angels to sing now," Hefner said.
Daughter Daisy Torme asked mourners to treasure
what her father had given them through his music.
"Don't be sad when you hear 'The Christmas
Song.' Be happy that he gave it to us," she said in reference
to the famous song that Torme co-wrote and which starts
with the classic line, "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire."
At the end of the ceremony, Torme's version
of Stardust was played, and tears welled as the mourners
listened to his singing, "Stardust melody, the memory of
(And because it isn't mentioned in the article
above, here's what Donald O'Connor had to say at the services.
O'Connor called Torme a lifelong friend who was known
for his constant smile and his ability to make a funny situation
out of most every event.)
"Celebrate the Journey"
Grand Opening Gala on November 20 to Benefit El Portal Center
and honor Donald O'Connor with Lifetime Achievement Award
Press Release August 27th
1999 and 10/3/99
A Gala Grand Opening Benefit - Celebrate
the Journey - is scheduled for Saturday, November 20, in
honor of the much anticipated El Portal Center for the Arts
in North Hollywood. A special dedication and salute to the
73 year-old former movie-palace will pay tribute to the
legends of the past and the legacies of the future.
El Portal Theatre, since its opening in 1926,
has been home to silent movies, talkies, vaudeville, foreign
films and rock concerts while weathering the depression,
a couple of wars and finally, the great earthquake. The
interior of the historic theatre has been completely redesigned,
and its first professional seasons will be presented on
two stages beginning in January 2000.
The evening will honor Donald O’Connor, beloved
star of stage, screen and television and Robert (Bob) Caine,
President of El Portal Center's Board of Directors. Bob
Caine has spearheaded the revival of the historic theatre,
since its devastation in the 1994 earthquake, tirelessly
negotiating to achieve the glittering arts center that is
Donald O’Connor, who, like El Portal, spans
seven decades, continues to perform and entertain in all
arenas. He won a Golden Globe for Best Actor in Singin'
in the Rain and an Emmy Award for The Colgate Comedy
Hour. He has appeared in over 50 films, including Out
to Sea (1997) with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. Most
significantly, as a child he performed at El Portal with
his family in vaudeville. He will be awarded the first annual
Lifetime Achievement Award that will be hereafter presented
as "The Donald" to all future recipients.
Honorary Co-Chairs are Maureen Arthur, Robert
Morse and Don Loze, with Honorary Committee Members Ed Asner,
Patty Andrews, Sid Caesar, Joseph Campanella, Tyne Daly,
Gloria DeHaven, Beverly Garland, Mitzi Gaynor, Darryl Hickman,
Hal Linden, A.C. Lyles, Marvin Paige, Roger Perry, Charles
Nelson Reilly, Carl Reiner, Peggy Ryan, Beverly Sanders,
Gloria Stuart, Studs Terkel, JoAnne Worley and others yet
to be announced.
Entertainment will feature a star-studded
salute to the Broadway musical How to Succeed in Business
Without Really Trying, featuring some of that show’s
original Broadway stars, as a tribute to the tireless efforts
of Bob Caine and company. Donald O’Connor’s special recognition
will include many of the co-stars who have appeared with
him on stage, in film and on television. Mr. O’Connor owned
and operated his own theatre on Ventura Blvd. in the San
Fernando Valley in the 80s.
Political figures including Governor Gray
Davis, Mayor Richard Riordan, Congressman Howard Berman
and Senator Diane Feinstein are all planning to attend.
The Gala Grand opening Committee is Co-Chaired
by David Arthur and Georgean Goldman. 500 guests will be
treated to continuous entertainment on all three stages,
an art exhibit in the new lobby galleries, a live auction
presented by Butterfield & Butterfield and delectable food
and cocktails culminating in a late-night supper. All moneys
donated for the evening will be used to support the educational
and outreach partnerships with the community that El Portal
Center has already put in motion.
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