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Book Reviews

In this section we've put excerpts from some books that mention Donald O'Connor or quote him, (since he hasn't got his own biography yet). We'll be adding more books as we find them. We're happy to take recommendations. T 'n' T

In the Kitchen | Dancing on the Ceiling | Tap!
Debbie: My Life | Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star | I Got Rhythm
Vera-Ellen: The Magic and the Mystery | Judy



In the Kitchen with Elinor Donahue
Elinor Donahue, Ken Beck | 1998

This collection of recipes is also a Hollywood Memoir. Elinor Donahue covers her career from child star to adult actress, etc. Each little story is accompanied by a recipe, either of her own or another Hollywood personality. One of the most useful biographies we've ever run across.

My First Big Film

....... Mister Big was a big thrill for me to be in because I had a major crush on its star Donald O'Connor. But at the same time, I took the peparations casually, as though this was a perfectly normal and natural thing I was doing.
....... The only time I broke down was when Donald bounced onto the set and said his line, "Hi, Muggsy!" Seeing him in the flesh was just too much for my little six-year-old self. So I cried.
....... One funny thing about that movie was that my nickname back home in Tacoma was Muggsy, and no one in California knew it. Talk about coincidence.
....... The movie also starred Gloria Jean and Peggy Ryan. Gloria Jean had always been a favorite of mine ever since seeing her in "If I had my way" with Bing Crosby. She was so sweet to me and made me feel comfortable on the set.
....... We still see each other occasionally, and her joy with life is just as apparent now as it was then. Here is a recipe she'd like to share with you.

(Don't you wish. If you want the recipes you'll have to get the book. Elinor goes on to say...)

Pegged for Success

..... Peggy Ryan was a yong girl of many talents - singer, dancer comic - who cintinues to entertain and teach in her hometown of Las Vegas Nevada. She and Donald O'Connor made many movies together and were a great team.
..... When I spoke with her recently Peggy confided, "Donald had strange taste in food. When we'd go to the commissary for lunch, he'd put saltines on his ice cream!" His favorite dish , she said, was chicken fried steak with cream gravy. Let's have a double order of that!


Dancing on the Ceiling

Stanley Donen and his Movies

Stephen M. Silverman | 1996

This is a very comprehensive volume on director Stanley Donen and the films he worked on. It also has one of our favorite things in a biography... an index. There are some other interesting passages that we don't quote here, (you know what we mean... more Donald O'Connor stuff, and of course, lots and lots on Gene Kelly.) so we do recommend the book.

(Donald O'Connor is quoted, re: the dance routine "Make 'em Laugh")
....... "The dummy struck me as very funny, because it had no head, but it had symmetry. And I used something that happened to me back in 1940. I was taking the subway to Brooklyn, and was wearing dark glasses. Suddenly this guy who looks like an ex-fighter sits down next to me. I move away, he moves closer. He moves closer and puts his hand on my knee. Then down to my crotch. So I did a gay voice and said, "Listen, my boyfriend will beat the shit out of you if you go any further!" and that's where I got the bit where I put my hand on the dummy's knee and it smacks me."

(And he goes on to say,)
....... This number led to such a crescendo that I thought I'd have to committ suicide as a finale. I ad-libbed all sorts of stunts. I'd done the somersault off the wall before in two other pictures. Gene gave me the bit where I scrunch up my face after running into the door. We began to rehearse the number and I'd get very tired. I was smoking four packs of cigarettes a day then, and getting up those walls was murder. I'd roll around the floor and get carpet burns. They had to bank one wall so I could make it up and then through another wall. My body just had to absorb this tremendous shock. So finally we filmed it straight through and I went home and I couldn't get out of bed for three days. On my return, Gene comes up to me and asks if I could do it again. "Sorry," he says. "Hal Rosson fogged out the negative by mistake and ruined the footage."


Tap!

Rusty E. Frank | 1990

The greatest Tap Dance Stars and their stories 1900-1955. Now here's a book well worth getting. It has self-accounts from thirty great Tap dancers, including, of course, Donald O'Connor.

(Part of Donald's reminiscences.)
.......When I was tap dancing in the thirties, in the vaudeville circuits, there usually weren't lots of other tap dancers on the same bill. See they wouldn't put a lot of like acts together. They'd have one family act. That's why I never worked with Judy Garland- it was The Gumm Sisters then. They would rarely ever put two family acts together. Same thing with dancers. They might put a dancer who was eccentric, or legomania on with tap dancers because of the completely different styles. Bill Robinson, let's say. I knew Bill very well. He was a wonderful guy and great to me as a kid . When I was fourteen, my family would work a lot at the Apollo Theatre on One hundred twenty-fifth street in New York. I met Bill up there a couple of times and we'd go around to different night clubs. White guys, well, they weren't permitted in. With Bill I got in all the time. Everybody got to know me, and they nicknamed me King. They started calling, "Where's the King, where's the King." And after awhile I was known as the "King of Harlem"!

(Maybe we shouldn't mention it, but it seems a lot of dancers, like Fred Astaire, Jane Withers and Peggy Ryan have stories similar to this one. Either Bill Robinson liked kids, especially ones who could dance, or it's a common dancer's delusion.)


Debbie: My Life

Debbie Reynolds & David Patrick Columbia | 1988

Debbie Reynolds book is mostly about, well... Debbie. Donald doesn't get much more than a mention other than this excerpt. But Debbie's had a very interesting life, and she'll probably have to come out with a sequel. Debbie says...

.......Once in production Gene would get mad at Donald and tear into him. "You're so stupid, you're not doing the step right! You're stupid.!"
.......It wasn't until thirty-five years later that Donald told me the reason Gene always picked on him. It was because he was always mad at me. But he realized if he kept screaming at me I'd probably hold up production with my tears. So he screamed at Donald who wouldn't cry.
.......The toughest scenes were done with Donald and Gene. Gene was in great condition. His legs were like pistons; he had the strongest thighs of any man alive. Donald was slim and not nearly as muscular but very strong. My body was strong from sports and barre work. Fortunately I didn't have to build the body, but I was still worn out.

Unfortunately Debbie's biography is currently out of print, but you can probably find it at a used bookstore. We did.


Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

(But don't have sex or take the car)

Dickie Moore | 1984

This book, written by former child star, Dickie Moore, examines the consequences of growing up while being a working actor. He has snippets from many former child actors. Though Donald relates a few stories of his own, the one we've chosen as an excerpt is from his co-star Gloria Jean.


....... Gloria Jean and Donald O'Connor went to school together at Universal. They worked together too. Donald never knew how much Gloria loved him as adolescent. Here is Gloria's unabashed account:
....... Donald would walk into the school house - the little canvas school house on the set- wearing his teenage sweaters and I couldn't concentrate on my schoolwork, I was so crazy about him.
.......I often thought: "One day, I'm going to kiss Donald, and I wonder how that'll feel."
.......Then one day on the set - it was kind of dark- Donald grabbed me and hugged me, really hugged me, and something snapped. It was my rib. Donald was thin, but strong. The doctor taped me up and I worked through the rest of the movie. I never told Donald. So to this day he doesn't know he broke my rib.

We're afraid this book is also out of print, but we found it used as well.


I Got Rhythm!

The Ethel Merman Story

Bob Thomas | 1985

Ethel Merman did two films with Donald, Call Me Madam and There's No Business Like Show Business, both of which are mentioned in this biography of Ethel Merman. Here's an excerpt from that.

.......O'Connor also learned the peril of recording a duet with Ethel Merman: "I had talked to the music director, Alfred Newman, about recording You're Just In Love with the full orchestra instead of singing in an isolation booth. I felt the sound was much better that way. I tried it with the orchestra and Al agreed it sounded good. Then Merman came in."
......."We started singing, 'I hear music'... She was six feet away and my eardrums were vibrating. We finally recorded the song with me in the isolation booth and her in the studio with the orchestra. When we filmed the song to the playback, I wore earplugs.

Sorry this book is no longer in print either.


Vera-Ellen: The Magic and the Mystery

David Soren | 1998

This informative book on the life of dancer Vera-Ellen is just a little hard to get a hold of as it's not in general release, but it can be special ordered directly from the publisher. Donald has often cited Vera-Ellen as his favorite dance partner, and he is interviewed for this book. The excerpt below is what stood out for us though, as Donald O'Connor fans, because we'd heard several different versions of why he didn't do White Christmas and finally here's the straight one.

....... The concept was to make another "Holiday Inn", a big Paramount success of 1942, which featured Astaire and Crosby. Astaire was not optimistic about the project and Donald O'Connor, who had been a hit with Vera-Ellen in "Call Me Madam", was brought in.

....... O'Connor was eager to do it: "Bob Alton had already put a lot of the choreography together for me but I got this strange disease and the doctors couldn't diagnose it and it turned out to be Q-fever. They waited two months for me. I was terribly disappointed. And Danny Kaye made twice the money I would have gotten and he got a piece of the picture. You can see that the movements used looked like something I would have done.

There are more comments from Donald in the book on the filming of Call Me Madam.

ISBN #0072341378 McGraw-Hill Publishers 1-800-338-3987


Judy

Gerold Frank | 1975

There are several mentions of Donald in this biography of Judy Garland. Including...

....... Yet they had hilarious moments. Now, in Chicago, and each time they met in the years to come, Judy always greeted him with "Have you heard from Haji Ali?" - the signal for them both to roar with laughter. Haji Ali was an amazing Turk, as Judy put it, "the man who threw up for a living." At one time or another both had worked on the same bill with him. Wearing a large purple turban, his wife as his assistant, Haji Ali came on stage and proceeded to swallow seventeen hazel nuts and one walnut. Then he walked into the audience to let anyone tap his stomach smartly and hear the nuts rattle. Then he returned on stage to announce, "Now I will bring up the hazel nuts and when you want me to bring up the walnut holler. He brought them up, one by one, each a hazel nut; when someone shouted "Now!" he gulped once or twice and brought up the walnut.

.......But it was his grand finale that convulsed Judy and Donald. He built a fire on stage, drank a glass of water, on top of which he drank a glass of kerosene; then, to quote Judy, "He'd throw up the kerosene on it, and make the fire enourmous, then the water came up and put it out." And she would add, laughing, "And God help the audience if he ate any lunch that day."

.......Donald always added and epilogue: Did she remember the time Haji Ali went a fancy restaurant, came down with ptomaine poisoning and had to be rushed to the hospital to have his stomach pumped.
Da Capo Press


Book titles are linked to Amazon.com for easy ordering, but this is not an endorsement of that service. You can buy books anywhere. Look around for a better price. No copyright infringement is intended. Reviews will be removed if requested by the publisher or author.

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Disclaimer: We are in no way officially sanctioned by or connected to Donald O'Connor, or anyone else for that matter. None of the content of this website is meant to infringe upon any copyrights held by studios, companies, authors, other web site owners or stray individuals. The Excerpts from books are intended only for the purpose of review and not intended to substitute for actually going out and buying the book. We had to, so why shouldn't you have to shell out too.

Anything original is copyright 1999 by Teresa and Tracy Murray (a.k.a. T 'n' T).
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