That's Fit to Print
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
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
..... 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."
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
& 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...
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
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.
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.
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
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."
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
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