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Stanley Donen (born April 13, 1924) is an American film director and choreographer hailed by David Quinlan as "the King of the Hollywood musicals". His most famous work is Singin' in the Rain, which he co-directed with Gene Kelly.

Early life

Born in Columbia, South Carolinamarker to Mordecai Moses Donen, a dress-shop manager, and Helen Cohen, both of whom were Jewish. Donen himself became an atheist in his youth. He attended the University of South Carolinamarker. He went to New York Citymarker as a teenager and at age sixteen was a dancer in the original production of Rodgers and Hart's Pal Joey, which starred Kelly.

Film career

Donen started at Metro Goldwyn Mayer as a choreographer and dancer in Best Foot Forward (1943) with Lucille Ball. Donen appeared with Kelly in Cover Girl (1944) for Columbia Pictures, for which Donen also directed a sequence of Kelly dancing with his double on a darkened Manhattan street. His first chance to direct an entire movie was an adaptation of the Comden and Green musical about sailors on leave in New York Citymarker, On the Town (1949), with some songs by Leonard Bernstein, which Donen co-directed with Gene Kelly. This was the first movie musical to be filmed on location.

With Kelly again, Donen co-directed Singin' in the Rain (1952) and by himself directed such classics as Royal Wedding (1951), where Donen directed Fred Astaire dancing on a ceiling; Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) with Jane Powell and Howard Keel; Funny Face (1957) a musical romantic comedy with Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn; Pajama Game (1957) with Doris Day; Indiscreet (1958) with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman; Damn Yankees (1958) a musical comedy with Tab Hunter, Gwen Verdon, and Ray Walston.

The demise of the Hollywood musical caused the string of successes Donen had directed to stall. He went on to direct a variety of films, some financially successful, some less so, but none recaptured the mood of his early classics. These included the comedy thriller Charade (1963) with Hepburn, Grant, and Walter Matthau; Bedazzled (1967) a satirical updating of the Faust legend starring and written by British comedians Peter Cook and Dudley Moore; and Two for the Road (1967) a drama with Hepburn and Albert Finney. He also directed the out-of-character science fiction film Saturn 3 (1980) when the film's original director resigned. His last theatrical film to date was the May-December romance Blame It on Rio (1984) with Michael Caine and Demi Moore, though he would go on to do additional work for television, including directing a musical sequence for the TV series Moonlighting, Lionel Richie's music video for "Dancing on the Ceiling", and a made-for-TV movie on ABC entitled Love Letters (1999).

Donen was nominated for five Directors Guild of America Awards, but never nominated for a single Oscar. (He did produce the 58th Academy Awards ceremony in 1986.) In 1998 (for the 1997 awards), Donen was granted an honorary Academy Award "in appreciation of a body of work marked by grace, elegance, wit and visual innovation." In his acceptance speech, he danced with his Oscar statue while singing Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek" and declared one of the secrets to being a great director is "You show up--and stay the hell out of the way. But you gotta show up or else you can't take the credit and win one of these guys." Martin Scorsese presented the award.


*:Now in public domain
As Director: As Choreographer:

Further reading

  • Stephen M. Silverman. Dancing on the Ceiling: Stanley Donen and His Movies, Knopf, New York, 1996



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