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A Year: Day to Day Men: 28th of August, Solar Year 2018

Smokin’ Guns

August 28, 1925 was the birthdate of American dancer, singer, and actor Donald O’Connor.

Donald O’Connor was born in Chicago to parents Effie Irene Crane and John Edward O’Connor, both vaudeville entertainers. He began performing in movies in 1937 at the age of eleven, making his uncredited debut in the Columbia Pictures’ film “It Can’t Last Forever”.  O’Conner, then twelve, signed a contract at Paramount Studio and appeared in two films in 1938: “Men with Wings” playing a younger version of Fred Mac Murray’s character, and in “Sing You Sinners” appearing as Bing Crosby’s character’s younger brother.

Donald O’Connor appeared in eight more films between the years 1938 and 1939. He appeared as Huckleberry Finn in the 1938 “Tom Sawyer, Detective” and in the 1939 “Boy Trouble” playing an orphan boy with ill with scarlet fever. O’ Connor received fourth billing in “Million Dollar Legs” with Betty Grable and played Gary Cooper as a young boy in the 1939 “Beau Geste”. In 1940, having outgrown child roles, O’Connor returned to the vaudeville stage.

On his eighteenth birthday in August 1943, O’Connor was drafted into the army. Before he reported for induction in February 1944, Universal Studio, with whom he had signed in 1941, already had seven O’Connor films completed. With a backlog of these features, deferred openings at the theaters kept O’Connor’s screen presence uninterrupted during the two years he was overseas.

In 1949, he played the lead role in the film “Francis”, the story of a soldier befriended by a talking mule. The film was a huge success. As a consequence, his musical career was constantly interrupted by production of one “Francis” film per year until 1955. O’Connor received an offer to play Cosmo the piano player in the 1952 “Singin’ in the Rain” at MGM. This earned him a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Comedy or Musical. The film featured his widely known rendition of “Make ‘Em Laugh” and the notable scene during a dance number when he runs up a wall and does a flip.

The most distinctive characteristic of O’Connor’s dancing style was its athleticism, for which he had few rivals. Yet it was his boyish charm that audiences found most engaging, and which remained an appealing aspect of his personality throughout his career. In his early Universal films, O’Connor closely mimicked the smart alec, fast-talking personality of Mickey Rooney of rival MGM Studio. For “Singin’ in the Rain” however, MGM cultivated a much more sympathetic sidekick persona, and that remained O’Connor’s signature image.