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In his interview with director Stanley Donen in the TCM series "Private Screenings," host Robert Osborne mentions that Donen, directed half the movies on his personal "Top Ten" list, including Singin' in the Rain (1952), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) and Funny Face (1957). That's quite a record for a "chorus boy" from Columbia, S.C., who progressed from hoofing in Broadway musicals to directing many of Hollywood's most glamorous stars in some of their best-remembered vehicles. In 1998 Donen won an honorary Oscar® "in appreciation of a body of work marked by grace, elegance, wit and visual innovation."
Donen recalls that it was while dancing in the chorus of the Broadway production of Pal Joey that he met one of his most important collaborators-Gene Kelly. Donen served as Kelly's co-choreographer on several films including Anchors Aweigh (1945) before the duo made their co-directing debut with On the Town (1949). The partnership of Kelly and Donen reached its apex with Singin' in the Rain, considered by many the best movie musical ever made.
Donen acknowledges that, although he and Kelly were close friends, the task of co-directing could be difficult: "Would you like somebody sitting behind you saying, 'Don't say that. No. Try it this way'? And you have to convince them. It's tough." Still, the Kelly-Donen alliance continued in another sparkling MGM musical, It's Always Fair Weather (1955).
Here are Donen's impressions of other superstars with whom he worked:
Debbie Reynolds in Singin' in the Rain: "I don't think she was in any way forced on us. She was an irresistible little girl." Fred Astaire in Royal Wedding (1951) and Funny Face: "It was intimidating to be working with a man you thought was the single greatest contributor to musical films. But it was wonderful... Of all the people on earth Fred Astaire seems to be the least affected by gravity."
Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face and Charade (1963): "I loved her. I knew her from her movies. [Then] I got to work with her and she was wonderful and sweet and friendly and kind and giving and intimate and personal and gifted. And the sound of her voice was enough to send you." Sophia Loren in Arabesque (1966): "She was funny, you know...a really welcoming, big, powerful woman who knew she was strong and she was attractive and sexual, and she was a huge star at that time."