Stanley Donen


Director, Producer
Stanley Donen

About

Birth Place
Columbia, South Carolina, USA
Born
April 13, 1924
Died
February 21, 2019

Biography

Between 1949 and 1959, Stanley Donen was either the key creative force behind or an essential element in the production of some of the most critically acclaimed musicals in Hollywood history. A former dancer, he befriended Gene Kelly, who joined forces with Donen on Broadway and later in feature films for the dancing legend like "On the Town" (1949) and what was widely considered the mos...

Photos & Videos

Family & Companions

Jeannie Coyne
Wife
Dancer, assistant choreographer. Married in 1948; divorced in 1949; met through mutual friendship with Gene Kelly (Coyne had been Kelly's student and later his assistant in the 1940s); married to Kelly from 1960 until her death in 1973.
Elizabeth Taylor
Companion
Actor. Together briefly in 1951.
Marion Marshall
Wife
Actor. Married in 1952; divorced.
Adele Dillingham
Wife
Married in 1960; divorced in 1970; died in 1990.

Bibliography

"Dancing on the Ceiling: Stanley Donen and His Movies"
Stephen Silverman, Alfred A. Knopf (1996)
"Stanley Donen"
Joseph Andrew Casper, Scarecrow Press (1983)

Notes

"If we remade 'Singin' in the Rain' today, when Gene Kelly sing in the rain I think he'd be looking around to make sure he wasn't going to get mugged." --Donnen quoted in The New York Times, February 9, 1996.

Biography

Between 1949 and 1959, Stanley Donen was either the key creative force behind or an essential element in the production of some of the most critically acclaimed musicals in Hollywood history. A former dancer, he befriended Gene Kelly, who joined forces with Donen on Broadway and later in feature films for the dancing legend like "On the Town" (1949) and what was widely considered the most popular musical ever made, "Singin' in the Rain" (1952). Donen also directed his idol Fred Astaire in "Royal Wedding" (1951) and "Funny Face" (1957), and helmed such crowd-pleasing titles as "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" (1954) and "Damn Yankees" (1958). In later years, he showed a deft touch with light comedies like "Indiscreet" (1958), as well as thrillers like "Charade" (1963). Though his directorial career wound down in the early 1980s, the visual and technical brilliance of Donen's body of work, which was rightfully feted with an honorary Academy Award in 1998, ensured that he would remain in the upper reaches of Hollywood's pantheon of musical directors as long as viewers continued to draw joy and inspiration from them.

Born April 13, 1924 in Columbia, SC, Donen struggled to grow up Jewish in a region marked by intolerance for his particular faith. He found refuge at the movies, and fell in love with dancing after viewing one of Fred Astaire's effortless performances. He took tap lessons in his home town and graduated early from high school at 16, whereupon Donen lit out for New York City to make his way in show business. He earned his first Broadway credits as a member of the chorus in 1940's "Pal Joey," starring Gene Kelly. The veteran dancer befriended the younger man and later called on him to assist with the choreography for the play "Best Foot Forward." When Kelly lit out for Hollywood, he brought Donen with him, and the pair began their collaborations in film with the movie version of "Best Foot Forward" (1943). Donen soon began accumulating choreography credits on countless musicals, both with and without Kelly, including "Cover Girl" (1944), "The Kissing Bandit" (1948) with Frank Sinatra, and "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" (1948) with both Kelly and Sinatra. The following year, he and Kelly shared directorial credit on "On the Town" (1949), a sprightly Comden and Green tune fest with Kelly, Sinatra and Jules Munshin as sailors on leave and in love in New York City. The Big Apple locations - the first for a movie musical - and memorable tunes like "New York, New York" made it a box office and critical hit, as well as an Oscar winner for Best Music.

The picture established the Donen-Kelly team as one of the freshest and most innovative in Hollywood, and together, they were responsible for some of the genre's most enduring classics. "Singin' in the Rain" (1952) was perhaps the most iconic of these; an unflaggingly charming take on Hollywood's transition from silent pictures to talkies, it featured what was unquestionably one of the most indelible screen images of all time - the sight of Kelly crooning the title song while dancing through a studio-produced downpour. So great was its impact upon generations of viewers - many of whom were moved to explore dance and musicals after seeing the film - that it was later placed at #5 on the American Film Institute's Top Films of All Time and the top spot on its list of 100 Greatest Musicals.

Had Stanley Donen stopped directing musicals after "Singin' in the Rain," his legacy would have been ensured for time in memoriam, but he continued to work on some of the form's best efforts for the better part of the next decade. He directed Fred Astaire - arguably the greatest of all musical film performers - in two projects. "Royal Wedding" (1951) was his first turn as a solo director, and featured the spectacular "You're All the World to Me" number, which saw Astaire literally dancing up the walls and across the ceiling of a room. It would later serve as the inspiration for countless scenes in other films and television shows, as well as the 1986 music video for Lionel Richie's pop hit "Dancing on the Ceiling," which Donen also directed. Donen also helmed "Funny Face" for Astaire and Audrey Hepburn, which earned him a Golden Palm nomination at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival.

The success of his efforts with Kelly and Astaire made Donen one of the top musical directors of the fifties, with perhaps only Vincente Minnelli ranking above him. As a solo director, he helmed such hits as "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" (1954) and "The Pajama Game" (1957) with Doris Day. Having firmly established himself as a top director of musicals, he was reluctant to rejoin Kelly in 1955 for "It's Always Fair Weather," and the experience - already tainted by Kelly's disintegrating relationship with MGM - was reportedly an unpleasant one. But "Damn Yankees" (1958), which Donen co-directed with the director of the Broadway production, George Abbott, brought the most active phase of his musical career to a close on a high note, as well as his fourth of five nominations from the Directors Guild of America, which had previously honored him for "Singin' in the Rain," "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" and "Funny Face."

With the decline of the Hollywood musical in the late 1950s, Donen began making inroads to other genres. He made his first foray into romantic comedies with the delightful "Indiscreet" (1958), which marked the reunion of "Notorious" co-stars Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. The film was nominated for Best Picture at both the Golden Globes and BAFTA Film Awards. His next collaboration with Grant - 1960's "The Grass is Always Greener" - was a critical and financial flop, but their third go-round was "Charade" (1962), an engaging and polished thriller marked by Grant's repartee with co-star Audrey Hepburn and a terrific score by Henry Mancini. "Arabesque" (1966) attempted to recreate that film's chemistry with Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren, but not even their star power could elevate the ponderous end result.

Donen reunited with Hepburn for "Two for the Road" (1967), a bittersweet comedy-drama that explored the dissolution of a marriage between two seemingly hopeless romantics (Hepburn and Albert Finney). Told in a non-linear fashion that evoked the arthouse scene of Europe, the film was praised as Donen's boldest non-musical effort. He followed this with "Bedazzled" (1967), a cult favorite built around the then-popular comedy duo of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. A colorful pop revamp of the Faustian legend, Moore starred as a nebbish short order cook who is granted his every wish - including a bedroom romp with Raquel Welch as the embodiment of lust - by a sardonic Devil (Cook) with a sense of coal-black humor. The film was a sizable hit with college audiences, who appreciated its fractured structure and nose-thumbing attitude towards religion.

"Bedazzled" would prove to be Donen's last successful film. His follow-up, "Staircase" (1969), was a comedy-drama with Richard Burton and Rex Harrison as an aging gay couple. The offbeat casting led Fox to market the film as camp, which resulted in a backlash of negative reviews that lambasted the film as being in bad taste. "The Little Prince" (1974) failed to generate the same sense of wonder as the classic Antoine de Saint-Exupery book on which it was based, despite a score by Lerner and Lowe and the presence of Gene Wilder and Bob Fosse in its cast. "Lucky Lady" (1975) squandered the star power of its leads - Gene Hackman, Burt Reynolds and Liza Minelli - in a moribund dramedy about romance between bootleggers in the 1930s. "Movie Movie" (1978) was the sole standout of the decade for Donen - an amusing send-up of genre pictures from the 1930s by Larry Gelbart, the film's two-movies-in-one structure offered some terrific comic turns from the likes of George C. Scott and Eli Wallach. Sadly, the momentum it generated was squelched by "Saturn 3" (1980), an ill-advised foray into science fiction with Kirk Douglas and a badly miscast Farrah Fawcett as astronauts terrorized by a dubbed Harvey Keitel and his colossal, amorous robot. The film did manage to generate some attention for brief nude scenes by Fawcett, who at the time was still riding high on her post-"Charlie's Angels" (ABC, 1976-1981) popularity.

Donen's final turn in the director's chair for a major motion picture was "Blame It on Rio" (1984), an uncomfortable sex comedy which asked viewers to find Michael Caine's attempts to seduce his daughter's nubile teenage friend (Michelle Johnson) amusing. The abundance of nudity helped to make the film a modest hit, but Donen's heart was clearly not in the picture. He was absent from directing for most of the 1980s, save for a lovely musical number on an episode of "Moonlighting" (ABC, 1985-89) in 1986. Donen also lent his name and legacy to the Academy Awards telecast by serving as producer of the 58th annual ceremony that same year.

In 1993, Donen made his stage musical directing debut with an adaptation of Michael Powell's classic ballet fantasy-drama, "The Red Shoes" (1948), but the production was not a success. He returned behind the camera for the 1999 TV-movie "Love Letters," based on the long-running play by A.R. Gurney, with Steven Weber and Laura Linney as the lovers whose romantic history is played out over the course of several decades' worth of correspondence. As befitting a director of his stature, Donen received his share of lifetime achievement awards in the 1990s, which culminated in an honorary Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1998. His acceptance speech was marked by the charm and grace that he brought to his classic musicals - upon receiving his award, he executed a gentle dance with the trophy while crooning Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek." The moment served as a heart-warming reminder of Donen's legacy, as well as the whimsy and joy he brought to moviegoers throughout his career.

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

Love Letters (1999)
Director
Blame It on Rio (1984)
Director
Saturn 3 (1980)
Director
Movie Movie (1978)
Director
Lucky Lady (1975)
Director
The Little Prince (1974)
Director
Staircase (1969)
Director
Two for the Road (1967)
Director
Bedazzled (1967)
Director
Arabesque (1966)
Director
Charade (1963)
Director
The Grass Is Greener (1961)
Director
Once More, With Feeling! (1960)
Director
Surprise Package (1960)
Director
Damn Yankees (1958)
Director
Indiscreet (1958)
Director
Funny Face (1957)
Director
The Pajama Game (1957)
Director
Kiss Them for Me (1957)
Director
It's Always Fair Weather (1955)
Director
Kismet (1955)
Fill-In Director
Deep in My Heart (1954)
Director
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)
Director
Give a Girl a Break (1954)
Director
Singin' in the Rain (1952)
Director
Love Is Better Than Ever (1952)
Director
Fearless Fagan (1952)
Director
Rich, Young and Pretty (1951)
Fill-In Director
Royal Wedding (1951)
Director
On the Town (1949)
Director

Cast (Feature Film)

AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (1998)
Musicals Great Musicals (1996)
Audrey Hepburn: Remembered (1993)
MGM: When the Lion Roars (1992)
The Big Show (1957)
Best Foot Forward (1943)
Cadet

Writer (Feature Film)

Indiscreet (1988)
Story By
Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949)
Story

Producer (Feature Film)

Blame It on Rio (1984)
Producer
Saturn 3 (1980)
Producer
Movie Movie (1978)
Producer
The Little Prince (1974)
Producer
Staircase (1969)
Producer
Bedazzled (1967)
Producer
Two for the Road (1967)
Producer
Arabesque (1966)
Producer
Charade (1963)
Producer
The Grass Is Greener (1961)
Producer
Once More, With Feeling! (1960)
Producer
Surprise Package (1960)
Producer
Indiscreet (1958)
Producer
Damn Yankees (1958)
Producer
The Pajama Game (1957)
Producer

Dance (Feature Film)

Funny Face (1957)
Songs staged by
It's Always Fair Weather (1955)
Dances and Music numbers staged by
Give a Girl a Break (1954)
Music numbers staged by
Singin' in the Rain (1952)
Music numbers staged and Director
The Kissing Bandit (1949)
Dance Director
Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949)
Music numbers staged by
A Date with Judy (1948)
Dance Director
Big City (1948)
Dance Director
This Time for Keeps (1947)
Dances and water ballet by
Living in a Big Way (1947)
Dance seq created and Director by
Killer McCoy (1947)
"Swanee River" number [choreographed] by
Cover Girl (1944)
Choreography

Production Companies (Feature Film)

Staircase (1969)
Company
Two for the Road (1967)
Company
Bedazzled (1967)
Company

Special Thanks (Feature Film)

Bedazzled (2000)
Special Thanks To

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

Pretty Woman (1990)
Other
Bert Rigby, You're a Fool (1989)
Other

Cast (Special)

The 70th Annual Academy Awards (1998)
Nichols and May -- Take Two (1996)
Musicals Great Musicals: The Arthur Freed Unit at MGM (1996)
The Moviemakers: Stanley Donen (1996)
Himself
The Hollywood Fashion Machine (1995)
Diamonds on the Silver Screen (1992)
Cary Grant: The Leading Man (1988)
Lionel Richie: The Making of Dancing on the Ceiling (1986)

Producer (Special)

The 58th Annual Academy Awards Presentation (1986)
Producer

Life Events

1940

Broadway debut (as chorus boy) in "Pal Joey," starring Gene Kelly

1941

Worked as assistant choreographer (to Kelly) in Broadway musical "Best Foot Forward"

1943

Went to Hollywood as assistant choreographer and member of dancing chorus of film version of "Best Foot Forward"

1944

Worked with Kelly on choreography for "Cover Girl"

1949

Debut as co-director and co-story writer (with Kelly) of "Strictly USA" number in "Take Me Out to the Ball Game"

1949

Film co-directing debut (with Kelly), "On the Town"

1951

Solo film directing debut, "Royal Wedding"

1952

Co-directed the film classic "Singin' in the Rain" with Kelly

1954

Helmed Oscar Best Picture nominated "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

1957

First film as producer, "The Pajama Game"; also co-directed with George Abbott

1957

Directed Audrey Hepburn in "Funny Face"; film nominated for Palme d'Or at Cannes

1958

Reteamed with Abbott to direct musical "Damn Yankees!"

1963

Produced and directed the stylish comedy-mystery "Charade," starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn

1967

Directed Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney in "Two for the Road"

1978

Helmed the homage to old Hollywood "Movie Movie"

1984

Produced and directed last feature "Blame It on Rio"

1993

Made Broadway debut as director of ill-fated musical "The Red Shoes"

1998

Received honorary Academy Award for career achievement (March)

1999

Made TV directorial debut with adaptation of A.R. Gurney's "Love Letters" (ABC)

Photo Collections

Anchors Aweigh - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a number of photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's Anchors Aweigh (1945). Look for stars Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Kathryn Grayson, director George Sidney, and even MGM cartoon stars Tom & Jerry!
Funny Face - Movie Poster
Here is the American One-Sheet Movie Poster for Funny Face (1957). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.

Videos

Movie Clip

Give A Girl A Break (1954) - Applause, Applause Finally on-stage for the big show that gives the movie its name, Bob (Bob Fosse) and Suzy (Debbie Reynolds) perform Applause, Applause, by Burton Land and Ira Gershwin, in Give A Girl A Break, 1954, directed by Stanley Donen.
Singin' In The Rain (1952) - Moses Supposes Silent star Don (co-director and choreographer Gene Kelly) with diction coach (Robert Watson), joined by musical partner Cosmo (Donald O’Connor) for the flat-out athletic tap number to the song by Roger Edens, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, a rousing bit from Singin’ In The Rain, 1952.
Singin' In The Rain (1952) - All I Do Is Dream Of You The studio boss (Millard Mitchell) after a talking-picture demo, with Cosmo (Donald O’Connor) pal of star Don (Gene Kelly), who’s delighted to find snooty Cathy (Debbie Reynolds) doing a cheesecake gig, song by Nacio Herb Brown and producer Arthur Freed, bimbo Lina (Jean Hagen) getting pied, in Singin’ In The Rain, 1952.
Singin' In The Rain (1952) - I'm Not An Actor! After the premiere, silent-movie star Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) with musical partner Cosmo (Donald O’Connor) in Hollywood, gets mobbed and, with a coy contemporary-swashbuckling escape, meets opinionated Cathy (Debbie Reynolds), early in MGM’s Singin’ In The Rain, 1952.
Singin' In The Rain (1952) - Dignity, Always Dignity Dora (Madge Blake) the M-C, sidekick Cosmo (Donald O’Connor) already in place, co-director Gene Kelly (as matinee idol Don Lockwood), with Jean Hagen, silent for now (as co-star Lina), launches the biography bit, song by Al Hoffman and Al Goodhart, from the opening to MGM’s Singin’ In The Rain, 1952.
Funny Face (1957) - I Rather Feel Like Expressing Myself (Basal Metabolism) Continuing their philosophical dispute, now in a Paris cafe, Fred Astaire as fashion photographer Dick and Audrey Hepburn as bookish recruited model Jo introduce her solo dance, with contributions from Astaire, director Stanley Donen and choreographer Eugene Loring, in Funny Face, 1957.
Funny Face (1957) - Let's Kiss And Make Up After a minor dispute, in Paris, between Fred Astaire as photographer Dick and Audrey Hepburn as reluctant model Jo, director Stanley Donen finishes the song by George & Ira Gershwin and Fred solos, in Paramount’s Funny Face, 1957.
Funny Face (1957) - You're Anna Karenina Photographer Dick (Fred Astaire) has finally got his model (Audrey Hepburn as literature-oriented Jo) to Paris and begins coaching her, director Stanley Donen shooting on location at Gare du Nord, Opera Garnier, the Seine and Latona Fountain, Versailles, in Funny Face, 1957.
Singin' In The Rain (1951) - Zelda's Kid Sister In the “Revolution In Hollywood” montage, Rita Moreno as “Zelda” in the cocktail shaker routine and the cutaways, with four Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed tunes, Jimmy Thompson the crooner, Debbie Reynolds with him as Kathy, Millard Mitchell the studio boss, Donald O’Connor as Cosmo, Tommy Farrell as Sid the A-D, in Singin’ In The Rain, 1951.
Singin' In The Rain (1951) - That Famous Zip Girl In fact the greater part of Rita Moreno’s performance as flapper movie star “Zelda Zanders,” in Singin’ In The Rain, 1951, at the opening of the Gene Kelly/Jean Hagen (Don Lockwood, Lina Lamont) movie, introduced by Madge Blake, Stuart Holmes her “eligible bachelor.”
Royal Wedding (1951) - You're All The World To Me As entertainer "Tom Bowen," Fred Astaire is all over the walls and ceilings over his English girlfriend (played by Winston Churchill's daughter Sarah) in the famous trick sequence, directed by Stanley Donen, from MGM's Royal Wedding, 1951.
Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1954) - Wonderful, Wonderful Day Jane Powell’s first solo song, as Millie, spontaneously married to Oregon backwoodsman Adam Pontipee (Howard Keel), for now having no idea he has brothers, composed by Gene de Paul and Johnny Mercer, direction by Stanley Donen, in MGM’s Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, 1954.

Trailer

Singin' in the Rain - (Original Trailer) A silent screen swashbuckler (Gene Kelly) finds love while trying to adjust to the coming of sound in Singin' in the Rain (1952), directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen.
Give a Girl a Break - (Original Trailer) The dancing team Marge and Gower Champion star in Give A Girl A Break (1954) with support from Debbie Reynolds and Bob Fosse.
Deep in My Heart -- (Original Trailer) Jose Ferrer stars in Deep in My Heart (1954), MGM's all-star biography of Broadway songsmith Sigmund Romberg.
Bedazzled - (Original Trailer) A short-order cook (Dudley Moore) makes a deal with the Devil (Peter Cook) to win a beautiful waitress in Bedazzled (1967).
Kiss Them For Me - (Original Trailer) Three navy war heroes are booked on a morale-building "vacation" in San Francisco and plan to throw a wild party in Kiss Them For Me (1957) starring Cary Grant and Jayne Mansfield. Directed by Stanley Donen.
On the Town - (Original Trailer) Three sailors wreck havoc during a whirlwind 24-hour shore leave in New York City in On the Town (1949) starring Gene Kelly & Frank Sinatra.
Take Me Out to the Ball Game - (Original Trailer) A beautiful woman takes over a turn-of-the-century baseball team in this MGM color musical starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra.
Royal Wedding - (Original Trailer) A brother and sister dance act from New York perform for the aristocracy in London in Royal Wedding (1951).
Killer McCoy - (Original Trailer) Mickey Rooney stars as a lightweight boxer who gets mixed up in murder in Killer McCoy (1947).
Rich, Young and Pretty - (Original Trailer) A rancher's daughter visits Paris to meet her mother and find love in Rich, Young and Pretty (1951) starring Jane Powell.
This Time for Keeps (1947) - (Original Trailer) A famous singer's son falls for a swimming star in This Time For Keeps (1947) starring Esther Williams and Jimmy Durante.
Kissing Bandit, The - (Original Trailer) A timid young man (Frank Sinatra) is forced to follow in his father's footsteps as a notorious outlaw - The Kissing Bandit (1948).

Family

Mordecai Donen
Father
Dress shop manager.
Helen Donen
Mother
Peter Donen
Son
Born in 1953; mother, Marion Marshall.
Joshua Donen
Son
Agent, producer. Born in 1955; mother, Marion Marshall; producer of "The Quick and the Dead" (1995); named senior vice president at William Morris in July 1996.
Mark Donen
Son
Born c. 1962.

Companions

Jeannie Coyne
Wife
Dancer, assistant choreographer. Married in 1948; divorced in 1949; met through mutual friendship with Gene Kelly (Coyne had been Kelly's student and later his assistant in the 1940s); married to Kelly from 1960 until her death in 1973.
Elizabeth Taylor
Companion
Actor. Together briefly in 1951.
Marion Marshall
Wife
Actor. Married in 1952; divorced.
Adele Dillingham
Wife
Married in 1960; divorced in 1970; died in 1990.
Yvette Mimieux
Wife
Actor. Married in 1972; divorced in 1982.
Pamari Donen
Wife
Married in 1990; divorced in 1994.
Elaine May
Companion
Actor, director, writer. Donen reportedly proposed in spring 2000.

Bibliography

"Dancing on the Ceiling: Stanley Donen and His Movies"
Stephen Silverman, Alfred A. Knopf (1996)
"Stanley Donen"
Joseph Andrew Casper, Scarecrow Press (1983)

Notes

"If we remade 'Singin' in the Rain' today, when Gene Kelly sing in the rain I think he'd be looking around to make sure he wasn't going to get mugged." --Donnen quoted in The New York Times, February 9, 1996.