Stanley Donen, the deft director of such iconic movie musicals as Singin’ In the Rain, Funny Face, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Charade who helped define Hollywood’s golden age, has died at age 94. The news was confirmed this morning by his son to the Chicago Tribune.
Donen remarkably never won an Oscar for his work, but was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Motion Picture Academy in 1998, “in appreciation of a body of work marked by grace, elegance, wit and visual innovation.” He sang “Cheek to Cheek” with his statuette during his acceptance speech.
Born in Columbia, SC, Donan was a Broadway dancer and choreographer when he met Gene Kelly while dancing in the chorus of Pal Joey. He eventually moved to Hollywood to dance in MGM musicals, and when he was 19 Kelly got the studio to lend Donen to Columbia Pictures so they could co-choreograph Cover Girl.
That launched a longtime collaboration that included Anchors Aweigh in 1945 before the pair co-directed 1949’s On the Town, the Comden and Green classic produced by Arthur Freed that starred Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Betty Garrett and Ann Miller. It was Donen’s first helming gig, which he followed by directing his idol Fred Astaire in 1951’s Royal Wedding.
Kelly and Donen eventually teamed on Singin’ in the Rain, which most considered the best movie musical ever made. It won the Golden Globe that year but scored only two Oscar noms — for supporting actress and for its music. Kelly starred with a murderer’s row of a cast that included Donald O’Conner, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen, Cyd Charisse and Rita Moreno.
A string of classics followed: 1954’s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, 1955’s It’s Always Fair Weather, 1957’s Funny Face (starring Astaire and Audrey Hepburn) and 1958’s Damn Yankees. Donen’s other credits included co-directing comedies (The Pajama Game also in 1957 and starring Doris Day), thrillers (the 1963 Hepburn-Cary Grant thriller Charade) and sci-fi (1980’s Saturn 3 with Kirk Douglas, Farrah Fawcett and Harvey Keitel).
Later in his career, he produced the 1986 Oscars and directed Lionel Ritchie’s music video for “Dancing on the Ceiling.”
Donen was married five times including first to dancer-actress Jeanne Coyne. He also dated Elizabeth Taylor, and Elaine May had been his longtime companion.