Donald O’Connor – the ultimate performer – toured Australia in 1994
Donald O’Connor tours Australia (1994)
By Shirley Broun
WHEN it comes to screen legends, few would surpass dancer, singer and actor DONALD O’CONNOR whom I had the great delight of meeting, along with his wife Gloria, during his Australian tour at Easter in 1994.
This multi-talented performer was a childhood favourite of mine. I was always ready to pull up a chair in front of the television to watch any movie in which O’Connor was featured. He launched onto the big screen in 1937 and is best known today for his role as Gene Kelly’s friend and colleague Cosmo Brown in Singin’ in the Rain (1952). I’ve seen Singing in the Rain so many times I can almost recite their lines and O’Connor’s dancing was a major highlight.
So, all my life I have been a Donald O’Connor `fanatic’. If he was in the film or appearing on a television show … I’d be watching!
So meeting my idol in 1994, Easter gift in hand, was a dream come true. Here was the ultimate performer – a man I had idolised since I was knee high to a grasshopper – standing before me with that beaming smile of welcome that won him many roles and even more hearts throughout his extraordinary career. He invited me to join he and his lovely wife Gloria for a leisurely chat about his life and loves (of which Gloria was number 1). And, they loved the Easter eggs so much, they took the time to write a beautiful `thank you’ card.
I was so grateful to G’Day Hollywood and Jenifer Green for putting together `The Legends of Hollywood Tour’ in 1994 of which Donald O’Connor was an extremely popular and favourite inclusion, especially for this wide-eyed journalist who has never forgotten this chance meeting with a true Hollywood Legend. And, to see him dance `live’ with the same energetic and skilful style for which he had attracted world renown was a truly inspirational experience.
For those kindred spirits who appreciated his amazing talents, O’Connor has left an impressive legacy in his films, television shows and as a great human being.
In 1949, he played the lead role in Francis, the story of a soldier befriended by a talking mule. The film was a huge success. However, his musical career was constantly interrupted by production of one Francis film per year until 1955. It was because of the Francis series that O’Connor missed playing Bing Crosby’s companion in White Christmas. O’Connor was unavailable because he contracted an illness transmitted by the mule, and was replaced in the film by Danny Kaye. O’Connor’s role as Cosmo the piano player in Singin’ in the Rain earned him a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Comedy or Musical.
O’Connor hosted a colour television special on NBC in 1957, one of the earliest colour programs to be preserved on a colour kinescope; an excerpt of the telecast was included in NBC’s 50th anniversary special in 1976. He also had a television series in the late 1960s.
After overcoming alcoholism in the 1970s, he had a career boost when he hosted the Academy Awards, which earned him two Primetime Emmy nominations. He appeared as a gaslight-era entertainer in the 1981 film Ragtime, notable for similar encore performances by JAMES CAGNEY and PAT O’BRIEN. O’Connor appeared in the short-lived Bring Back Birdie on Broadway in 1981, and continued to make film and television appearances into the 1990s, including the Robin Williams film Toys as the president of a toy-making company.
O’Connor’s last feature film was the Jack Lemmon-Walter Matthau comedy Out to Sea, in which he played a dance host on a cruise ship. O’Connor was still making public appearances well into 2003.
In 1998, he received a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars.
O’Connor died from congestive heart failure in 2003 at age 78. His remains were cremated and buried at the Forest Lawn–Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles. O’Connor was survived by his wife, Gloria, and four children.
Donald David Dixon Ronald O’Connor (August 28, 1925 – September 27, 2003)