Stanley Donen

STANLEY DONEN, one of the giants of the Hollywood musical, has died at the age of 94.

As I write this I’m watching Stanley receive his Honorary Oscar in 1998. His  acceptance speech was in song and dance! He said, ”Tonight words seem inadequate. In musicals that’s when we a do a song…….”   and he launched into “Cheek to Cheek”……….”Heaven, I’m in heaven and my heart beats so that I can hardly speak……”  followed by a tap dance!

1998 Oscars.

Stanley knew from an early age he wanted to be a dancer. He said,

“I saw FLYING DOWN TO RIO when I was 9 and I directed Fred Astaire when I was 25. He became my good friend.”

Stanley left High School in Columbia, South Carolina and went to New York. Landing a role in the Broadway chorus of  PAL JOEY in 1940, he became friends with Gene Kelly who played ‘Joey’.

Not sure if Stanley Donen is in this picture of “Pal Joey”, but Van Johnson can be seen behind Gene Kelly.

The year after Pal Joey, Gene was back on Broadway choreographing BEST FOOT FORWARD, and  Stanley was one of the dancers. When Gene moved to Hollywood, Stanley followed in 1943 and quickly got into choreography, working for five years in 14 films for Columbia and MGM. Films he worked on included COVER GIRL and ANCHORS AWEIGH.

He was assistant to directors Charles Walters and George Sidney and one can only assume that in addition to his choreographing skills, he was soaking up all the knowledge he could gain about directing movies.

At the age of 25 he was handed directorial control on ROYAL WEDDING, starring Fred Astaire and Jane Powell.

Fred Astaire, Stanley Donen. ROYAL WEDDING.


Jane Powell, Stanley Donen.


The famous number in Royal Wedding where Astaire defies gravity. Stanley and Astaire and Alan Jay Lerner have each  taken credit for the unique way the number was filmed.


Frank Sinatra, Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly. ON THE TOWN.

In the 8 years from his Broadway debut in the chorus line of Gene Kelly’s “Pal Joey”,  Stanley has progressed to co-directing three films with Gene – ON THE TOWN, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN and IT’S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER.  He was still only 28 at the time of their most famous collaboration, “Singin’ In The Rain”.


Rare on-the-set shot from On The Town, with Stanley standing behind Gene Kelly, Jules Munshin and Frank Sinatra. Wonderful to see all the onlookers above.

The first musical to have scenes shot  on location . Arthur Freed at MGM was persuaded by Kelly and Donen to let them shoot for a few days in New York. Not for them the confines of a back lot. When singing about New York, they wanted to be there!


The famous shot at the Rockefeller Center with the statue of Prometheus above the skating rink.

(A fond memory for me, being in New York , standing opposite the statue and remembering that scene. I expect many other fans have done the same!)


Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen.

On SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN, Stanley said,

“When we did “Singin’ In The Rain” we were young, full of energy and vitality – we didn’t have any fear – we just burst out doing it.

On co-directing with Gene Kelly:

“We did everything together. We were initially rehearsing  in two separate rehearsal halls. Gene worked on one number . I would do another one……there was no system.”


Cyd Charisse, Gene Kelly


Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly.


Wonderful advertising for Singin’ In The Rain in a shop window in New York.


Stanley had great success with his solo direction of SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS , DEEP IN MY HEART and FUNNY FACE.



Audrey Hepburn, Stanley Donen.




And then Stanley was back co-directing with George Abbott in DAMN YANKEES and THE PAJAMA GAME.




Stanley moves to England in 1958 and did the romantic comedy INDISCREET, with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. Musicals were going out of fashion and Stanley showed he wasn’t tied to musicals.


Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman.INDISCREET.


Stanley directing Bergman and Grant.


His second  film with Cary Grant, THE GRASS IS GREENER, with Deborah Kerr and Robert Mitchum.


The wonderful  thriller, CHARADE, made by Donen and compared to Hitchcock’s films.

By the time of “Charade”, Stanley was only 40, yet he only made 9 more movies, with success increasingly difficult for him. It’s not clear why.


A third film for Donen and Audrey Hepburn, with the late Albert Finney.



Stanley directed Elizabeth Taylor in THE LIGHT FANTASTIC in 1952 and the two dated.


With Yvette Mimieux

Stanley Donen was married four times including to YVETTE MIMIEUX from 1972 to 1985. His first wife Jeanne Coyne married Gene Kelly after they were divorced. And his second wife,Marion Marshall subsequently married Robert Wagner.









5 responses »

  1. I was friendly withe the writer Clive Hirschhorn who wrote the first biography of Gene. When he interviewed Stanley he was surprised to find him extremely bitter about Gene. I can’t remember what had gone wrong between them but I found that very sad.

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