Musical director dies at 94

Hollywood has lost a prolific director known as one of the pioneers of musical films, Stanley Donen, who died at 94 of heart failure in New York on Feb. 21. 

Though his legendary works, Donen seemed to have slipped under the radar of high notoriety in Hollywood. He was never Oscar-nominated for his famous works such as “On the Town,” “Singin’ in the Rain” or “Funny Face,” starring Audrey Hepburn, but he did receive the lifetime achievement Oscar later on in his life in 1998 and will forever be remembered as a classic and innovative director. A huge, often neglected talent by Michael Phillips, an American film critic for the Chicago Tribune newspaper. 

Several notorious members of the film industry have paid homage to Donen including Edgar Wright, and Guillermo del Toro who said, “before Stanley Donen actors sang and danced, he made the camera dance and the colors sing.” 

Donen wasn’t only known for his musical classics, he’s also contributed much to the comedy, thriller and drama genres. Perhaps his most famous non musicals – “Bedazzled,” “Charade” and “Two for the Road,” where he worked closely with film stars such as Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant and Albert Finney, who also recently passed in early Feb, 2019. 

Donen, born and raised in Columbia, South Carolina often faced tensions for being one of the few Jewish families in the community. He used film as an escape and after a short time in college, he dropped everything and moved to New York to become a Broadway dancer. 

He started to gain momentum shortly after American dancer and actor Gene Kelly propelled himself in the movie business. Kelly got Donen a job helping to choreograph the 1944 film “Cover Girl”. Over the next few years he helped choreograph films such as “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and “The Kissing Bandit,” both starring Frank Sinatra. 

Donen lived an abundant life. Having been married five times, he had three sons and an embroidered pillow in his New York home that reads, “Eat, Drink and Remarry”.

Musical films were at their prime during the 1940s and 50s. Donen’s contribution to film will be noted upon for lifetimes to come having worked in multiple types of genres and even told The Associated Press in 1999, “there are limits to TV, and that’s what was fun: to try to find a way to be surprising within limits…because then you have to be inventive.” 

The American Film Institute ranked their top 100 Greatest American Films of all Time in 2007 awarding “Singin’ In the Rain” number five on their list where actor Gene Kelly reported having a bad cold and a fever while performing the movie’s most famous scene. 

It wasn’t until the 1980s and 90s that it started to be seen as a classic and was originally underrated after its first debut, seen as “high entertainment rather than art” according to USA Today.

Though Kelly played a huge role in Donen’s ascension to fame, the two actually had quite a tense relationship. 

Donen often spoke of Kelly being hard to work with and reported that he could be “cold and condescending,” Donen said to The New York Times in 1996. “He could be difficult with me and everyone else.” 

Nevertheless, the show must go on, and in Donen’s case it always did. His musical classics will indeed go on as giants in Hollywood history. 

Director of the Theater Arts Department at Sonoma State University Scott Horstein can undeniably recognize “Singin’ In the Rain” as “one of the great film musicals.” 

“My wife and I for years have been quoting all the wonderful lines from it to each other,” said Horstein. 

Donen’s classic became a turning point in the modern film industry. One that paved way for the future standards of performance in musical films.