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in I Love Melvin
|Born||Donald David Dixon Ronald O’Connor
August 28, 1925
|Died||September 27, 2003
|Occupation||dancer, singer, actor|
(m.1956-2003; his death)
Donald David Dixon Ronald O’Connor (August 28, 1925 - September 27, 2003) was an American dancer, singer, and actor who came to fame in a series of movies in which he co-starred alternately with Gloria Jean, Peggy Ryan, and Francis the Talking Mule. He is best known today for his role as Gene Kelly's friend and colleague Cosmo Brown in Singin' in the Rain (1952).
Though he considered Danville, Illinois to be his home town, O’Connor was born in St. Elizabeth Hospital in Chicago. His parents, Effie Irene (née Crane) and John Edward "Chuck" O'Connor, were vaudeville entertainers. His father's family was from County Cork, Ireland. When O'Connor was only a few years old, he and his sister Arlene were in a car crash outside a theater in Hartford, Connecticut; O'Connor survived, but his sister was killed. Several weeks later, his father died of a heart attack while dancing on stage in Brockton, Massachusetts. O'Connor at the time was being held in the arms of the theater manager Mr. Maurice Sims.
O'Connor began performing in movies in 1937. He appeared opposite Bing Crosby in Sing, You Sinners at age 12. Paramount Pictures used him in both A and B films, including Tom Sawyer, Detective and Beau Geste. In 1940, when he had outgrown child roles, he returned to vaudeville.
In 1944, O'Connor was drafted into the Army. Before he reported for induction, Universal Pictures rushed him through three feature films, done simultaneously and released when he was overseas. After his discharge, Universal (now reorganized as Universal-International) cast him in lightweight musicals and comedies.
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 his making one Francis film a year until 1955. It was because of Francis that O'Connor missed out on 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.
Donald O'Connor was a regular host of NBC's Colgate Comedy Hour. He hosted a color television special on NBC in 1957, one of the earliest color programs to be preserved on a color 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.
Donald 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.
O'Connor died from congestive heart failure in 2003 at age 78. His last words were reported to have been a tongue-in-cheek thanks to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for a Lifetime Achievement award that he expected to receive at a "future date". 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 O'Connor's computer-generated likeness appeared, alongside that of Gene Kelly, in a 2011 television commercial, for the Volkswagen Jetta, in which they performed a seated dance in the backseat of a Jetta to illustrate the large amount of leg room available. O'Connor's signature "Make 'Em Laugh" number has often been repeated by other entertainers. In 1995, Tim Curry, Kathy Najimy, and Mara Wilson reprised it onstage at the Academy Awards. Versions of the routine have also been performed on other television programs, including Glee and Saturday Night Live.
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