Few directors, producers or choreographers were responsible for as much Hollywood iconography as Stanely Donen, a master of all three roles, who passed away today at the age of 94.
Gene Kelly singing (and dancing) in the rain. Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling. Gwen Verdon generating steam heat. Audrey Hepburn asking Cary Grant how he shaved in there. The Seven Brides being swung by the Seven Brothers. Donald O’Connor makin’ ’em laugh. Kelly and Frank Sinatra hitting the town in their sailor suits. Hepburn catsuiting through a Paris nightclub in the name of Emphaticalism.
One could go on. Even if you’ve never seen the movies, most of those images will ring a bell.
With Kelly, he both reinvented the Hollywood musical and extended its natural lifespan by a generation, no easy task in a post-war era that already prized realism (if not cynicism) above all else. With Hepburn, he made a signature musical (Funny Face), a Hitchcock homage (Charade) that was better than all but a handful of the Master’s own and perhaps the best film anyone has made about marriage (Two for the Road), giving her a chance to do what everybody knew she could do and a few things nobody thought she could. Besides the superstars, Debbie Reynolds, James Coburn, Walter Matthau, Geoge Kennedy, Bob Fosse, were among the many whose careers got a jumpstart in Donen’s films.
And all of that happened because from the late 40s to the late 60s he had the surest touch in the game.
After that his career went into a tailspin, never to recover as we set about throwing everything away and forging our own way to Paradise without the benefit of what all the poor hidebound Past could teach us.
I’m betting whoever’s in charge of the next life is looking at his resume along about now and saying “Well, we can’t blame him.”
Never mind us, though. and what all we didn’t do. No future worth living in will forget him.