Stanley Donen, the last surviving director from the Golden Age of Hollywood — and one of its most acclaimed — died of heart failure February 21 at home in Manhattan, his sons confirmed.
He was 94.
Donen was born April 13, 1924, in South Carolina. To deal with the anti-semitism he said he faced, he retreated to movie theaters, where he developed a love for the cinema. Inspired, he asked for and received an 8mm camera.
As a teenager, he moved to NYC to become a dancer, appearing in the chorus of the 1940 Broadway production of "Pal Joey" starring Gene Kelly. He soon found work as an assistant choreographer on Broadway under the tutelage of the legendary George Abbott. He went to Hollywood to appear in the film version of "Best Foot Forward" (1943), where his close friendship with Kelly led to Donen choreographing several numbers in the hit film "Cover Girl" (1944), starring Kelly and Rita Hayworth.
Donen also co-choreographed with Kelly "Anchors Aweigh" (1945) and, after a period in which Kelly served in the military and Donen choreographed other films, the smash "On the Town" (1949), considered one of the most important movie musicals in history for its innovative choreography and camera angles.
He directed "Royal Wedding" (1951) starring Fred Astaire and "Love Is Better Than Ever" (1952) starring Elizabeth Taylor before co-directing with Kelly what would come to be thought of as one of the finest films ever made, the comic musical "Singin' in the Rain" (1952), starring Kelly, Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Cyd Charisse and Jean Hagen. Only Hagen and the film's score were Oscar-nominated, but its acclaim soared in the late '60s and it has been considered a classic ever since.
As a solo director, Donen helmed such hits as "Fearless Fagan" (1952), "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" (1954), "Funny Face" (1957), "The Pajama Game" (1957, co-directed with George Abbott), "Indiscreet" (1958), "Damn Yankees!" (1958, co-directed with George Abbott), "Charade" (1963), "Arabesque" (1966) and "Bedazzled" (1967). He wrapped his big-screen career with the notorious camp classic "Blame It on Rio" in 1984, making him a rare director who had guided Rita Hayworth, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Janet Leigh, Doris Day, Mitzi Gaynor, Liza Minnelli, Raquel Welch, Farrah Fawcett and Demi Moore — to name but a few of his celebrated leading ladies.
He received an honorary Oscar in 1998 for his life's work after never having been nominated for one.
Donen also produced the 58th Academy Awards, featuring a fondly remembered production number with Golden Age stars June Allyson, Esther Williams, Leslie Caron, Marge Champion, Cyd Charisse, Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, Ann Miller, Jane Powell and Debbie Reynolds; directed a sequence of the TV series "Moonlighting" (1986); and directed Lionel Richie's "Dancing on the Ceiling" (1986) music video, with its homage to his own "Royal Wedding" that found the singer acting out the title of his song. He had been set to direct a version of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" with Michael Jackson in 1993, but child-abuse allegations against Jackson sank the idea.
His final directed work was the TV movie "Love Letters" (1999), based on the popular play; and his longtime partner Elaine May's show "Adult Entertainment" (2002), staged in Stamford, Connecticut.
Donen married and divorced five times, including to performers Jeanne Coyne (who later married Gene Kelly, which soured the men's relationship), Marion Marshall and Yvette Mimeux. He is survived by acclaimed comic/actress/writer/director May, and his three children.