Stanley Donen, the former Broadway chorus boy who made a name for himself in Hollywood directing classic musical films like “On the Town” and “Singin’ in the Rain,” has died at age 94.
One of Donen’s sons confirmed the news on Saturday to Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips. A rep for Donen did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Donen helped reinvent the big-screen musical, with a series of hits that included 1954’s “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” 1957’s “The Pajama Game,” 1958’s “Damn Yankees!” and 1957’s “Funny Face,” with Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire.
Not only did he integrate song, dance and story in a way that enlivened MGM musicals of the era, but he was also a technical innovator in an era before CGI, as in the memorable scene in 1950’s “Royal Wedding” when Fred Astaire seemed to dance on the walls and ceiling while singing “You’re All the World to Me.”
After breaking off his MGM contract in the late 1950s, Donen ventured into non-musical rom-coms like “Indiscreet” (1958), “Charade” (1963) and “Two for the Road” (1967) — frequently with some combination of favored stars like Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant.
Despite receiving an honorary Oscar in 1998 for “a body of work marked by grace, elegance, wit and visual innovation,” he never received so much as a nomination for any of his films.
A native of South Carolina, Donen studied dance as a boy and moved to New York City at around age 16 to pursue a career on the stage.
While performing on Broadway for the legendary director George Abbott, Donen befriended a young Gene Kelly, whom he followed to Hollywood to co-direct the seminal dance-heavy musicals “On the Town” (1949) and “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952), which is regarded as one of the best Hollywood movies of all time.
“Sound was still a fairly new thing when I came into movies,” Donen told, Vanity Fair in a 2013 interview. “And the reason musicals happened is because of sound. They could put music in the picture! That’s how it all began.”
By the 1980s, Donen’s box office clout had diminished with forays into sci-fi like 1980’s “Saturn 3.” His last big-screen feature was the crass R-rated 1984 comedy “Blame It on Rio” starring Michael Caine and a young Demi Moore.
He also directed a musical sequence in the 1980s series “Moonlighting” as well as the video for the 1986 Lionel Richie hit “Dancing on the Ceiling.”
Confirmed by one of his sons this morning: Director Stanley Donen has died at 94. With Gene Kelly he brought ON THE TOWN and SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN into the world; on his own, 7 BRIDES, CHARADE and TWO FOR THE ROAD. A huge, often neglected talent. #StanleyDonen
— Michael Phillips (@phillipstribune) February 23, 2019
For the record: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect version of the title “Saturn 3.”