The film community is mourning director Stanley Donen Sunday, after waking up to the news that the titan of classic Hollywood musicals has died in New York at the age of 94.
Working at times alongside the era’s two great dancing legends, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, Donen helmed a number of Hollywood’s greatest movie musicals in the 1940s and ’50s, including 1952’s “Singin’ In The Rain,” often called the greatest musical ever made.
“Stanely Donen was a treasure whose beloved contributions to film helped shape Hollywood’s Golden Era,” Directors Guild of America President Thomas Schlamme wrote. “His roots as a dancer and choreographer, and infectious energy informed his iconic style and precision as a director — which earned him five DGA feature film award nominations for his films `Singin’ in the Rain’ (shared with Gene Kelly) in 1952, `Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’ in 1954, `Funny Face’ in 1957, `Damn Yankees’ (shared with George Abbott) in 1958, and `Two for the Road’ in 1967.
“We are lucky to have had his presence as an active DGA member through the years, where he so generously shared his craft knowledge and experiences with his fellow members. Stanley’s unmistakable influence on generations of filmmakers can still be seen all around us today in contemporary film and television. He will be greatly missed and never forgotten.”
Despite his recognition by the Directors Guild, Donen was never nominated for an Academy Award. But he memorably accepted an honorary Oscar from Lifetime Achievement in 1998 by dancing onto the stage and singing a few bars of the Irving Berlin song “Cheek to Cheek.”
His honorary Oscar was presented by Martin Scorsese, one of several contemporary directors who held Donen in high esteem.
“Stanley Donen was a friend and an early mentor,” director Steven Spielberg wrote in a statement published in Variety. “His generosity in giving over so many of his weekends in the late ’60s to film students like me to learn about telling stories and placing lenses and directing actors is a time I will never forget.
“He co-directed what some consider the greatest Hollywood musical of all time — `Singing In the Rain’ — but when he left his partnership with Gene Kelly to go it alone, he made his most compelling movies in multiple genres. `Charade,’ `Bedazzled’ and `Two For the Road’ were my favorites. When visiting New York, I will miss not bumping into him on his daily walks and hear him talking about life and film, which for Stanley were inseparable.”
Donen’s death was first reported Saturday morning by Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips, who tweeted: “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.”
In addition to “Singin’ In The Rain,” Donen was responsible for a number of other musicals considered classics, including “On The Town,” “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” “Royal Wedding” “It’s Always Fair Weather,” “Funny Face” and “Damn Yankees.”
He switched gears in the 1960s and achieved considerable dramatic success with “Charade” and “Two For The Road,” both starring Audrey Hepburn.
The last film Donen directed was the 1984 comedy “Blame It on Rio” starring Michael Caine.
Donen was married and divorced five times, and in later years shared an ongoing relationship with director and screenwriter Elaine May.
The New York Times reported that Donen died Thursday in Manhattan.
Donen does not have a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, according to Ana Martinez, producer of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
“Sorry to say he does not,” Martinez told City News Service. “In all the years that I’ve been here he has never been nominated. We can only consider (a star) if paperwork is sent in. Now there is a five-year waiting period before we can consider him due to a policy on posthumous nominations.”