Sorry for being under the ice and not reacting like a jackrabbit to the passing of the great Stanley Donen. The 94-year-old boyfriend of Elaine May was a supreme maestro of those robust, high-style, bursting-wth-color Hollywood musicals of the late ’40s and ’50s. Millennials and GenZ types are incapable of giving a damn about this luminous chapter in Hollywood history. Their loss, of course, but they don’t care about that either.
Donen’s peak creative period (late ’40s to late ’50s) was all about singing, dancing and dynamic, envelope-pushing choreography. It lasted almost exactly a decade, beginning with 1949’s On The Town (the first location-based musical, co-directed with Gene Kelly), continuing with the legendary Singin’ in the Rain (’52, also co-directed with Kelly), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (’54), It’s Always Fair Weather (’55), Funny Face (’57), The Pajama Game (’57) and Damn Yankees (’58).
Donen began to shift into light romantic comedies in the late ’50s, which led to a successful, slightly less flush decade — Indiscreet (’58), Once More With Feeling (’60), The Grass Is Greener (’60), Charade (’63), Arabesque (’66), Two For The Road (’67 — Pete Hammond‘s all-time favorite) and Bedazzled (’68).
A 15-year downshift period followed — Staircase (’69 — Rex Harrison and Richard Burton as a gay couple), Lucky Lady (’75 — a bust for Liza Minnelli, Burt Reynolds, Gene Hackman), Movie Movie (’78 — a dud), Saturn 3 (’80 — piece of shit sci-fi with Farrah Fawcett, Kirk Douglas, Harvey Keitel), Blame It On Rio (’84 — middle-aged horndog comedy with Michael Caine, Joseph Bologna, Demi Moore, Michelle Johnson).
18 years ago legendary publicist Bobby Zarem lured Donen to the Savannah Film Festival with a special career tribute. That was my first year at that festival, and Zarem invited me to dinner with he and Donen — just us three. I played it loose and casual, of course. I could have easily subjected Donen to 150 or 200 questions, but it didn’t seem like the right thing to do. He struck me as confident, casual, sophisticated.
To have lived a life as electric and bountiful as Donen’s and to have lasted 94 years…we should all be so lucky.