Dancing on the Ceiling
Stanley Donen is probably best known for his codirection of the 1952 classic musical SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN and for FUNNY FACE, the acclaimed Fred Astaire-Audrey Hepburn film. Remarkably, the native of Columbia, South Carolina, got his start in Broadway musical choruses at the age of sixteen and was in Hollywood as an assistant choreographer at the tender age of nineteen. After a couple of years, Donen advanced to lead choreography with the assistance of rising star Gene Kelly, with whom he had worked on the stage, and finally to sharing directing credit with Kelly on the 1949 musical ON THE TOWN. It became a landmark for its scenes actually shot on the streets of New York City.
The relationship of Donen and Kelly was at times a close yet ultimately troubled one. They codirected two films and worked together on others, but in later years Kelly attempted to downplay Donen’s contributions to their joint efforts. A close study of the films each directed alone shows that Donen is the superior director. He went on to helm other well-regarded musicals such as SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, the comedy TWO FOR THE ROAD and the sophisticated adventures CHARADE and ARABESQUE.
Unfortunately, what could have been a fascinating look at one of Hollywood’s most stylish directors tends to bog down in the author’s heavy use of quotes and his own less than flowing writing style. Also, while many of the stories relating to such luminaries as Gene Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, and Fred Astaire are quite illuminating, Donen himself remains a rather shadowy figure even though he is extensively quoted. It appears the definitive story of Stanley Donen, who last directed a film in 1984, has yet to be told.