Singin’ in the Rain is generally regarded as Hollywood’s greatest original movie musical. Like The Wizard of Oz before it, Singin’ in the Rain is an original musical motion picture not based on an existing musical work. Unlike that fantasy about...
Stanley Donen, like Gene Kelly, started out as a dancer before branching out into film directing. As a Jewish kid in a mostly non-Jewish town in South Carolina, Donen was bullied at school and Donen turned to the movies as an escape, particularly the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film Flying Down to Rio. On family trips to New York, Donen took dance lessons, eventually dropping out of college to move to New York to pursue dance full time. Soon he was cast as a chorus dancer in the Broadway production of Pal Joey, which starred Gene Kelly.
Donen’s dance and choreographic skills were quickly noticed by Gene Kelly, and eventually Arthur Freed, the head of MGM (and lyricist for the songs in Singin’ in the Rain). Freed signed Donen to a one-year contract, and Donen began his collaboration with Kelly. After Donen and Kelly’s success as choreographers for the film Take Me Out to the Ball Game, Freed contracted Kelly and Donen to co-direct On the Town, the success of which convinced Freed to offer Donen a seven-year contract. in 1952, Donen and Kelly made the iconic Singin’ in the Rain. Following Singin’ in the Rain, Donen turned to directing films by himself, including Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, It’s Always Fair Weather, Funny Face, The Pajama Game, and Damn Yankees!
It was not until the 1960s that Donen would have another smash hit with the romantic caper Charade, starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. Donen eventually turned to producing in his later years, and is still making movies today. Retrospectively, his working relationship with Gene Kelly has been described as rocky and complicated, with Kelly often taking the reins and underplaying Donen’s contributions to their shared projects. Regardless, their collaborations represent definitive peaks for the American movie musical.