Donald O’Connor

29 Aug

Donald O’Connor would have been 88 today. We all got fancy with our Gene Kelly birthday action last week. In lieu of such an occasion, let’s talk about something important: formative influences.

I am not a professional dancer. At all. Despite what a kind and good dance teacher told us (“You are ALL dancers”!”) and occasional eccentric successes, if you come to me and give me names of choreography, I will not know what those mean or how to achieve them. And I saw and was impressed by Gene Kelly’s work fairly early in life. My reaction was just appreciative, not participative.

But I know from funny. I make no claim to be brilliant at funny’s execution, but I know from funny. Every bit as much as David Paymer in Mr. Saturday Night.

And one of the formative memories of “Oh – so THAT’S how it works,” right up there with Dick Van Dyke, Cosby albums and Waldorf & Statler, was of this. Perhaps you’ve seen it?

Formative. My love of silent comedy/slapstick, eccentric movement, the thing with the rubbery lips after he hits the brick wall: formative. I cannot overestimate its place in my psyche. Blah blah greatest movie musical of all time awards honors blah blah. I don’t care. I didn’t know any of that when I was seven or eight or whatever. I knew that this man was funny and did funny things funnily.

And instead of just laughing like a sane person, I clearly decided somewhere in there that I wanted to participate.

It wasn’t much later that I saw the weaker-but-I-didn’t-know-that-because-I-had-just-learned-these-old-things-existed musical, Anything Goes.

Also There’s No Business Like Show Business, which AMC & the Disney Channel showed a lot circa 1984 (I’m guessing).  And some Francis movies.

And somewhere in there I noticed that I knew what this guy’s name was, and no one at school did. Hm.

Formative.

I even saw his last movie (Out to Sea) in the theater purely because he was in it. (Okay, and Lemmon and Mattheau.) But in box office terms, he “opened a movie, for me anyway. In 1997.

So I take a moment to recognize this Formativivity. Thank you, sir. You are significantly responsible for my shady way of making living. I raise a glass. Just one though. I’m plumb out of balloons.

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