The past week has had many notable deaths (Edward Said, Robert Palmer, George Plimpton) but Gothamist was most saddened about yesterday's passing of entertainer Donald O'Connor, whose most memorable work is the show-stopping song, "Make 'Em Laugh," in Singin' in the Rain. O'Connor appeared in loads of films, like Anything Goes with Bing Crosby and the Francis the Talking Mule pictures, but his role as Cosmo Brown in Singin' made you wonder why there isn't a movie about him, versus Gene Kelly's Don Lockwood who could be at times, let's face it, really boring and full of himself. There are two show-stopping moments, one being Kelly's song-and-dance in the rain of the title song, which is a dreamy, beautiful interlude. But it's "Make 'Em Laugh" with O'Connor defying gravity, talking pratfalls to a new level, fisticuffs with a literal dummy, and throwing out one amazing move after another that gives the audience a chance to laugh and cry aloud.
Roger Ebert, in his obituary of O'Connor, calls "Make 'Em Laugh," "the most sensational solo number in the history of musical comedy."
The Times obituary reminds us of Times dance critic Anna Kisselgoff's observation of O'Connor in 1997: "To call Donald O'Connor a song-and-dance man is like calling Shakespeare a strolling player."