Hospitalized with double pneumonia. [January 1998]
Father of Donna O'Connor, Alicia O'Conner, Donald Frederick O'Connor (born 1960) and Kevin O'Connor (born 1961). Uncle of Patsy O'Connor.
Had to have three days bed rest after the "Make 'Em Laugh" sequence in Singin' in the Rain (1952).
From a vaudeville family act, his father John Edward "Chuck" O'Connor was an acrobat with Ringling Brothers-Barnum and Baily Circus as a "leaper". His mother was a circus bareback rider and dancer named Effie. One of seven children, three died in infancy, but the rest were incorporated into show business. His mother kept the family going with extended family members despite many deaths (including her husband) until 1941.
Made his film debut at age 12 in Melody for Two (1937) with his two brothers, Jack O'Connor and Billy O'Connor, doing a specialty routine. Billy died a year or two later after contracting scarlet fever.
Suffered a heart attack in 1971.
Received the 1953 Sylvania Award for his work on television.
Was supposed to co-star with Bing Crosby in the perennial film classic White Christmas (1954) but was sidelined with pneumonia and replaced by Danny Kaye.
He left Universal Pictures due to unhappiness over the studio's decision of typecasting him in "super-polite boy" roles almost throughout his acting career, despite starring in many box office hits released by Universal. It was a bittersweet departure as Donald had been with Universal for most of his acting career. The studio held a small party for him and gave him a camera along with 14 films as a parting gift. Sadly, his acting career in Hollywood ended soon after he left Universal.
Judy Garland, whom he knew as a child, was one of his best friends.
In 1994, he and his wife, Gloria Noble, had a close brush with death. It was about four in the morning and he had just finished reading something in bed. All at once, the house started to shake (earthquake). The house started sliding off its foundation. Luckily, the house wedged up against a big tree and that kept it from crashing into a canyon.
Despite failing health in 2003, he made appearances at the Roger Ebert Overlooked Film Festival and the opening of the Judy Garland Museum.
In 1998, he signed on for The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies, a revue featuring 54-year-old + performers. He was their headliner, dancing and singing his way through eight performances a week. He closed out the season with the Palm Spring Follies, performing in the last four shows after recovering from a serious illness that stopped him from performing.
Allegedly did not enjoy working with Gene Kelly while filming Singin' in the Rain (1952), because he found him to be rather a tyrant on set.
While he was hesitant to select a favorite film, he was quick to single out his favorite performance: "Call Me Madam (1953) - my favorite number is in there with Vera-Ellen. It's the number I do out in the garden with her to "It's a Lovely Day Today". It's a beautiful lyrical number. I think she was the best dancer outside of Peggy Ryan I ever danced with.".
Danced with Beverly Yissar (nee Scherrer) when she was 5 or 6; he, 10 or 11.
In the space of two years, he appeared in two different, unrelated adaptations of Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland", playing different characters: he was the Mock Turtle in Great Performances: Alice in Wonderland (1983), and the Lory Bird in Alice in Wonderland (1985).
Posthumously inducted into the International Tap Dance Hall of Fame in 2004.
Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume 7, 2003-2005, pages 403-405. Farmington Hills, MI: Thomson Gale, 2007.
He was awarded 2 Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Motion Pictures at 1680 Vine Street; and for Television at 7021 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California.
Had appeared with Peggy Ryan in seven films: Private Buckaroo (1942), Get Hep to Love (1942), Top Man (1943), Bowery to Broadway (1944), Chip Off the Old Block (1944), The Merry Monahans (1944) and This Is the Life (1944).
He was acting mentor of actress Bonnie Franklin.
Smoked 4 packs of cigarettes a day.
Sidelined as a composer. The Brussels Symphony Orchestra recorded some of his work. In 1956, he conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a performance of his first symphony "Reflections d'un comique".
Born into a circus family, he spent much of his early youth on the road and made his film debut at the age of 11.