O’Connor and Kazan pass away.

Sep 29, 2003 by Ian Evans

Hollywood lost two artists this weekend — one who could make ‘em laugh and the other who stirred strong emotions on both end of the spectrum.

Donald O’Connor, best-loved for his “Make ‘Em Laugh” number in the musical “Singin’ in the Rain,”, died Saturday at the age of 78. O’Connor, who was living in a retirement home, died of heart failure. According to his family, one of his last quips was “I’d like to thank the Academy for my lifetime achievement award that I will eventually get.”

Besides Singing in the Rain, O’Connor was best known for a series of Francis the Talking Mule movies he made during the 1950s. Some of the other musicals he made include Call Me Madam, Anything Goes and There’s No Business Like Show Business.

Director Elia Kazan also died this weekend at the age of 94. The director, whose impressive credits include Gentleman’s Agreement, On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire, East of Eden, Splendor in the Grass and A Face in the Crowd, was also known for bringing actors like Marlon Brando, James Dean, Karl Malden and Warren Beatty to the public’s attention.

Kazan, who was also a Tony Award-winning Broadway director, was praised by director Martin Scorsese who said that, “He pointed the way to a new kind of movie-making — physically expressive, psychologically acute, brutally honest, and emotionally overwhelming.” Warren Beatty told the LA Times that, “Elia Kazan was my first teacher in movies, an indispensable mentor for me; inspiring, generous, unpretentious, preeminent in both the legitimate theater and the movies during the chaotic clash of culture and politics in America.”

Not everyone loved Kazan. During the late 1940s, Kazan told U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy and the Communist-hunting House Committee of Un-American Activities the names of several people in Hollywood that might be Communist sympathizers. These names were added to the unofficial blacklist that ended the careers of many writers, actors and directors. Kazan later said that he only named names that had already been mentioned, adding “…I’d rather hurt them a little than hurt myself a lot.”

When Kazan was given an honorary Oscar® in 1999 there were protesters outside and the audience was divided. While some like Beatty and Robert De Niro gave him a standing ovation, others like Nick Nolte and Ed Harris remained seated and stone-faced.