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The Religious Affiliation of Choreographer/Director
Stanley Donen


From: Stephen M. Silverman, Dancing on the Ceiling: Stanley Donen and His Movies, Alfred A. Knopf: New York (1996), pages 4-5:
Stanley Donen was born April 13, 1924, into loving and, as he described them, "completely middle-class" circumstnaces. "I was born in Columbia, South Carolina," he said, as if by identifying the location he was delivering volumes about the nature of his upbringing. Rather than risk interpretation, however, Donen openheartedly volunteered his feelings towards his hometown: "It was sleepy, it was awful, I hated growing up there, and I couldn't wait to get out."

..."My family and I were Southerners," said Donen, "really, really Southern, and really, really American. My mother was born in Columbia, South Carolina. My father was born in Augusta, Georgia, which is just over the border. His father died in Beaufort, South Carolina, and my mother's mother and father--that is, my maternal grandparents--are buried in the same town where they were born, Columbia, South Carolina."

Yet the famiyl was Southern and American with a distinction. The Domens were Jewish.

"My mother's maiden name was Helen Cohen," siad Donen, "and my father's name was Mordecai Moses Donen." Because of the softness of the Southern dialect, the surname is pronounced "Dah-nen" rather than "Doh-nen," as it may look upon first glance and is most often mispronounced. As for the decidedly un-Southern appellation Mordecai, Helen Donen, Stanley's mother, an her constant efforts to assimilate, forbade the use of the name, even within the enlightened confines of the Donen household.

"So my father was Mordie," explained the son. "It even says that on his gravestone." In a similar vein, the couple's firstborn--and for most of the boy's upbringing, the Donens' only son--was not to have ben named Stanely at al, but Isaac, after Mordie's late father. "That would have been the traditional Jewish thing to do," said Stanley, "but Isaac was a name my mother felt I couldn't live with in Columbia, South Carolina. She was probably right. And somehow, my father must've been convinced that Stanely was a close derivative of Isaac, because I was named Stanely."

...As for Donen's mother, Helen Cohen, "She was a very interesting woman, and a very independent one," said her only daughter, Carla, Stanley's younger sister by thirteen years.

Silverman, pages 8-10:
As for school, Donen recalled it as far from being fun and games. "There was a chant I'd hear in the schoolyard, always directed at me," he said. "It pretty much sums up my childhood in Columbia, South Carolina, and I obviously don't like repeating it, because of the way it also offends others."

After some prodding, Donen stonily recited the perennial playground taunt:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
I'd rather be a nigger
Than a goddamned Jew.

"I'm afraid that probably happened," confirmed Betty Walker [a childhood neighbor of the Donen family].

"Columbia was a town with a wonderful group of Jewish people. It's just that there weren't too many of them. They were really outnumbered."

"To be Jewish in South Carolina," declared Donen, "was to be considered a freak, to be thought of as contemptible, a devil, and a cheat. Every ugly stereotype ever foisted upon Jews existed there, and I think I know how this prejudice started. When the Jews began coming to the South in large numbers in the 185 os, first from Germany [the original home of the Cohens] and then from Eastern Europe and Russia [home of the Donens], as they got off the boats dressed in rags and looking the way they did, that was the image of Jews that Southerners perceived, and that was the image that stuck. It was not like being a Jew in Los Angeles or New York, where large Jewish communities have long existed and Jews form part of the traditional fabric of life. In Columbia, South Carolina, we were totally isolated because there were so few of us. And as a child, to be so alienated, to be called names every time I turned around, it was horrible, just horrible."

Donen's boyhood religious training was negligible, though he would grow up to be conversant with show-business Yiddish. Mordie Donen, on the other hand, was a deeply pious man, and Columbia, despite the relatively few number of Jews who lived there, managed to offer two separate congregations.

"We attended the Reform temple," said Donen, "not the Orthodox shul." Though the family belonged to the Tree of Life congregation, founded in 1896, worshiping there was sporadic for the boy. "Right before I got to be thirteen," he recalled, "my father very much wanted me to be bar mitzvahed. My mother didn't care, and to be honest, I loathed the whole idea."

To please his father, Donen attended Hebrew lessons, only to "discover, to my surprise, that what they were learning was the symbols for things but not their meanings. I was learning to make these noises--huch, achad, hech--and not being given the faintest idea of what I was talking about. Finally, I went home and said to my mother, 'Really, this is silly. I could be going to the movies.'"

..."Every day after school, I'd drop off my books at my father's store, then go to the movies," said Donen... "Westerns, comedies, dramas--it didn't matter to me," said Donen. "I loved going to the movies... I'd go every day..."

A photo caption, from Silverman, page 9:
Stanley's father, Mordie Donen, 1925. "The only regret of my entire life," Stanley Donen admitted in 1995, "is that I did not honor my father's wish that I be bar mitzvahed."
Silverman, page 13:
In contrast to the oppressive small-town atmosphere choking the boy in Columbia [which, actually, had a population of over 60,000 at the time], "when Fred Astaire danced," Donen noticed, "everything in this world was perfect."

Seldom knowing his mother or father to refuse him any request, and seeking entree of his own into Astaire's rarefied universe, Donen came home from the movie theater one day and announced: "'I want to be a tap dancer. The only thing I want to be is a tap dancer.' My parents thought I was crazy, but they said okay. After all, it wasn't very common for a Jewish boy to become a tap dancer."

Stanley Donen took dance lessons in his home town of Columbia, South Carolina for a few years. He graduated from high school when he was sixteen. Rather than going to college, he went to New York City to break into the entertainment business. He quickly managed to get a job dancing in the Broadway musical Pal Joey. From: Silverman, page 29:
Embracing the entire Joey expeience, Donen drew a glamorous portrait of New York that resembled the way his later movies romanticized the metropolis: "There are feelings about New York that I have in my system and can't get rid of," he said. "New York used to represent the absolute best, and the movies were always aspiring to reach up to the qualityof Hecht and MacArthur, and Kaufman and Hart, and everything New York had to offer. Being on Broadway, living the life I always wanted, working in this show, which turned out to be this great watershet musical, although none of us really knew that while we were in it--all that added up to what was the best time I had in my life, ever. Suddenly I was in New York, and nobody gave a damn if I was a Jew or a Buddhist or anything."
Silverman, page 312:
"Because of my mother," Donen admitted, "I never became religious. I'm an atheist. I don't believe in God. I never did. I don't think it's possible. He made such a bess of it if there is."

...Informed, however, that prints of Once More, with Feeling and Surprise Package seemed no longer to exist, Donen replied, "Then there is a God."

Silverman, pages 323-324:
"When Stanley was in preproduction in Tunisia," remembered his sister, "he called me at home and said, 'I want a rabbi.' I said, 'Sure, Stanley, anything you want. What for?'"

"I'm getting married," Donen reported. Furthermore, he wanted to have the ceremony performed in his dreaded [home town] Columbia, South Carolina. (Heln Donen, Stanley and Carla's mother, was still living in Columbia, as were Carla and her husband. Mordie Donen [Stanley Donen's father] had die din 1959, at the age of fifty-nine.)

"Anything you want, Stanley," repeated Carla.

"Well," said her brother, "aren't you even going to ask who I'm marrying?"

The fourth Mrs. Donen was the actress Yvette Mimieux.

"Stanley, if you want a chuppa, we'll get you a chuppa," said Carla Davis, referring to the ceremonial Jewish marriage canopy. The event was held at her home, on November 24, 1972. "It wasn't easy finding a rabbi who would perform a mixed marriage," said Carla. "The one we finally got would have married a hippopotamus to a rhino."

Carla rationalized that her brother's uncharacteristic decision to "come home" to be married, under rabbinical supervision, was born of his desire to see that this marriage lasted. "Stanley worshipped Yvette," Carla Davis said in 1994. "He still does. She was a very unique individual. She could not always act on-screen, but she could everywhere else. She was very smart, she knew about art and business... She affected Stanley as no one else ever did or ever will. My brother was madly in love with her."

With sisterly affection, Carla Davis added, "Stanley's only problem is, he keeps thinking that romances will turn out just like they do in the movies."

Silverman, pages 97-98:
While Take Me Out to the Ball Game was in its final preproduction phase, Stanely Donen got married. The date was April 14, 1948, and the bride was Jeanne Coyne, a former New York dancer...

"All of Stanely's wives have been beautiful," said his sister, Carla, in 1994, by which time she was able to have formed an opinion about five different sisters-in-law, "but I think Jeannie was really the loveliest. There was something wholesome about her." As to what that "something" could have been, Carla Davis said, "she was a bit older than Stanley, and very Catholic."

..."My brother has been married to every religion under the sun, except Jewish," Davis remarked. Marion Marshall, the second Mrs. Donen, was born a Mormon.

...As for the several other marriages of Donen--to the former Marion Marshall (1952-1959), to Adelle Beatty (1960-1971), to Yvette Mimieux (1972-1982), and to Pamari (Pam) Brden (1990-1994), the writer Peter Stone observed, "Stanley doesn't like being alone." An embroidered pillow on the sofa in Donen's living room reads: "Eat, drink, and re-marry."

Silverman, page 176:
On May 20, 1952, [Stanley] Donen married for a second time; his bride was the Fox starlet Marion Marshall. He was twenty-eight; she was six years younger. Typically for a Beverly Hills marital union, there was a multitude of interconnections. The Donens wed at the home of Marshall's agent, Jules Goldstone, who had also represented Elizabeth Taylor [a previous girlfriend of Donen's]. Marshall had been the companion of the director Howard Hawks, whose wife, the model Nancy "Slim" Hawks, had left Hawks for the agent-producer Leland Hayward, who had been Gene Kelly's agent. Hayward divorced his previous wife, the actress Margaret Sullavan, to marry "Slim." Marion Marshall gave up her career when she married Donen, and they had two sons, Peter, born in 1953, and Joshua, born in 1955.

"Stanley's a very good father, and he loves his sons," professed Pam Donen, Stanley's fifth wife, "but the only thing is, Stanley prefers his children once they're all grown up." Stanley and Marion Donen divorced in 1959, by which time Donen was already living in England and keeping company with Lady Adelle Beatty. Marion Marshall, in 1963, married the actor Robert Wagner, during the period between his two marriages to Natalie Wood; Robert and Marion Wagner divorced in 1971.

About the time that Stanley Donen dated actress Elizabeth Taylor, from: Silverman, page 138:
"Elizabeth's mother, Sara, did everything in her power to call it off," Donen said of the romance, which he approximated lated one year. "Her mother hated me in the worst way and did all sorts of nasty things to break us up, including calling Lous B. Mayer, Eddie Mannix, and several other people at the studio." Donen described Sara Taylor as "this very dominating woman, a terrible person. Elizabeth inherited her face and her looks from her father, Francis, but he was a very beaten husband. Sara, I think, at that time certainly was anti-Semitic, despite the fact that Elizabeth subsequently became a Jew."

...In 1957, in anticipation of her third marriage, to the producer Mike Todd (born Avrom Hirsch Goldenbogen), Taylor converted to Judaism.

Silverman, pages 177-179:
In the sixties, [Gower] Champion [a collaborator with Stanley Donen] became known as the iron-willed Broadway director of such smashes as Bye Bye Birdie and Hello, Dolly!, yet even at the outset of his career, Champion showed signs of becoming a martinet... Michael Stewart, who wrote the books for Birdie and Dolly!, once referred to Champion as the "Presbyterian Hitler," while, closer to home, Marge Champion said of her husband's neurotic preparation technique, "His mother couldn't come to rehearsal hall. If he could hvae eliminated me, he would have been happy." The Champions divorced in 1973.
Silverman, page 268:
If Notorious served as a high point in her career, [Ingrid] Bergman's extramarital relationship with Italian director Roberto Rossellini in 1949 marked the low ebb. Bergman became persona non grata in Hollywood--in all of America--when she abandoned her husband since 1937, the dentist Dr. Peter Lindstrom, and their daughter, Pia, for Rossellini, whose child she was carrying. Bergman was labeled "a free-love cultist" on the floor of the United States Senate, and the equally hypocritical Hollywood power brokers refused her services until 1956, when she starred in and won a Best Actress Oscar for Anastasia, which had been filmed in England.
Silverman, pages 274-276:
Another part of the attraction [of living and working in London] was Donen's new romantic interest, Adelle Beatty--actually, Lady Adelle Beatty, whose title had come from her second marriage, to Lord Earl Beatty. Husband number one was the socially prominent Los Angeles attorney William O'Connor, whom she met while working as a hostess at the Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Santa Monica.

The attractive blue-eyed blonde was born Adelle Dillingham, in Ardmore, Oklahoma... Between husbands she had been linked romantically with Senator John Kennedy, Frank Sinatra, and Aly Kahn.

"I'll say this for Adelle," said Donen as he sorted through some family snapshots several years after their bitter divorce only a few years after her death, "she was beautiful. Crazy but beautiful." She and Donen had one son, Mark, born in 1962, two years after the couple married. "I wanted to bring up Mark in his father's faith and spoke to an Orthodox rabbi about it," Adelle Donen told one interviewer. Her son Timothy, by her first marriage, was Catholic, her daughter, Diana, by Lord Beatty, was Anglican... and Adelle herself was Protestant. "When I filled him in on the roest of religions under one roof," she said, "he laughed and suggested I forget about it." Despite the ecumenical sentiment of her statement, several observers recalled Adelle, paradoxically, as anti-Semitic.

[page 276] "Adelle was unbelievably beautiful, and a bit crazy," said Frederic Raphael... Friends remember Adelle Donen as a highly vocal proponent of Jungian analysis.

Silverman, pages 310-311:
[Stanley Donen's film] Bedazzled, essentially an arch, two-character vaudeville revue (complete with the Devil's music, rock and roll) about dabbling in the seven deadly sins, was as far afield from those mastodons as was imaginable. Some fans of film, even fans of Donen and especiall of Bedazzled, have wondered, rather cheekly, how the same person who made Singin' in the Rain could have gone on and made so offbeat a movie as Bedazzled.

The answer is obvious if one is even the least big familiar with Donen's background.

Both films grew out of his attitude and training. Singin' in the Rain, with its M-G-M gloss, was the product of his studio lessons under fire; Bedazzled, with its theological patina, is a throwback to his earlier education, the aborted Hebrew lessons and the theatrical and liteary tradition Donen witnesed when he attended Broadway shows with his parents...

Silverman, pages 313-317:
Donen said that in putting together the script [for his film Bedazzled] with Cook, "I used as my Bible a book called Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis. Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963), having been a don at both Oxford and Cambridge, was "an atheist who late in life converted to Catholicism," said Donen. "He was a great theologian and did a great study of Christianity, not just Catholicism. His is the only book I know of that doesn't point out the differences between religions but the similarities, the places where they all meet and agree. That book was the basis of the whole picture, because I wanted it so that if any Christian saw Bedazzled, he could be outraged but he could not fault it."

The trigger point of Bedazzled and the theme of the picture, said Donen, "is something I used to be obsessed with, the prospect of selling out. It's about the struggle I had, and which I guess most people have--certainly writers and members of the press have it--about not selling out. Publishers push to sell papers and books, and that may shove writers in a certain direction away from what they want to say. For myself, I was obsessed with not trying to sell out, and wanted to show how important that was to each and every one of us, and in a funny way, that's a very Catholic idea. I mean, the sin of pride, in the Catholic way of thinking, is the cardinal sin of all sins. Murder, taking the Lord's name in vain--forget it. Vanity is puny, infidelity is meaningless. But pride, the sin of pride, that's the worst, and that is simply selling out. I was hooked on that. Because of the terror I felt inside about it, the movie meant a great deal to me.

"Some movies, like Pajama Game and Damn Yankees, they're fun, but I don't feel I contributed a lot to them, because they were what they were. They came to me fully formed. And some movies I felt I had a great deal to do with 'creating,' much as I hate the word. 'Making,' I suppose, is a better word."

Bedazzled begins with a dizzying set of tides created by Maurice Binder, who handled that responsibility for every one of Donen's films since Indiscreet, which opened with its pair of falling yellow rose petals. Binder was best known for his title sequences for the James Bond movies. For Bedazzled, Binder came up with an amusement fair setting, and Donen shot from a ferociously spinning carousel through a red-filtered lense. "People say there's a lot of red in my pictures," said Donen. "Frankly, I don't see it. Red is a good color, though. People also say there's a lot of water in my pictures."

Perhaps what Binder and Donen--and Cook and Moore--are saying is that life is a spinning carousel, and one must hold on or fall off. As Bedazzled's narrative begins, one of life's losers, Stanley Moon (Dudley Moore) is in the throes of deciding which route to take. Standing in church, addressing God, Stanley says, "Now, you know I believe in you, but could you just give me a little sign?" With that, a darkly bespectacled George Spiggot (Peter Cook) drops a secret latch and peers out from a vestibule.

Stanley wishes to get to know Margaret Spencer (Eleanor Bron, contmuing to show the finely restrained hilarity she displayed as Finney's ex in Two for the Road). Margaret is the leggy waitress in the Wimpy Bar where Stanley is the sweaty cook. Stanley dreams of Margaret, and as his inner thoughts turn to the term "holy wedlock," he slaps a cheese slice on a greasy grilled burger. With Margaret unwilling to give Stanley a second look, he attempts to hang himself in his miserable little flat. Unfortunately, the exposed plumbing is too weak to support him or the noose.

Enter George Spiggot. Despite his claims and his red-satin-lined cape and matching socks, Spiggot could not possibly be the Devil, insists Stanley. For one thing, the Devil is not called George Spiggot. "God keeps changing his name too," replies Spiggot. "He used to be the Word."1'

If Stanley wishes Margaret Spencer to notice him, Spiggot can arrange it. He produces the standard contract, granting Stanley "seven wishes in accordance with the mystic rules of life. Seven days of the week. Seven deadly sins. Seven seas. Seven brides for seven brothers. Look, if you're not interested, I'm sure there are thousands of others who'd jump at the opportunity." While Stanley follows Spiggot around his headquarters--a red nightclub called the Clubroom and decorated, as Stanley says, "in early Hitler"--Spiggot attends to some everyday duties: placing scratches on phonograph records, cutting collar buttons off new shirts, tearing the last pages out of Agatha Christie novels. Every tacky wish, one through seven, Stanley asks for in his unrelenting quest for Margaret Spencer is met, only to have Spiggot spoil it somehow. There is to be a payoff for the Adversary, however; in a reversal of the Clarence-the-angel character in Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, one of the several sources Donen and company are sending up here, Spiggot wishes to return to heaven, whence he was originally dispatched, to sit once again at the knee of God.

"We had a lot of jokes we didn't use in Bedazzled," said Donen. "We used to talk about God's great gift of piles."

"The movie was just a series of sketches," said Dudley Moore, who, as Stanley, gets to end each bad turn of events by blowing a raspberry. During one sketch, Raquel Welch, as Lillian Lust, attempts to insinuate herself into Stanley's bed. Envy is embodied in a bitchy homosexual (Barry Humphries). Gluttony (Parnell McCarey) is played as a fat slob. Sloth (Howard Goorney) cannot stay awake. Anger (Robert Russell) is the Clubroom's brawny bouncer. Vanity (Alba) is mirror fixated. Avarice (Danielle Noel) is penny pinching. Stanley Moon, like Jules Munshin, is acrophobic--and Spiggot repeatedly places him on heights. "Julie Andrews" is the Devils magic word. Beelzebub is also not above punning: "Rotten sins I've got working for me," moans George Spiggot. "I suppose it's the wages."

..."The picture," said Donen, "never strayed from what religion actually believes to be true. When we finished, I invited a group of ministers and priests to come and see it, and most of them loved it. The picture does sort of poke a finger at religion, but it's their own Gordian knot, which they can't untie, that it pokes a joke at.

[page 317] Bedazzled caught on with American college students, who viewed it and reviewed it, and howled. It is certainly Donen's quirkiest movie.

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