peggy ryan (august 28, 1924 - october 30, 2004)
donald o’connor (august 28, 1925 - september 27, 2003)
and they just kept adding numbers with donald and me, donald and me, until he was seventeen and i was eighteen. incidentally, our birthdays are the same. august twenty-eight. see, he claims to be a year younger. he has never shown me his birth certificate. he said it was lost. but i’ll go with it. -peggy ryan (from the book “tap!” by rusty e. frank)
donald and peggy had similar beginnings, starting early in vaudeville family acts and getting small parts as child actors. peggy’s most notable work during this time was in 1937’s top of the town where she danced with george murphy. donald’s most notable work was in 1938’s sing you sinners where he sang with bing crosby.
their big break, however, came in 1941 when they were chosen as members of the jivin’ jacks and jills, a group of the best teenage dancers gathered by universal studios. although donald, by his own admittance, was the worst dancer of the group, his charisma won over the audience and the studio started to make pictures centered around him, with peggy as his dancing partner and fellow comedian, and a soprano (gloria jean, ann blyth, and susanna foster) as his love interest. they made thirteen musicals together (and several without each other), until donald was drafted for world war ll. these pictures had numbers ranging from their unique mash-up of tap dancing with slapstick, such as rude, crude, and unnattractive in 1943’s mister big, to romantic numbers such as i hate to lose you in 1944’s the merry monahans.
later in their lives, donald went on to star in other musicals, and is probably remembered most for 1952’s singin’ in the rain with gene kelly and 1954’s no business like show business with marilyn monroe. peggy went on to teach dancing at a university and later to las vegas showgirls.