Unfortunately for a confused posterity, there were two dancing Jack Donohues in vaudeville back in the day, both of them quite accomplished. We’ve already written about one, the one who spelled his name with an “A” (Jack Donahue). To confuse matters still more, both guys were closely associated with Marilyn Miller. Allow Travalanche to clarify the record.
The Jack Donohue with an O (John Francis Donohue, 1908-1984), was a Brooklyn born iron worker who took up dancing on the advice of a doctor in order to strengthen a broken leg. In the late 20s, he danced in vaudeville and in touring editions of the Ziegfeld Follies, and was briefly married to Marilyn Miller. In 1931 he earned his first Broadway credit, choreographing the all-black show Fast and Furious with Tim Moore, Dusty Fletcher, Moms Mabley, and, believe it or not, Zora Neale Hurston. This was followed by A Little Racketeer (1932) and Shady Lady (1933).
In 1934 Donohue went to Hollywood where he worked primarily as a choreographer through the end of the 1940s, on such films George White’s Scandals of 1935, Under a Pampas Moon (1935), Curly Top (1935), Rhythm in the Air (1936), Gaiety Girls (1937), Girl Crazy (1943), and Bathing Beauty (1944), among many others. He returned to Broadway for The Seven Lively Arts (1944) and Are You With It? (1945).
Donohue’s upward trajectory continued in 1948 when he directed his first film, Close-Up, which was surprisingly not a musical but a noir thriller. In 1950 he directed Red Skelton, with whom he’d previously worked in Bathing Beauty, in The Yellow Cab Man and Watch the Birdie. In 1951 he directed Phil Silvers in the original Broadway production of Top Banana. He also directed the Broadway shows Mr. Wonderful (1956, with Sammy Davis Jr and Jack Carter) and Rumple (1957, with Eddie Foy Jr.) The 1960 Walt Disney version of Babes in Toyland was his last major motion picture as director.
But that’s okay! Most of Donohue’s directing work was in television, and, my, there was a lot of it. It began with 49 episodes of The Frank Sinatra Show (1950-58), then 22 episodes of Red Skelton’s show (1954-55), followed by 7 of The George Gobel Show (1957), a jaw-dropping 142 episodes of Here’s Lucy and The Lucy Show (1962-74), 14 of The Odd Couple, and 69 of Chico and the Man (1975-78), among countless others. Jack Donohue’s last credit was the 1980 TV movie Lucy Moves to NBC.
To learn more about vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.