Stanley Donen: Master of the Movie Musical

Image Credit: Roberto Serra-Iguana Press/Getty Images

Stanley Donen is the master of the movie musical. He has helped America's greatest dancers, including Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, create some of the most iconic moments on film.

This year one of Donen's materpieces, "Singin' in the Rain," celebrated a milestone: The movie that seemed to embody the imaginative exuberance that was young America turned 60.

"What we all like in life I think is the challenge of making something … that is not easy to do," Donen, 88, told ABC's "World News" anchor Diane Sawyer.

For Donen, directing "Singin' in the Rain" was anything but a walk in the park. The iconic scene in which Gene Kelly dances down the street with his umbrella took months of rehearsal.

"He danced in puddles, which had to be in the exact spot, and the exact timing," Donen said. "We had to dig the cement out and make it for him to splash at that point … so you have to rehearse it very much."

There is one urban legend about the famous scene that Donen flatly denies. He says the rumor that they put milk in the rain so it could be seen more clearly on film is "absolutely false."

Debbie Reynolds, who also starred in the movie, described her work colorfully: She said there were two excruciatingly painful experiences in her life - childbirth and "Singin' in the Rain."

"It was very hard for me. That movie was very tough," Reynolds said. "I just had to work, work, work like a mad girl and sob and cry and show my shoes and know I couldn't do it and yet I had to do it."

Donen says he hopes the era of great movie musicals will one day return, but he does not expect it ever will.

"Movie musicals came, like 'Singin' in the Rain, when talking pictures came into film, and that's now a thing of the past, so there's no more excitement about putting music and dance into a film," Donen said.

"Now they do it with computer-generated images and computer-generated characters and computer-generated sound. And what was exciting to me was the people involved in the musical, the writer, the music, the idea of the performer, all of it, the way they sang, the way they danced. … Do I think it'll ever come again? I don't know. Things don't seem to repeat like that, but I certainly hope so."