Economic

During the roaring twenties, the O’Connor family made a decent living in vaudeville, certainly fairing better than many in their audiences. After Donald’s father and sister died in 1926, Effie somehow marshalled the family’s resources until they hit big time in NYC – then the stock market crashed. The Depression of the thirties brought vaudeville to its knees. At its worst in 1932, one of four Americans didn’t have a job. Vaudevillians rushed off the stages and into radio or the movies. The O’Connors now led a precarious existence, working whenever possible, sometimes just to feed themselves. O’Connor was appearing in a benefit for the Motion Picture Relief Fund, founded by the Screen Actor’s Guild to provide some kind of safety net for unemployed actors, when first discovered by Paramount in 1938. Later, he would join the Screen Actor’s Guild which had been battling the studios over wages and working conditions since its inception in the thirties. The Golden Age of movies may have been golden for the studios, but not for contract players. At least Universal didn’t prevent its actors from picking up work elsewhere. O’Connor regularly did television, radio and nightclub dates to supplement his studio salary. As his earnings rose, he bought homes for himself and his family. In true O’Connor fashion, success for one was success for all. Knowing the mercurial nature of show biz from bitter experience, O’Connor focused on making as much money as possible during his halcyon years in the fifties. When O’Connor bought out his contract from Universal he’d worked there for thirteen years (1942-1955); he wanted both a better salary and better projects. After making millions for the studio, they presented him with a little camera and several rolls of film. He later commented, “What can you say about these guys?” While O’Connor worked tirelessly to provide a solid future for his own family, he donated not only funds, but time and energy to many charitable events.