Indefatigable Ray McDonald was born to dance and dance he did. A New York City native born June 27, 1921, Ray was still in grade school when he and older sister (by three years) Grace McDonald formed a popular vaudeville tap dancing act. By the age of 16 Ray had made it to Broadway in the musical “Babes in Arms”, in which he and Grace made quite an impression with the song “I Wish I Was In Love Again.”
Talent scouts took both of them to Hollywood, but not as a duo. Grace went to Paramount and later Universal, while Ray was signed by MGM. He seemed to have all the earmarkings of a star. Dark and boyishly handsome with energy to spare, he first played a leading role as a youth in the low-budget programmer Down in San Diego (1941), then kicked up his heels a bit in the Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland musical Babes on Broadway (1941), where he danced to “By the Light of the Silvery Moon.” He appeared with Rooney again in the star’s vehicle Life Begins for Andy Hardy (1941).
After that, things stopped clicking. The momentum of his career was not helped by war service, where he at least managed to appear in both the stage and film versions of Winged Victory (1944). Unable to rise above the secondary ranks, the June Allyson/Peter Lawford collegiate musical Good News (1947) would prove to be Ray’s last feature for MGM. Divorced from actress Elisabeth Fraser whom he met while appearing in the stage show of “Winged Victory” in 1943, he met and subsequently married fellow dancer/singer Peggy Ryan while freelancing in films. They appeared together in Shamrock Hill (1949) and There’s a Girl in My Heart (1949) for Eagle-Lion, and later in the musical All Ashore (1953) for Columbia, a poor man’s “On the Town” with Mickey Rooney, Dick Haymes and Ray as three swabbies on leave. This would be Ray’s last film.
During the subsequent lean years, he and Peggy toured stages and nightclubs until their divorce. Ray popped up on TV variety shows as well and in 1959, while in New York to appear on a show, he died after choking on food in his hotel room. He was only 37. Not remembered well today, as is the case with sister Grace, Ray McDonald nevertheless had a great musical talent and ingratiating presence, which certainly deserves a mention.