Debbie Reynolds became a star thanks to Singin’ In The Rain, a film that has gone down as the greatest musical ever made by MGM and possibly all of Hollywood. The 1952 film remains a work of genius, directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen. With incredible choreography, a witty screenplay about the making of movies and a collection of great songs, Singin’ In The Rain is pure joy crammed into 103 minutes.
Reynolds’ shocking death on December 28, a day after her daughter Carrie Fisher died from a heart attack at age 60, means that all three of the film’s leading stars are no longer with us. Physically, they are not here, but Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds will always be a part of the American pop culture landscape because of Singin’ In The Rain.
In the film, Reynolds stars as the young Kathy Seldon. The film is about Don Lockwood (Kelly), a silent film star whose career is in danger when talkies come in. With the help of his friend Cosmo Brown (O’Connor), he tries to find his place in this new world. Meanwhile, he deals with his annoying former co-star Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), whose speaking voice sounds awful. Don falls in love with Kathy, who he thinks can be a big star in the “new world.”
Here’s a look at the making of the movie.
1. Reynolds Was Only 19 When ‘Singin’ In The Rain’ Was Made & Had No Training as a Dancer
Reynolds was only 19 years old when production began on Singin’ in The Rain. Amazingly, she was chosen to star alongside Gene Kelly, cinema’s greatest dancer, without any background in dancing. She was a gymnast, but Kelly pushed her as hard as he could. Thankfully, Fred Astaire was on the MGM lot and helped her out with dancing. Getting Fred Astaire as your dancing teacher was a coup.
Kelly had Reynolds dance from 8 in the morning to 11 at night when they filmed “Good Morning,” making her feet bleed by the end of the day. But her mix of acrobatic talent with the dancing hints she picked up from Astaire proved that she was a natural.
“I had no singing or dancing training,” Reynolds told the Saturday Evening Post in 2003. “I was a sports enthusiast and wanted to be a gym teacher. But none of my family was in show business. When I told him about the offer to star in Singin’ in the Rain, my father said, `Why would they want you? You have no singing or dancing training.’ I said, `Daddy, I don’t know why they want me, but if they do, don’t you think I should do it?’ He said, `I think it’s OK with me.'”
Before Reynolds got the job, Judy Garland, June Allyson, Ann Miller, Jane Powell and Leslie Caron were all considered for the role of Kathy Seldon.
“Singin’ in the Rain and childbirth were the two hardest things I ever had to do in my life,” Reynolds said in 2003.
2. Reynolds’ Character’s Solo Song, ‘You Are My Lucky Star,’ Didn’t Make the Final Cut
In typical Hollywood musicals, every member of the main cast gets a solo number. Donald O’Connor got “Make ‘Em Laugh” and Gene Kelly sang “You Were Meant For Me.” However, the final version of the film doesn’t include a full solo song for Reynolds.
Kelly and Donen had filmed Reynolds singing “You Are My Lucky Star” solo, but the number was cut after previews. Thankfully it still exists and is included as a bonus feature on home video editions of Singin’ In The Rain.
Rita Moreno, who later won an Oscar for West Side Story, also had her part cut down to almost nothing. As The Huffington Post points out, she was going to have her own song, “Make Hay While The Sun Shines.” She can be seen at the beginning of the movie as a silent film star.
3. All Songs in the Film Except ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’ & ‘Moses Supposes’ Were Originally Written for Other MGM Musicals
Although Singin’ In The Rain was made long before the term “jukebox musical” was invented, the film is actually a “jukebox musical” of old MGM songs. In fact, the title song debuted in The Hollywood Revue of 1929, in which Cliff Edwards – the future voice of Pinocchio‘s Jiminy Cricket – sang the song while wearing a raincoat and strumming on his signature ukulele. The famous “Broadway Melody” song debuted in The Broadway Melody (1929), which became the first sound film to win the Best Picture Oscar.
“Make ‘Em Laugh,” the number that highlights Donald O’Connor’s theatrics, was one of only two songs written for the movie. It was written by Nacio Herb Brown and producer Arthur Freed, but is awfully similar to “Be a Clown,” a song Cole Poter wrote for the Judy Garland/Gene Kelly musical The Pirate.
The songs fit perfectly in the script by writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green. They figured out how to get them into their story of a silent movie star (Kelly) who struggles with the invention of sound. Considering that many of these songs had appeared in the first musicals made in Hollywood – and were co-written by Freed – they worked perfectly.
Comden and Green also wrote “Moses Supposes” for the film with Roger Edens.
4. When Kathy Sings ‘Would You,’ That’s Actually Betty Noyes Singing
For those who haven’t seen Singin’ In The Rain, this part will get confusing. After Kathy dubs for Lena Lamont (Jean Hagen) in the musical version of The Dancing Cavalier, it’s actually Jean Hagen’s voice we hear. And when the voice that’s supposed to be Kathy sings “Would You,” that’s not really Reynolds. It’s really Betty Noyes.
Noyes also sang “You Are My Lucky Star” in place of Reynolds and is most famous for singing “Baby Mine” in Disney’s Dumbo. She also performed the singing voice of Ruta Klimonis for Seven Brides For Seven Brothers and her voice can be heard in Blue Hawaii, Camelot, The Greatest Story Ever Told, How The West Was Won and White Christmas.
5. A Broadway Stage Adaptation With Derek Hough Will Debut… Eventually
Since it seems like every film musical gets a Broadway show, it should come as no surprise that one based on Singin’ In The Rain is in the works. However, it will take awhile for that to happen.
Palybill reported that the production, which will star Derek Hough in the title role, was delayed and no target date has been announced. There was a 1985 production written by Comden and Green that ran 367 performances.
Hough wrote in an August Instagram post that the production was delayed because the producers couldn’t find a theater. Thanks to the delay, he was able to return to Dancing with the Stars.
The fact that Weinstein thinks the film belongs on the stage, 65 years after the movie came out, is a testament to its staying power. Although the film was not initially well-received by critics, it is now considered the greatest American musical film. The American Film Institute ranked it the fifth-greatest American film ever made, the highest-ranking for a musical. It’s even ahead of The Wizard of Oz, which comes in at number 10.