If you ask me what my favorite musical is, my answer will be the 1952 MGM musical comedy Singin’ in the Rain. In 2007 the American Film Institute ranked this movie #5 in AFI’s 100 Greatest American Films of All Time, so I know I’m not alone. I don’t know if it’s Gene Kelly spinning in circles with an umbrella, Donald O’Connor flipping off walls, or Debbie Reynolds doing the hula during the “Good Morning” dance routine, but there is something about Singing in the Rain that captivates us and keeps us singing 65 years after its release. Here are some facts you may not know about one of America’s favorite musicals:
1.) Unlike most musicals of its day, the script for Singin’ in the Rain was specifically written for the movie and was not based off an already popular Broadway show, though later it was reverse-engineered into a stage musical in the 1980s.
2.) In fact, the movie was written to showcase songs that producer Arthur Freed had already written. The title song had previously been used six times in different motion pictures, including The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929), Babes in Arms (1939), Speak Easily (1932) and Little Nellie Kelly (1940).
3.) Only two original songs were written for the movie, “Moses Supposes” and “Make ‘Em Laugh.” Although “Moses Supposes” is lyrically speaking not considered a complete song it’s one of my favorites in the movie. Unfortunately, “Make ‘Em Laugh” is so much like Cole Porter’s “Be a Clown,” which Gene Kelly preformed in the 1948 movie The Pirate (4years before Singing in the Rain) that even one of the directors called it “100 percent plagiarism.”
4.) Speaking of “Make ‘Em Laugh,” it’s important to note that this number was added solely to highlight Donald O’Connor’s vaudeville background and talents, especially a trick he had done as a young dancer of running up a wall and completing a somersault. O’Connor said, “I was smoking four packs of cigarettes a day then and getting up those walls was murder…We filmed the whole sequence in one day. We did it on a concrete floor. My body just had to absorb this tremendous shock.” After the scene had been shot, O’Connor suffered from exhaustion. Reports vary on whether he stayed in bed for three days or had to be hospitalized. O’Connor said “I came back on the set three days later. All the grips applauded. [Gene Kelly] applauded, told me what a great number it was.” Unfortunately for O’Connor, they had to shoot it all over again because of a technical oversight. By the time he was finished, O’Connor said his feet and ankles were a mass of bruises.
5.) O’Connor wasn’t the only one to have issues with the dance routines. Before Singin’ in the Rain, Debbie Reynolds had no dance experience whatsoever. She had been a gymnast and Kelly was sure he could teach her as he had done with Frank Sinatra in Anchors Aweigh. However, Reynolds found Kelly very demanding and became so despondent that Fred Astaire found her under a piano crying. So he gave her some dance coaching, and though she kept up with Kelly and O’Connor in the “Good Morning” dance routine, by the time they finished that number she had to be carried back to her dressing room because her feet were bleeding. In fact, by the time they had wrapped up the 14-hour day of shooting that one scene that took forty takes, Reynolds turned to O’Connor and said, “Thank God that’s over.” If you watch closely you can see her start to say it before they cut to just the laughter.
6.) Gene Kelly also had troubles in the movie. I found sources that disagree on whether the Singin’ in the Rain sequence took more than one shot, but they all agreed that Kelly was very ill when they filmed, having a fever anywhere from 101° to 103°. It is also said that the blocking was still sketchy when they were ready to film, and Kelly ad-libbed most of the dance.
7.) Going back to Debbie Reynolds, did you know that she was only 19 years old when she performed in Singin’ in the Rain? For perspective, Gene Kelly was 39. Reynolds still lived with her parents and had to wake up at 4 a.m. and ride three different buses to get to the studio, unless she decided to skip the commute and sleep on set. She would later say that the two hardest things she ever did in her life were childbirth and Singin’ in the Rain. Bonus fact: Her daughter, Carrie Fisher was 19 years old when she appeared in Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope.
These are just a few of the interesting facts I discovered about my favorite musical, and they make me like the movie even more. In fact, I think it’s time for me to have a movie night at my house. I might even grab a couple more musicals like There’s No Business Like Show Business, The Unsinkable Molly Brown and On the Town. If you’re in the mood for a movie night, head on over to your local Half Price Books to see what’s in stock, then tell us what your movie night will look like!