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Insulted by Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds was found crying by Fred Astaire who helped her with the dancing in ‘Singin’ in the Rain’

Stefan Andrews
Getty images
Getty images

Singin’ in the Rain will always remain one of the most iconic American musical comedies of all times. It was directed and choreographed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, starring the musical stars Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds, plus including Kelly himself.

The film follows the lives of three performers who adapt their careers to acting in “talkies” as the era of silent movies is concluding in the later 1920s Hollywood. Just as any other, this movie also went through a number of challenges during its filming.

Here’s a little anecdote about Donald O’Connor. Kelly had asked O’Connor to do quite some movements for the Make ’em Laugh scene, and indeed, the actor can be even seen running up a wall for few moments during this sequence.

A younger O’Connor would have done such movements with much more ease, however, the actor was reportedly smoking few packs of cigarettes a day back then, and that had made the filming of scenes such as Make ’em Laugh all the more demanding for him. Once he had the sequence completed, O’Connor needed to rest for a few days in a hospital.

For things to be more ironic, the original footage of Make ’em Laugh was somehow destroyed by mistake, and once O’Connor was out of the hospital, he needed to retake the entire performance all over again. He had also suffered from carpet burns.

Photo of Gene Kelly

Or let’s just recall the memorable dancing scene in which Gene Kelly performs the title song, and where he vividly spins his umbrella while doing some splashing in puddles amid the street. A popular myth has it that Kelly performed the whole thing in one take only, which is, of course, far from the truth. It took him several days to do it.

Little did we know that after doing this scene, he was also struck by pretty much high fever. Kelly gets virtually soaked to his skin in it, so no wonder why he got sick.

Publicity photo of Donald O’Connor as one of the rotating hosts of the television program The Colgate Comedy Hour in 1952

Rumor also had it that the rain in the same sequence was supposedly “mixed with milk” so that the raindrops would look better on camera, but this isn’t true either.

Such effect, although with struggles, was achieved thanks to using a backlighting technique, in which, the light used for the set and the person viewing the set face each other. Therefore, the subject which is filmed is found in between. Using light this way results in creating a sort of glowing effect on the edges of the subject that gets filmed, while other areas of the frame end up darkened.

Publicity photo of Debbie Reynolds in the 1954 film Susan Slept Here

Debbie Reynolds also had a couple of challenges herself. She had remarked in one occasion, some period after the release of Singin in the Rain’, that doing this musical was one of the most difficult things she ever had to do in life, next to giving childbirth. Part of the reasons so: Debbie was not really a dancer before coming to the filming set, and she had only had some practice in gymnastics.

During the filming, Gene Kelly had her insulted for not knowing to dance too well, which apparently made the young actress quite upset.

After the insult, Debbie was allegedly found under a piano, and all in tears, by Fred Astaire who just happened to be around. He comforted the young actress and helped her with the dancing part. Later on, Kelly had confessed that he wasn’t very careful with Reynolds and that he was even expecting that she would go on with not talking to him.

Photo of the famous American dancer, singer, actor, choreographer, and television presenter, Fred Astaire

The shooting of the Good Morning sequence had turned the most painful one for Debbie. Reportedly, her feet had been bleeding after an entire day of shooting.

Read another story from us: Farewell to another Hollywood Icon – Debbie Reynolds, who died grieving for her daughter, Carrie Fisher

Singin’ in the Rain was the second film that Debbie Reynolds did. It followed her breakthrough role in Three Little Words in 1950, which brought her the Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer. She was only 19 during the filming of the iconic musical.

Stefan Andrews

Stefan is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to The Vintage News. He is a graduate in Literature. He also runs a blog – This City Knows.