Debbie Reynolds made it big with Singin’ in the Rain. Co-starring Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor, the 1952 movie musical is considered one of the all-time greats. Songs like “Good Morning” and “Singin’ in the Rain” have become part of pop culture, and it further cemented the three stars’ place as some of the biggest movie stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
Reynolds and Kelly played romantic partners in the film. Their on-screen chemistry might lead some to believe the stars had a good friendship off set, but according to Reynolds, that wasn’t entirely the case.
Debbie Reynolds was just 18 when she starred in ‘Singin’ in the Rain’
Kelly co-directed the film with Stanley Donen, which Reynolds said in an interview with Turner Classic Movies resulted in him being busy day in, day out on set.
“He was tough because he was the director, so he was worried about everything,” she said. “He was worried about the concept, the directing, the cinematography, the lighting. He had that all on his shoulders, so he had so much to do, so much responsibility. And he didn’t have time to horse around or kid around on the set, so there was no tom foolery.”
Reynolds was just 18 when she was selected by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to star in the film. She got a contract with the studio after winning a beauty contest when she was 16. (This contract led to her meeting Elizabeth Taylor, who was also hired by MGM.)
Although Reynolds and Kelly played love interests in the film, the 18-year-old Reynolds and 40-year-old Kelly weren’t close.
“We were a very different age, so we didn’t have a lot in common,” the late Reynolds said.
Gene Kelly didn’t want to be defined by his starring roles
She did work with him a great deal, of course. When Reynolds wasn’t being taught how to dance for the film, she was shooting scenes with Kelly and O’Connor—scenes Kelly directed her through.
“They had it worked out, and that is that Gene directed us person-to-person,” Reynolds told TCM. “And Stanley mostly was behind the scenes, and worked the camera, and working with all the crew and everything. They had it all worked out between the two of them, and they were very dear friends.”
In the same interview was a clip from Kelly’s third and last wife, Patricia Ward, who has spent the years since Kelly’s death in 1996 preserving the memory of his work. And she revealed in the clip that Kelly didn’t want to be known for his famous dancing, but rather as a creative.
“Gene’s often known as kind of a triple threat, that he could sing, and dance, and act, though he really never even wanted to be a performer,” she said. “And he certainly never wanted to be a dancer. Performing was really a secondary thing for Gene. What he really wanted to do was create. And he didn’t really care about being in front of the camera at all. I think a lot of people imagine that that was the case, but it wasn’t.”
“His interest was really in creating the dance and a particular interest in changing the look of dance on film,” Ward continued. “And I think if he were asked how he wanted to be remembered, it was not for any particular film role, but really for doing that—for changing the look of dance on film.”
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