Only 19 when cast to play the film, Debbie Reynolds lived with her parents and commuted to the set. She had to wake up at 4:00 a.m. and ride three different buses to the studio; sometimes, to avoid the commute, she would just sleep on the set.
For the "Make Em Laugh" number, Gene Kelly asked Donald O'Connor to revive a trick he had done as a young dancer, running up a wall and completing a somersault. The number was so physically taxing that O'Connor, who smoked four packs of cigarettes a day at the time, went to bed (or may have been hospitalized, depending on the source) for a week after its completion, suffering from exhaustion and painful carpet burns. Unfortunately, an accident ruined all of the initial footage, so after a brief rest, O'Connor, ever the professional, agreed to do the difficult number all over again.
After they finished the "Good Morning" number, Debbie Reynolds had to be carried to her dressing room because she had burst some blood vessels in her feet. Despite her hard work on the "Good Morning" number, Gene Kelly decided that someone should dub her tap sounds, so he went into a dubbing room to dub the sound of her feet as well as his own.
The "Singing in the Rain" number took all day to set up --and Gene Kelly was very ill (some say with a fever over 101). When it was all set up, Kelly insisted on doing a take - even though the blocking was only rudimentary (starting and ending positions only), and the director was ready to send him home. He ad-libbed most of it and it only took one take - which is what you see on film.
In the "Would You" number, Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) is dubbing the voice of Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) because Lina's voice is shrill and screechy. However, it's not Reynolds who is really speaking, it's Jean Hagen herself, who actually had a beautiful deep, rich voice. So you have Jean Hagen dubbing Debbie Reynolds dubbing Jean Hagen. And when Debbie is supposedly dubbing Jean's singing of "Would You", the voice you hear singing actually belongs to Betty Noyes, who had a much richer singing voice than Debbie.
A microphone was hidden in Debbie Reynolds' blouse so her lines could be heard more clearly. During one of the dance numbers, her heartbeat can be heard, mirroring what happens to Lina Lamont in the movie itself.
Filming of the Cyd Charisse dance number had to be stopped for several hours after it was discovered that her pubic hair was visible through her costume. When the problem was finally fixed, the film's costume designer Walter Plunkett said, "It's OK, guys, we've finally got Cyd's crotch licked."
Donald O'Connor admitted that he did not enjoy working with Gene Kelly, since Kelly was somewhat of a tyrant. O'Connor said that for the first several weeks he was terrified of making a mistake and being yelled at by Kelly.
Studio technicians had to cover two outdoor city blocks on the backlot with tarp to make them dark for a night scene, and then equipped them with overhead sprays for Gene Kelly to perform the title number. Their efforts are all the more remarkable since there was a severe water shortage in Culver City the day the sequence was shot.
Donald O'Connor recalled, "I was smoking four packs of cigarettes a day then, and getting up those walls was murder. They had to bank one wall so I could make it up and then through another wall. We filmed that whole sequence in one day. We did it on a concrete floor. My body just had to absorb this tremendous shock. Things were building to such a crescendo that I thought I'd have to commit suicide for the ending. I came back on the set three days later. All the grips applauded. Gene applauded, told me what a great number it was. Then Gene said, 'Do you think you could do that number again?' I said, 'Sure, any time.' He said, 'Well, we're going to have to do it again tomorrow.' No one had checked the aperture of the camera and they fogged out all the film. So the next day I did it again! By the end my feet and ankles were a mass of bruises."
The Broadway ballet sequence was to feature Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor, but the latter had to leave because of a TV commitment, so Cyd Charisse was tabbed to replace him. She was made up to look like Louise Brooks and had to diet off the extra pounds she had just gained during her recent pregnancy. Charisse had to adjust her dancing style to mesh with Kelly's, which was very different.
Just as Gene Kelly and co-director Stanley Donen reused a huge repertoire of popular songs from earlier musicals, the duo also looted the MGM warehouses for props and vehicles. The car Debbie Reynolds drives at the beginning of the film was actually Andy Hardy's old jalopy. The mansion in which Kelly lives was decorated with tables, chairs, carpets and other items that were used for John Gilbert and Greta Garbo's passionate romantic drama, Flesh and the Devil (1926).
Although uncredited, Gene Kelly had two incredibly talented choreography assistants. These ladies were none other than Carol Haney (The Pajama Game (1957)) and Gwen Verdon (Broadway star of "Can-Can", "New Girl In Town", "Damn Yankees", "Redhead", "Sweet Charity" and "Chicago"). In fact, Kelly's taps during the "Singin' In The Rain" number were post-dubbed by Verdon and Haney. The ladies had to stand ankle-deep in a drum full of water to match the soggy on-screen action. Gene Kelly had also recommended Carol Haney for the role of Kathy Selden.
The movie begins with the premiere of Don Lockwood's latest picture 'The Royal Rascal', a silent black-and-white adventure film. The footage shown from 'The Royal Rascal' is actually from a film MGM released in 1948 called The Three Musketeers (1948), starring Gene Kelly - which is in colour and has sound. For 'Singin' in the Rain', both color and sound were taken out of the footage and title cards were added. The other change was adding shots of Jean Hagen (who played diva Lina Lamont) in place of 'The Three Musketeers' leading lady, Lana Turner. If you look closely, it is Lana -not Jean- opening the door when the spear hits it. The ending of 'The Royal Rascal' was shot on the same set used for 'The Three Musketeers'.
When deciding to give Donald O'Connor a song, it was originally to be "The Wedding of the Painted Doll". However, since O'Connor had a bag of tricks he used in vaudeville, a song was substituted to use O'Connor's comical background: "Make 'Em Laugh" (of which the melody is remarkably similar to "Be A Clown" from The Pirate (1948)).
Like Lina Lamont, when sound films arrived, many silent screen actors lost their careers because their voices didn't match their screen personas. The most famous example is silent star John Gilbert. However, it wasn't the sound of his voice that killed his career; it was the rumored behind-the-scenes backstabbing (speeding up of his voice by sound technicians, on direct orders from someone with an agenda) and the ridiculously florid lines he had to say. The lines that Gene Kelly's character speaks in "The Dueling Cavalier" are based on the types of lines that killed John Gilbert's career. Gilbert's actual lines as a mock Romeo in the "William Shakespeare Scene" in The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929) is an example of this.
The film rang up a final price tag of $2,540,800, $157,000 of which went to Walter Plunkett's costumes alone. Although the final price overshot MGM's budget by $665,000, the studio quickly realized the wisdom of its investment when the film returned a $7.7-million profit upon its initial release.
Most of the characters are based on actual people: -R.F. Simpson, the studio head, is obviously a parody on Louis B. Mayer, with touches of Arthur Freed -Dora Bailey is an obvious caricature of Louella Parsons -Zelda Zanders, the "Zip Girl" is based on Clara Bow, the "It Girl" -Roscoe Dexter, the director is based on eccentric director Erich von Stroheim -Olga, the vamp at the premiere, is based on Pola Negri and Gloria Swanson, both of whom landed royalty as husbands.
The role of the ditzy movie diva Lina Lamont was written with Judy Holliday in mind. Holliday was a close friend of Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and they even modeled the character on routines they had worked up with Holliday back when they were part of a satirical group called The Revuers in New York. Timing was everything, however, and the idea of casting Holliday was vetoed after she hit it big in Born Yesterday (1950). Everyone figured she'd be uninterested in the supporting part but, as it turned out, the lovely Jean Hagen, Holliday's understudy on Broadway for "Born Yesterday", got the part. Additionally, both Holiday and Hagen had also worked together in Adam's Rib (1949) both in supporting, but key roles.Jean Hagen played a woman involved with Judy's husband. in that classic Tracy-Hepburn courtroom farce. Jean's speech in that film was similar in "pitch' to what she later exhibited as the ditzy Lina Lamont .
While the film makes a central point of the idea that Kathy's voice is dubbed over Lina Lamont's, what is not told is that, ironically, in some of these songs - notably "Would You" and "You Are My Lucky Star" - Debbie Reynolds, the actress who plays Kathy, is actually dubbed by Betty Noyes. However, Reynolds' own singing voice can be heard on the outtake footage of "Lucky Star" as performed next to the giant billboard of Gene Kelly.
Before this film, dancer Cyd Charisse had only been in films as a 'dance specialty' or as a co-co star since 1944. Her torrid performance as the Louise Brooks-like vamp in the "Broadway Melody" fantasy number was so successful that it gave MGM the impetus to finally star her in pictures. Her next film was The Band Wagon (1953), starring Fred Astaire.
Originally, Kathy was to sing "You Are My Lucky Star" to a billboard of Don Lockwood after he sang to her in the studio, by way of dramatizing that she was the president of the Don Lockwood Fan Club. The number, sung by Debbie Reynolds and chorus, is restored as an extra on the DVD issued by Warner Home Video. The prerecording can be heard on Rhino's soundtrack CD. Closing the movie is the "billboard duet" of this song by Miss Reynolds and Gene Kelly with a chorus.
The initials of the fictional Monumental Pictures' owner, R.F. Simpson, are a reference to Arthur Freed. R.F. Simpson also uses one of Freed's frequent expressions when he says that he "cannot quite visualize it" and has to see it on film first, referring to the Broadway ballet sequence. (This is an obvious cinematic joke, since the audience has just seen it on film.)
This film was well received by theatergoers but recalled from Lowe's Theaters by the Spring of 1952, as to not compete with the reissue of An American in Paris (1951) which also starred Gene Kelly. It was commonplace, at that time, for a film to have a second run after winning an Academy Award, as it did for Best Picture.
According to supplemental information on the DVD, the first time they tried to film the "Singin' In The Rain" sequence they shot it in the late afternoon. Unfortunately the homeowners in the area had just come home from work and had turned on their lawn sprinklers so there was not enough water pressure for the "rain" to work. They finally filmed the sequence the next day, early enough so that everyone was at work and the water pressure was adequate for the shot.
Howard Keel was the original choice to play Don Lockwood; however, he was replaced by Gene Kelly as the screenwriters evolved the character from a "Western actor" background to a "song-and-dance vaudeville" background.
John Alton was initially hired as cinematographer after impressing Gene Kelly with his lensing of the ballet sequence in An American in Paris (1951), but was fired over the objections of Kelly and Stanley Donen due to what Donen later described as "political reasons."
In an early version of the script, the musical number "Singin' in the Rain" was to be sung by Debbie Reynolds, Donald O'Connor and Gene Kelly on the way back from the flop of a talkie movie. Also, the song "You Were Meant For Me" was not included in that draft. Instead, the love song was supposed to be Gene Kelly's version of "All I Do Is Dream Of You," which would take place after the party at R.F. Simpson's house, when Kelly chases after Reynolds. The song would have ended up at Kelly's house. The footage of this scene has been lost, but the prerecording is featured on the soundtrack from Rhino. Remaining in the release print is the party sequence where Debbie Reynolds and chorus sing and dance a Charleston to "All I Do Is Dream of You."
In the first draft, Rita Moreno as Zelda Zanders was to sing "I Got A Feeling You're Fooling", but after script revisions the song was used in the montage before the number, "Beautiful Girl", along with "The Wedding Of The Painted Doll" and "Should I".
Don and Cosmo were shown as touring through a variety of small towns as part of their vaudeville career. These included Dead Man's Fang (Arizona), Oatmeal (Nebraska) and Coyoteville (New Mexico). These are all fictional although there is a town called Oatmeal in Texas and one called Coyoteville in California.
Jean Hagen had some previous experience in playing the role of Lina Lamont. Just a couple of years earlier , in her first film appearance, she played the role of a ditzy female in Adam's Rib (1949). That time as a brunette.
This movie was Gene Kelly's trump card to get out of MGM. Kelly would later talk about roles such as Guys and Dolls (1955) he had to turn down due to conflicts with his contract with the studio (MGM). This movie was not only a hit Success but a mockery to MGM himself. Kelly was later released from his contract. Kelly had a poor attitude throughout the filming, but most of it was an act just to get the studio frustrated with him.
Even though Donald O'Connor was hired to play Gene Kelly's friend, the first thing Kelly asked him while on set for "Moses Supposes" was if his fouettes were (mostly) left. He replied yes and Kelly smiled and said that's great. O'Connor would later (late 80's) in an interview say that it made his day. And after the duet they became closer on set.
Debbie Reynolds later stated that she "learned a lot from (Kelly). He is a perfectionist and a disciplinarian - the most exciting director I've ever worked for. And he has a good temper. Every so often he would yell at me and make me cry. But it took a lot of patience for him to work with someone who had never danced before. It's amazing that I could keep up with him and Donald O'Connor." Gene Kelly later commented on her work, "Fortunately, Debbie was strong as an ox...also she was a great copyist, and she could pick up the most complicated routine without too much difficulty...at the university of hard work and pain."
It was voted the #1 movie musical in American film history by the American Film Institute in 2006. The song "Singin' In The Rain" ranks #3 in their top songs. It also is in the Top 100 list of AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (#10) and AFI's 100 Years... 100 Passions (#16).
Many real-life silent-film personalities are parodied, especially in the opening sequence. Zelda Zanders - the "Zip Girl" - is Clara Bow, the "It Girl". Olga Mara is Pola Negri, and her husband, Baron de la Bonnet de la Toulon, is a reference to Gloria Swanson's husband, the Marquis Henri de la Falaise de Coudray.
The "Make 'em Laugh" sequence was created because Gene Kelly felt that Donald O'Connor needed a solo number. As O'Connor noted in an interview, "Gene didn't have a clue as to the kind of number it was meant to be." The two of them brainstormed ideas in the rehearsal room, and came up with a compendium of gags and "shtick" that O'Connor had done for years, some of which he had performed in vaudeville. O'Connor recalled, "Every time I got a new idea or remembered something that had worked well for me in the past, Gene wrote it down and, bit by bit, the entire number was constructed."
The title song was shot out of doors on one of the permanent streets built on the studio backlot - the East Side Street. The area was blacked out with tarpaulins (rather than shooting "day-for-night") and had to be lit from behind so that the rain was visible to the camera but without the carbon arc lights reflecting in the shop windows.
When Don, Cosmo and Kathy are dubbing Lina's voice for the "Nothing can keep us apart, our love will last till the stars turn cold" line. When Kathy Selden repeats Lina's line is is not Debbie Reynolds voice, it is actually the real voice of Jean Hagen who played Lina.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
Debbie Reynolds had to rub her eyes with onions to make herself cry for the penultimate scene in the movie, when Kelly tells the audience that she, and not Lina, is the real star of "The Dancing Cavalier."