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.
Gene Kelly was a taskmaster with Debbie Reynolds, who had never danced to this degree before rehearsals started. Fred Astaire, who was in an adjacent dance studio, found her crying under a piano and reassured her that all of her hard work was worth the effort.
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, ended up in a hospital bed for a week after its completion. He suffered 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 ultimately decided to dub the sound of her feet as well as his own, as was the practice at the time.
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.
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 Kelly] 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."
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.
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.
In the looping sequence, Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) is seen dubbing the dialogue for Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) because Lina's voice is shrill and screechy. However, it's not Reynolds who is 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.
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 co-director Stanley Donen 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.
At the 1972 Academy Awards, Gene Kelly deliberately ignored Malcolm McDowell because he was so offended by the graphic rape scene in A Clockwork Orange (1971) being performed to Kelly's original vocal of "Singin' in the Rain."
Debbie Reynolds later stated that she "learned a lot from [Gene 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." 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."
The "Broadway Ballet" sequence was originally to have featured Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor, but the latter was forced to leave because of a prior TV commitment, so Cyd Charisse was tapped 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, a ballet dancer who had never before worked in heels, had to adjust her dancing style considerably to mesh with Kelly's jazz background.
This was the seventh time the song "Singin' in the Rain" was used on the big screen. It was introduced in The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929) where it was sung twice, first by Cliff Edwards and The Brox Sisters, then by the MGM roster in front of a Noah's Ark backdrop. A clip from Edwards' footage was later used as part of the talkie montage in Babes in Arms (1939). Jimmy Durante sang it briefly in Speak Easily (1932). In "The Old Dark House," Melvyn Douglas enters singing this song, somewhat inebriated. Judy Garland put her spin on it in Little Nellie Kelly (1940). The song was also featured as an elaborate musical sequence performed by William Bendix and cast in The Babe Ruth Story (1948).
Only two songs were written especially for the film: "Moses Supposes" was written by Roger Edens, Betty Comden and Adolph Green; "Make 'em Laugh" was written by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown especially for Donald O'Connor. It's generally agreed that Freed and Brown lifted a great deal of the song's melody from Cole Porter's "Be a Clown." Irving Berlin was visiting the set one day when he heard a playback of "Make 'em Laugh." When Berlin commented on its uncanny similarity to "Be a Clown," Freed quickly changed the subject.
This film begins with the premiere of Lockwood and Lamont in "The Royal Rascal", a black-and-white silent film. Some of the footage is edited from M-G-M's color sound version of The Three Musketeers (1948) starring Gene Kelly. Both the color and sound were taken out of the footage and title cards added. The other change was adding shots of Jean Hagen (Lina Lamont) in place of The Three Musketeers (1948) leading lady, Lana Turner. After Kelly throws the guard with the spear over the stairway railing, Lana Turner, who played Lady de Winter in the earlier film, is briefly seen coming through the door on the landing before it cuts to new footage of Jean Hagen hugging Kelly. The discontinuity is made more noticeable because of the drastic difference in hairstyles and dresses worn by the two actresses. The ending of "The Royal Rascal" was shot on the same set used for The Three Musketeers (1948).
Filming of the "Crazy Veil" section of the "Broadway Ballet" had to be stopped for several hours after it was discovered that Cyd Charisse's pubic hair was visible through her costume. When the problem was finally fixed, the film's costume designer Walter Plunkett apparently said, "It's okay, guys, we've finally got Cyd's crotch licked."
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.
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.
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.
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.
This movie was Gene Kelly's trump card to get out of his contract with 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. This movie was not only a hit but a mockery of MGM itself. Kelly was later released from his contract. He had a poor attitude throughout the filming, but most of it was an act just to get the studio frustrated with him.
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.
Before this film, Cyd Charisse had appeared in films as a "dance specialty" or as a supporting player since her arrival at MGM in 1944. Her torrid performance as the Louise Brooks-like vamp in the "Broadway Ballet" was so revelatory that producer Arthur Freed was moved to elevate her to star status. 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 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.
Debbie Reynolds had no dancing experience before she made the film. She pointed this out when she was asked to be in the film, but Gene Kelly said he could teach her, just as he'd done with Frank Sinatra for Anchors Aweigh (1945). Reynolds had been a gymnast, so she wasn't completely unfamiliar with physical movement requiring grace and stamina. Ever the trouper, she buckled down and rehearsed day and night until she could share a dance floor with Kelly and Donald O'Connor without embarrassing herself.
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, Jean Hagen, Holliday's understudy on Broadway for "Born Yesterday", got the part. Additionally, both Holliday and Hagen had worked together in Adam's Rib (1949) both in key supporting roles, Hagen playing a woman involved with Judy's husband. Hagen's speech in that film was similar in "pitch" to what she later exhibited as Lina Lamont .
This film was well received by theatergoers but recalled from Lowe's Theaters by the spring of 1952, so 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.
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.
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.
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 "Would You?" and one portion of "You Are My Lucky Star," Debbie Reynolds, the actress who plays Kathy, is actually dubbed by Betty Noyes. However, Reynolds' own singing voice is used in the rest of the score.
Gene Kelly choreographed his dance scenes with Cyd Charisse to hide the fact that she was taller than he was. To keep the height difference from being obvious, Kelly staged the routine so that the two were rarely upright when standing next to each other, always bending toward or away from one another instead.
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).
In the steamy "Vamp Dance" segment of the "Broadway Melody Ballet" with Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly, reviewers from both the Production Code and the Catholic Church's Legion of Decency objected to a brief, suggestive pose or movement between the dancers. Although there is no precise documentation of what or where it was, close examination of footage toward the end of the dance shows an abrupt cut when Charisse is wrapped around Kelly, indicating the probable location.
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 1980s) in an interview say that it made his day. After the duet they became closer on set.
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.
Because he knew that her crying would hold up filming, Gene Kelly would use Donald O'Connor as his 'whipping boy' when he was frustrated with Debbie Reynolds. Kelly knew O'Connor could take the tongue lashing he really wanted to lay on Debbie Reynolds, who was only 19 at the time of filming. This fact was revealed to Debbie Reynolds by Donald O'Connor years later.
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." ("Supposedly" it was suppose to be "The Wedding of the Painted Doll", though it was moved to Scene 7.) 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."
In the first draft, Rita Moreno as Zelda Zanders was to sing "I've Got A Feelin' You're Foolin'," but after script revisions the song was shifted to the montage before the number "Beautiful Girl," along with "The Wedding Of The Painted Doll" and "Should I?"
Most of the costumes from this film were eventually acquired by Debbie Reynolds and housed in her massive collection of original film costumes, sets and props. Many of these items were sold at a 2011 auction in Hollywood. While most items were sold to private collectors, Donald O'Connor's green check "Fit As a Fiddle" suit and shoes were purchased by Costume World, Inc. and are now on permanent display at the Costume World Broadway Collection Museum in Pompano Beach, Florida.
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, it was supposed to be 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 Reynolds and chorus sing and dance a Charleston to "All I Do Is Dream of You."
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."
Costume Designer Walter Plunkett said that this was the most work he ever did on a film, including Gone with the Wind (1939). Both films were period pieces, but Singin' in the Rain required a greater number of elaborate, ornately detailed costumes than Gone With the Wind did. They had to be more accurate, too, since 1952 audiences remembered Hollywood of the late '20s more clearly than 1939 audiences remembered the Civil War. All told, Plunkett designed about 500 costumes for the film.
The title song was shot out of doors on one of the permanent streets built on the studio back lot--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.
Contrary to popular belief, Jean Hagen didn't base the voice of Lina Lamont on any actual silent film stars. The entire performance--the squeaky, raspy voice; the Sunnyside, Queens, accent; the hair, makeup and body language-- was based on the characters Judy Holliday often portrayed, especially Holliday's Oscar-winning performance in Born Yesterday (1950). Hagen had had the opportunity to observe Holliday in person when they were co-stars in Adam's Rib (1949).
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.
Jean Hagen had some previous experience in playing the role of Lina Lamont. Just a couple of years earlier she played the role of a ditzy female in Adam's Rib (1949), her film debut, but as a brunette.
After the disastrous sneak preview of The Dueling Cavalier, Don, Cosmo, Lina, and R. F. stand in the lobby and listen to the exiting crowd mock the terrible sound synchronization in the film. The movie poster behind them (for the silent film Lovey Mary (1926)) prominently features the name of that movie's male star, William Haines. Befitting the plot of the film, Haines was a wildly popular heartthrob star of the silent era whose career abruptly ended soon after the advent of talkies--but in Haines's case, this had nothing to do with the suitability of his speaking or singing voice. In fact, Haines made a successful transition to talkies, and was under contract to MGM during the late 1920s and early 1930s. But Haines was openly gay in an era when this was highly unusual, and in 1933, Louis B. Mayer (the head of MGM) insisted that Haines had to enter into a sham marriage for publicity. When Haines instead chose to stay with his boyfriend, Jimmie Shields, Mayer cancelled Haines's MGM contract. Blacklisted from an acting career, Haines opened a popular antiques dealership and interior design firm with Shields; they catered to Southern California's elite, including many movie stars (among their clients were Joan Crawford and Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan). Their renown as interior designers was well-established by 1952, when Singin' in the Rain was released, so the appearance of a Lovey Mary (1926) poster in the film is both a genuine artifact of the silent-film era and a contemporary in-joke for the Hollywood intelligentsia who saw the movie on its first release. Shields and Haines remained together until Haines's death in 1973.
The "Broadway Melody" scene was a late addition to the film. Arthur Freed was encouraged by how well a similar sequence in An American in Paris (1951) had turned out, so he suggested that Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen conceive a similar scene-after most of the rest of the film had been shot.
Prior to filming, Gene Kelly had a meeting with studio head Louis B. Mayer in his office to discuss casting. Mayer had Debbie Reynolds enter during the meeting. When Kelly rose to greet her, Mayer said "I'd like to introduce you to your leading lady. Kelly stared at Mayer for a minute, looked at Reynolds and asked "Can you dance?" To which she responded, "Well, a little." Gene Kelly then turned to Mayer and said "LB, what are you doing to me?" To say Kelly was unhappy with the casting of Debbie Reynolds was an understatement to say the least. He worked her hard and brutally during production and Debbie Reynolds really suffered ( she was, in fact, hospitalized during production for exhaustion!). When the film was released, it was only then she could see why Kelly was so hard on her. Together, they made a true Hollywood masterpiece.
Given that the plot of this movie centers around a worthy performer working in an uncredited and unrecognized capacity in a movie, it is ironic that many of the film's on-camera performers (even ones with relatively major supporting speaking roles) and significant behind-the-scenes crew members did not receive onscreen credits. For example, Kathleen Freeman (Lina Lamont's vocal coach Phoebe Dinsmore), who has several dialogue scenes with Jean Hagen, was uncredited; Freeman had a decades-long career as a character actress in movies (such as The Blues Brothers (1980)) and TV shows (such as The Donna Reed Show (1958), _The Beverly Hillbillies_, and Married with Children (1986)). Likewise, accomplished Broadway dancers Carol Haney and Gwen Verdon were both uncredited choreography assistants to Gene Kelly, whose job as the film's main choreographer also went uncredited.
Gene Kelly lived up to his reputation as a a taskmaster, reducing Debbie Reynolds to tears at one point. Despite her admission that she needed the pressure to develop the necessary discipline, the two never had a chance to work together again.
After the movie premiere when the cast is standing in the theater lobby, there's very clearly a poster advertising an upcoming movie. The poster is for Lovey Mary (1926) which starred William Haines and Bessie Love.
What appears to be an outtake from the film is part of of a stunt montage sequence in the opening credits of the 1980s series The Fall Guy. In this brief clip, the stuntman doubling for Gene Kelly, is supposed to jump from the top of a streetcar into the front seat of Debbie Reynolds' Model T. In this take, however, he misses the car entirely and lands, seated, in the street.
When Don, Kathy and Cosmo are discussing the problems with "The Duelling Cavalier", Don says that the studio will be up for sale in the morning, but Cosmo replies that it's Saturday and no bank will foreclose until Monday. After finding a way to save the movie, Don says that today - March 23 - must be his lucky day, and Cosmo points out that it's already morning, so his lucky day is actually March 24. Possibly Cosmo had meant that it *would* be Saturday in the morning, because in March 1928 (the first March following the release of "The Jazz Singer", which prompted the making of "The Duelling Cavalier" as a talking picture), March 23 was a Friday, meaning that the next day - Don's lucky day - would indeed be Saturday, March 24.
As the film's stature grows with each passing year, it becomes all the more mystifying that, at the time of its release, it was considered nothing more than an enjoyable and profitable MGM musical, one of many released the same year. It received only two Academy Award nominations, none in major categories, and lost both. In hindsight, the film was likely unappreciated because it was released in the shadow of the previous year's triumphant, Oscar-winning An American in Paris (1951), also an MGM musical, equally joyous, but with high art pretensions that Singin' in the Rain (1952) utterly lacked. Whereas An American in Paris had elevated the movie musical to a new level of artistic expression, Singin' in the Rain, an unabashed musical comedy, appeared to once again lower the bar. In hindsight, this is not the case, but at the time of the film's release, comparisons to An American in Paris, also produced by Arthur Freed, also starring Gene Kelly, were inevitable and damning. To get a sense of how colossal the former film was, both Freed and Kelly had received special honorary Oscars for their contributions to the industry, these in addition to the six competitive awards the film won. In such a climate, the unpretentious charms of Singin' in the Rain were lost.
The trivia items 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."
The final shot end scene with the Billboard for the fictional "Singin in the Rain", implies that Lina has definitely left her position at Monumental Pictures as the Lead Female Box Office Star, as Kathy and Don kiss in front of a billboard for their new film, "Singin' in the Rain". No further clues are given as to what Lina is doing at this stage in her career.