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60th Anniversary: MGM's Singin' in the Rain
Hollywood, during its frantic transition from silent films to pictures that "talked," furnishes the locale and period of M-G-M's star, laugh and song-loaded Technicolor musical, "Singin' in the Rain, a musical that is today considered one of the best musicals ever made. While I did not have a copy of the box set on hand while writing this column, I did some research into what was going to be included. What I present here in text and graphics are probably not included in the set, though certain accolades might be mentioned. I have searched for graphics that are very rare that may not be on the disc release. This, in my humble opinion, is the main attraction of this column, though some of the stories are quite fascinating. Remember, you can always left click on most graphics to enlarge them. So get out your raincoats and enjoy the Making of Singin' in the Rain, a brand new release on Blu-ray from Warner Brothers that has been completely restored and a must for any Blu-ray collection. To order, click on the title anywhere in the column.
Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds forming as merry a trio of leads as you have seen in some time. Kelly and O'Connor enact a vaudeville song-and-dance team who crash Hollywood in the Twenties, when the Charleston was the rage and silent-film directors dressed as though they were riding masters. Starting as a "mood musician," indispensable in putting a star in the right mood in those days, Kelly becomes in turn a stunt man and then the swashbuckling hero of costume action pictures opposite the beautiful Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen). Unfortunately, the alluring Lina's beauty is confined to her face. With the thinking apparatus of a four-year-old and a rasping voice, she is frankly a dumb bunny, so dumb, in fact, that she believes the fan magazines when they say she is Kelly's sweetheart off-screen as well as on. This leads to a number of heated repercussions when Kelly falls in love with pert, young singer, Debbie Reynolds. But the real crisis occurs when the success of "The Jazz Singer," the first talkie, revolutionizes the old silent-film technique. It looks as though Lina, with her frightening voice, is a goner. How she plots to save her career at the expense of her rival, Debbie, who has been employed to "dub" her voice in place of Lina's in a musical, and how this plot is thwarted by Kelly and O'Connor, makes for an hilarious tale studded with memorable song hits from the pen of Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown and felicitous hoofing upon the part of all three principals.
Original newspaper advertisement
In the impressive musical score are such nostalgic heart-warmers as "All I Do Is Dream of You," "You Were Meant For Me," "You Are My lucky Star,' "Wonderful You," "Good Morning," "Beautiful Girl," "I've Got a Feelin' You're Foolin'," "The Wedding of the Painted Doll," the title song and a number of others. An elaborate fashion show revealing the now-hilarious fashions of the flapper era is a highlight. Kelly and O'Connor prove themselves an adroit hoofing team in song-and-dance routines done respectively to "Fit as a Fiddle" and "Moses," while the film is brought to a climax with the brilliant fifteen-minute "Broadway Melody Ballet," featuring Kelly with Cyd Charisse in the dance drama of a young hoofer who achieves fame on Broadway.
Pre-release trade magazine advertisement from MGM (best quality available)
Comden and Green, Story and Screenplay
Betty Comden was born May 3, 1917 while Adolph Green was born three years earlier (1914). Betty Comden and Adolph Green went to Hollywood from New York, where as two-fifths of a group called "The Revuers" they wrote and performed songs and sketches in a series of night club, radio, and theater productions in the early 1940s. When the group disbanded, Comden and Green wrote the book and lyrics for the Broadway "On the Town" in which they also acted and later adapted for the screen, their roles played by Ann Miller and Jules Munshin. The experience gained and associations formedduring their early partnership influenced their writing. They prepared their own material because The Revuers were just too poor to hire writers, while the group's gradual word-of-mouth success at a Greenwich Village cellar nightclub developed proportions of its own and influenced plot developments in some of Comden-Green screenplays. The writing team played by Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray in "The Band Wagon" provided some of the wittiest testimony to that practice.
Screenwriters Adolph Green with Betty Comden and Gene Kelly
The episodic nature of the sketch and Comden and Green's ability to incorporate it with satiric songs proved adaptable to the more extended requirements of musical comedy, whose heyday at MGM they helped shape. Their original screenplays for Singin' in the Rain and "The Band Wagon ," emerged from sets of songs they were told to incorporate into each film's story line, not an uncommon process in the making of a musical. Betty Comden and Adolph Green arrived at MGM May of 1950 to write the score for the new musical. In their contract for all their shows, it stated that unless the music was by Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and a few others, they were to always write their own lyrics. They stood firm with MGM and their new agent, Irving Lazar, re-read their old contract and it turned out they they were wrong. Green had always been a film buff, so he knew plenty about the earlier history of film for this project. But their first idea was a singing cowboy plot revolving around Howard Keel before they knew that Gene Kelly would be the lead.
Original comic book.
The two writers were working with the possibility of three openings to the film. One was the premiere of the new silent film in New York City; the second was a magazine interview where he's telling lies about his past; and the third was a sequence from the silent movie that was being premiered, The Royal Rascal. None of them worked and they were ready to give up and go back to New York. Green has said, "We loved it from the very beginning, but we had no idea it would reach such epic proportions as it grew older. Initially, it was pretty much brushed off since it came out right after An American in Paris. Comden's husband, Steve, read the openings and suggested they use all three together. Green said, "All three ideas ended up in there, intertwined ,and it worked. And Gene sure looked great in that white hat and the white coat at the premiere."
Posters for theater inserts
Comden and Green began meeting with Gene Kelly at his home in the evenings. They read parts out loud or turned to certain pages and said, Hey, I think we need to do this here. Green said, "It was mostly patching things up, discussing costumes, sometimes deciding to rewrite two scenes into one—those kinds of things. We had a great shorthand with both Gene and Stanley because we were all old friends, going back to our nightclub days. So we didn't have to explain things to t hem. Another director might have said, What is this craziness? What do you think you're doing?" Or How the hell are we going to do that?" But Gene and Stanley were used to the way our minds worked."
On the set
Early on, Gene brought Donald O'Conner to the studio to see what he could do, and he had him do every single dance step that Donald knew, and every joke, and every pratfall. They were satisfied that he could handle the role. Of course, Debbie Reynolds just sang a few songs, did a few dances, and made the cut immediately..Arthur Freed wrote the song "Make 'Em Laugh" the night before rehearsals. They invited Irving Berlin the hear the piece. They were afraid he would recognize the similarities between Cole Porter's "Be a Clown"and the new song. He was actually surprised when he asked, "Who wrote that song." Freed mumbled something and they moved on.
(top)Various cartoons commissioned by MGM for promotion; (bottom) MGM's suggestion for theater front design.
In the early 1950s Comden and Green broadened their Broadway career with the revue "Two on the Isle" (1951), the first of many collaborations with their most frequent composer, Jule Styne. Their next Broadway project, "Wonderful Town" (1953), reunited them with Leonard Bernstein which won the Tony Award as Best Musical. Their next seven musicals were collaborations with Styne, including additional songs for "Peter Pan" (1954), "Say Darling" (1958), "Do Re Mi" (1960), "Subways are for Sleeping," (1961), "Fade Out Fade In" (1964) and Best Musical Tony Award winner, "Hallelujah, Baby!" (1968). The most successful show from Comden and Green's collaboration with Jule Styne was Bells Are Ringing (1956), which was written as a vehicle for Comden and Green's old friend, Judy Holliday, who became an Academy Award winning actress. I own all of these original score compact discs, and there is some fantastic show music to be had on them. Most of these were released on the Columbia Masterworks label, who actually financed some of the shows. I recommend these Broadway Cast compact discs to anyone who likes the old-fashioned style show tune. Comden and Green also continued their performing careers in 1959, with the first version of their successful revue, A Party With Betty Comden and Adolph Green, which they performed several times on Broadway and around the country over the following thirty years.
During this period of popularity on Broadway, Comden and Green also continued work on various film projects, adapting "Bells Are Ringing" for the screen in 1960. They also did the 1958 screen adaptation of Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee's play "Auntie Mame." Though their last produced film was the comedy with songs, What A Way To Go! (1964), they continued to work on screenplays for the rest of their careers. Comden and Green also continued their performing careers in 1959, with the first version of their successful revue, A Party With Betty Comden and Adolph Green, which they performed several times on Broadway and around the country over the following thirty years.
Merchandising advertisement from merchant tie-ins.
In 1970 Comden and Green provided the book for Charles Strouse and Lee Adams' score for "Applause," a musical version of the classic film, "All About Eve," (1950) which won the Tony Award for Best Musical. Throughout their career as writers, Comden and Green continued to work as performers in such films as "My Favorite Year" (1982), "I Want to Go Home" (1989) and "Garbo Talks." They also appeared in many tributes and concerts including "Follies in Concert," performed at Avery Fisher Hall in 1985 and Green appeared as Dr. Pangloss in the London Symphony Orchestra's "Candide," conducted by Leonard Bernstein in 1989. Betty Comden was married to artist Steven Kyle from 1942, until his death in 1979. They had two children, Alan Kyle and Suzanne Kyle. Adolph Green's first marriage in 1941, to actress/painter Elizabeth Reitell ended in divorce, as did his second marriage to actress Allyn Ann McLerie from 1945-1953. In 1960 he married actress Phyllis Newman, with whom he had two children, Amanda Green and Adam Green, and to whom he remained married until his death on October 23, 2002.
German style B poster
The Score: Arthur Freed & Nacio Herb Brown
One of the highlights of the film is the musical score. Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown composed the famous and Broadway-type score to the picture. Born Arthur Grossman in Charleston, South Carolina, he was raised in Seattle, Washington. After graduating high school, he moved to Illinois and worked as a pianist for a Chicago music publisher. During his time in Chicago, he met Minnie Marx, the mother of the Marx Brothers. She introduced Arthur to her sons, which led to his teaming with them and touring the vaudeville circuit as a singer and writer of musical material for the brothers. In 1921, he collaborated for the first time with composer Nacio Herb Brown on the song "When Buddha Smiles." In 1923, Freed's first major success came when he wrote "I Cried For You" with Gus Arnheim and Abe Lyman. After a few years of touring the nightclub circuit, Freed joined MGM in 1928 as a lyricist, and was assigned to work with his former collaborator, Nacio Herb Brown.
The bones of days gone by rattled at the M-G-M studios when that hectic period, the 1927 transition from silent films to sound pictures went before the modern Technicolor cameras in Singin' in the Rain. It was produced by Arthur Freed in a string musical offering in a list of pictures which included such hits as "Show Boat," "An American in Paris," "Annie Get Your Gun" and "Meet Me in St. Louis." His first Hollywood job was as collaborator with Nacio Herb Brown on "Broadway Melody of 1929," the first sound musical made at the studio. "The diction coaches ran the place," said Freed. "Silent picture stars were walking around in a trance, mumbling such tongue-twisters as 'Around the rugged rocks the raucous rascal ran.' Ours was the only sound company on the M-G-M lot at the time. Our microphones were usually suspended from the rafters, dangling from the arms of prop men. We also had an extra mike hanging from the end of a bamboo fishpole, this one to follow the actors around. That fishpole was the forerunner of the modern boom."
Various music releases of the popular musical score.
The audience for the film while it was shooting on the lot was as distinguished as that which attended its world premiere. "All of the silent stars under contract to the studio were in the bleachers," Freed recalled. In the audience were John Gilbert, Eleanor Boardman, Renee Adoree, Sally O'Neill, Aileen Pringle, Lew Cody, Conrad Nagel (the one star who never had mike fright because he had come from the stage), and even the elusive Garbo." The stars of that early musical were Bessie Love, Anita Page, Charles King and Ukulele Ike. "It was the day of the ukulele craze," continued Freed. "We deliberately wrote our music so that it could easily be adapted to accompaniments by the most amateurish amateur. That isn't possible with today's Hit Paraders. There is too much transposition of keys."
Singin' in the Rain" brought back some of the tunes written by Freed and Brown during their days as one of the country's top composing' teams. In addition is a number entitled "Beautiful Girl." 'That song was originally sung in a picture called "Stage Mother." The singer was a comparative unknown, a young fellow from Seattle, by the name of Bing Crosby. After which he began his second career as a film producer. Freed was a staunch proponent of the "integrated" musical, wherein the songs became integral in the storyline rather than their being mere highlights. MGM's legendary 'Freed Unit' produced nearly 50 movies, and helped elevate MGM as the studio of the musical.
Magazine covers.After leaving MGM in 1961, Freed served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 1963 to 1966. In 1951, he was presented the Irving G. Thalberg Award for "Creative producers, whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production." In 1967 a special honorary Academy Award was presented for his distinguished service to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Freed also produced five highly rated Academy Award telecasts, and one pre-Oscar special. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972. Arthur died on April 12, 1973 at the age of 78.
Boxoffice Barometer from 1952. This was published in the weekly magazine "Boxoffice." This will show what other films were showing at the time and how they were doing financially.
Nacio Herb Brown was born in Deming, New Mexico February 22, 1896. He attended Musical Arts High School in L.A., California and graduated with a bachelor's degree from UCLA. Brown then started his own tailoring business. A few years later he became a realtor accruing quite a bit of money in Beverly Hills real estate. None of these paths fit the creative composer and he began his finest career in songwriting in the early 1920's. In the early days of film soundtracks, Brown was under contract with MGM in 1928 and produced some of the greatest Motion Picture scores. He wrote complete scores for films such as Broadway Melody of 1929, 1936 and 1937, Going Hollywood, Sadie McKee, Student Tour, Greenwich Village and The Kissing Bandit. Other films with Brown songs are Hollywood Revue, A Night At the Opera, San Francisco and Babes in Arms. His greatest success would come with the score and title song for Singin' in the Rain.
Nacio Herb Brown (left) with Arthur Freed
The Brown catalog holds some of the greatest standards from his era. Including "Singin' in the Rain", he also wrote "Temptation", "The Wedding of the Painted Doll", "Eadie Was a Lady", "Pagan Love Song", "All I Do is Dream of You", "You Are My Lucky Star", "I've Got A Feelin' You're Foolin'", "Broadway Melody", "Our Big Love Scene", "A New Moon Is Over My Shoulder", "You Stepped Out of a Dream", "Love Is Where You Find It" and "Make 'Em Laugh". Brown also composed serious music such as "Doll Dance" and "American Bolero". His Stage productions included the Los Angeles production of Hollywood Music Box Revue plus the Broadway production "Take a Chance." Other than Freed, Brown collaborated with Buddy DeSylva, Gus Kahn, Leo Robin and Gordon Clifford. Nacio Brown passed away on September 28, 1964, in San Francisco, CA.
Fashions and Wardrobe
If 1952's smart girls wanted to beat the fashion trend, they went back to the family album and dug out some pictures of their mothers. According to Screen Designer Walter Plunkett, the shape of things to come was shapeless. "We've been gradually drifting back to that low flapper waistline in our vogue for Sloppy Joe sweaters," Plunkett declared. "And while I'll hardly go so far as to advocate the above-the-knee skirt, I will get out on a limb concerning several other fashionable fancies of the roaring '20's."
When Mr. Plnnkett was assigned the task of designing 1927 wardrobes for Debbie Reynolds and Jean Hagen, he accepted the job with some foreboding. "In retrospect, it was strictly a comedy era," he says. "Waistlines were just above where the knees ought to be. Skirts consisted of a slightly over-sized ruffle. However, I drew up the designs and we put the sketches into work. After the first fittings, I realized that many of the attributes of this flapper era were worth hanging onto fashion -wise. I don't mean to infer that we were going back one-hundred percent, but I am convinced that the lowered waistline, the all-over beaded evening dress, the pasted-dyed fox furs, the cloche hats and the hose tinted to match shoe tones are ripe for a comeback."
Publicity still Reynolds and Kelly
Plunkett entered the business of film costume designing in 1927, the very period recalled in the new musical. At that time he whipped up snappy creations for such early-day stars as Lilyan Tashman, Olive Borden, Evelyn Brent, Bebe Daniels, Viola Dana and Alberta Vaughn, to mention just a few. "One gown worn by Jean Hagen in 'Singin' in the Rain' is, as nearly as I can remember, the duplicate of a frock designed for Lilyan Tashman," declares Plunkett. "At that time it was in the best tradition of Vogue and Harper's." Plunkett was correct when he predicted a comeback of the fashions. Athough flappers didn't come back with a vengeance, many of the styles used in the film finally did make a comeback in the early 1960's, in the new form of Art Nouveau (French for "New Art)." Many of the Nouveau styles were updates of 1920's fashion and decorative arts.
Costumes from the MGM costume department.
Plunkett spent almost a year working on the pre-design and production of the costumes from the film. Models were hired to strut in front of the director, costume people and several of the actors. Thousands of styles were studied, drawn, and discussed before the final selection. Since the film was going to be a Technicolor production, Gene Kelly was adamant that all of the scenery and costumes "shine with brightness and strong color." Indeed, the art direction department helped to make that happen, but also the costumes, dozens and dozens of specially-made colorful clothes hand-made by the Costume department at MGM.
Seven separate sequences make up the spectacular "Broadway Melody Ballet," danced by Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse and a large chorus ensemble was an outstanding highlight of Singin' in the Rain. Running a full fifteen minutes and staged on a scale equal to that of the much-discussed Kelly-Leslie Caron ballet in"An American in Paris," the lavish production number depicts the rise of a young hoofer of New York's Roaring '20's from burlesque shows and cheap nightclubs to stardom on the Great White Way. The sets vary from the nightclub, to speakeasies, theater interiors, Fifth Avenue on a crowded afternoon and an imaginative depiction of Times Square at night, with the familiar signs of Broadway suspended in mid-air against an impressionistic background of the famous street. Fifty-five hundred light bulbs were required to illuminate the scene, which starts at floor level with the cameras focusing on Kelly. The camera and boom then move backward until the camera is shooting from a height of sixty feet in the air.
On the set (
For the Fifth Avenue sequence, showing the crowds sauntering (and dancing) along the town's most fashionable thoroughfare, M-G-M constructed the largest treadmill ever used on the Culver City sound stages. Kelly had a number of quick changes ranging from a striped blazer, an outsized check suit, a dinner jacket with straw hat and the formal white tie and tails, and Miss Charisse sporting an elaborate costume fashioned entirely of sequins and feathers. The ballet utilizes a medley of the great songs written by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown.
For the first time in more than twenty years, the lock turned on an almost unforgotten underground vault at the M-G-M studios to reveal a priceless collection of silent and early-talkies equipment once used by the studio. Together with several old Bell and Howell silent cameras, the "loot" included wooden booms and bamboo fish-poles, rigged to hold the clumsy microphones that recorded some of the first sound ever heard on film. The antiquated equipment played an important part in filming Singin' in the Rain. Incidentally, the prop man assigned to the production was Tony Ordoqui, who was at the studio during the transition from silent to sound. The silent-picture era came to life again on the M-G-M lot when one of the studio's oldest stages was reactivated for the sequence, part of the story of Hollywood's transition from silent pictures to talkies in the Twenties, four separate companies are pictured snooting a silent film, one in each corner of the stage. "It really happened that way," an old-timer observed. "As a matter of fact, the so-called 'silents' were so noisy that we had to shoot the first 'talkies' at night!"
Original lobby cards
A replica of the forecourt and facade of the celebrated Grauman's Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood was constructed on M-G-M's big Lot II for a silent-day movie premiere sequence. It was decided to build the set rather than shoot at the actual location because filming the scenes at the studio made it possible to control the traffic (1927 vintage) and to gain speed by the elimination of confusion stemming from sightseers. The famed theatre background is used in opening sequences of the plot, depicting Hollywood's transition from silent films to "talkies," with Gene Kelly and Jean Hagen enacting an idolized acting team of silent-picture days. For the first time in fifteen years, four members of the early "Our Gang" comedies appear together before the movie camera. They are "Baby Patsy," Dale Odell, Roberta Williams and Gerald Carpenter, all of whom appear in Singin' in the Rain. Mae Clarke and Margaret Bert, two famous screen stars of the early days of film, stepped before ,the cameras again in Singin' in the Rain. They appear as hairdresser and wardrobe woman, respectively, for Jean Hagen, cast as a silent picture star in the musical.
One of M-G-M's earliest and most famous dressing-rooms was used as a setting for a scene in Singin' in the Rain. It was the dressing-room originally presented to Norma Shearer as a gift from the late Irving Thalberg. With the plot telling a story of Hollywood's transition from silent movies to "talkies" in the happy era of the Twenties, the dressing-room is shown as used by Gene Kelly, enacting a silent picture star. While it has a history of reposing on many famous studio sets, this marked the first time it was placed in front rather than in in back of the cameras. Twelve showgirls, exact matches in height, weight and measurements are featured in the elaborate "Calendar Girl" number. Each girl represents a month of the year in the routine staged to the tune, "Beautiful Girl." The beauties appearing in the number, listed according to the months they represent, are Bettty Arlen, Barbara Carroll, Beverly Thomas, Jean Harrison, Camille Williams, Beverly Thompson, Dee Turnell, Dorin da Clifton, Pat Walker, Doris Fulton and Joy Lansing.
Original trade ad from Boxoffice Magazine (best available quality).
Tommy Walker, whose educated toe won many a football game for the University of Southern California, was assigned to carry the ball in the film. Young Walker played the role of a silent-day screen star and as the star he plays a cinematic football hero who runs 80 yards for the crucial touchdown and wins the game! Andy Hardy's famous jalopy resumed its film career with a feminine version of the indomitable Andy at the wheel. You will see Debbie Reynolds driving the car in the musical. Gene Kelly, portraying a silent-film star named Don Lockwood, enacted a scene in which he is besiged by autograph hunters. After signing several books, he makes a quick get-away in a car driven by Debbie Reynolds. "Cut," called co-director Stanley Donen, as the car disappeared around a corner. While a new scene was set up, Kelly and Debbie returned to their starting point. Suddenly, Kelly found himself surrounded by the autograph-seeking youngsters of the scene before."Hey," yelled the star, "the scene is over." "We know it," returned one of the teenagers, "but this time would you mind writing Gene Kelly under the name of Don Lockwood?" Kelly obliged.
Czeck posterJim Horgan, Props
Jim Horgan was head of the magic department known as Hand Props at the M-G-M studios. If it's something you could carry, Horgan had it. It took 25 ledgers to list items in his charge and every item had a number. When it is checked out for a movie set, it was Horgan's job to list the item's number as well as the number of items. This procedure worked in reverse when the items are returned. "It takes six of us to check things in and out when the lot is going full blast," he said to Photoplay Magazine in 1952. "Everything's fine until a couple of the set decorators happen to want the same item. That's when I disappear into the china room and let 'em fight it out." Scavenger hunts during his early Broadway days with the late Flo Ziegfeld had aided Horgan in systematizing his department to make it easy for prop men. He cited Singin' in the Rain as an example. "In the old days it would have taken a Hollywood prop man months to scout up the necessary items for this story of the Roaring '20's. But we had 'em all nice and handy." Mr. Horgan flipped open a nearby cabinet. Inside was a comprehensive display of articles pertinent to the reign of the Flapper.
Among the items gathered for the use of Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds and Jean Hagen in the musical were movie director megaphones and puttees, silver mesh bags (an indispensable in the Flaming Youth era), John Held, Jr., drawings and statuettes, ukuleles by the score, vanity cases (forerunners of the then-current compact), King Tut jewelry, beaded lamp shades, hip flasks, pennants, raccoon coats and even a stack of Rhythm Boys recordings! And speaking of items, last year Debbie Reynolds, who had purchased thousands costumes and props during MGM's sale and from other studio's costume departments, went on to earn an estimated $100 million for her two auctions. She had originally wanted to open a museum in Hollywood, but sadly this didn't work out due to lack of funding. When looking through the auction catalogs, it deeply saddens me that those in the Hollywood community did not get together to make this happen. It would have become one of the biggest attractions in Hollywood.
Debbie Reynolds with her costume collection from the film.
Feet are handy gadgets. You can use them to walk with, to run with, to kick with, to dance with. But there's one dancer in Hollywood who demanded even more of these pedal extremities. His must talk! "No dance is worthy of the name unless it tells a story," declared Gene Kelly. "It has to have a reason. A dance is supposed to say something. If there's nothing to say, there's nothing to dance." Kelly insisted on this one qualification for dance numbers early in his career, when he rehearsed for Cole Porter's musical, "Leave It To Me." The director was Robert Alton with whom Kelly has worked many times since casting his lot with M-G-M. As Alton recalls it, he called Kelly over and explained that he was to do a gliding soft-shoe number among a group of restaurant tables. "Why?" Kelly asked him. "Why what?" came back a baffled Alton. "Why do I do the dance?" asked Kelly. "Because the action is slow, the dialogue" is too wordy but can't be cut and the dance will liven things up," Alton explained patiently. "Get a little pathetic humor into it if you can." At this point the director was called away. When he returned, he found a dejected Kelly sitting on the floor of the stage. "I can't do it," he told Alton. "There's no real reason behind it. There's nothing to say."
Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly
Alton thought fast. "But there is," he insisted. "Plenty. You're lonely. There's a girl at that table over there with a man she doesn't love. She's lonely, too. Lonely right here in the middle of a big, noisy crowd. You know how she feels because you feel the same way. You want her to know that you empathize and think she's too beautiful to be blue." "Why didn't you say that before?" Kelly shouted, as he jumped to his feet and started creating his choreography. Within an hour it was completed. During the run of the musical his dance proved a show-stopper. Kelly had been talking with his feet ever since. His pedal-prattle in "Pal Joey" led him to Hollywood. Here he told the story of a lonely G. I. with nothing but a mop for a dancing partner in one of his early dancing roles in "Thousands Cheer."
Studio commissioned cartoon ad
He told the fairy story of a selfish king and a cartoon mouse in "Anchors Aweigh," the tragedy of a slaughter on Tenth Avenue in "Words and Music," and the never-to-be-forgotten "Alter Ego" in "Cover Girl." The expansive ballet in An American in Paris told still another story, that of a romantic painter whose love eludes him. In Singin' in the Rain, Mr. Kelly had himself a time interpreting the bounce, noise and carefree gaiety of the Terrific Twenties in a Hollywood story depicting the transition from silent pictures to talkies. When it came to dancing partners, Kelly boasted the most unusual collection of any artist on stage or screen. He has danced with a mop, a broom, a mouse, a statue, a dog and a pillow. Gene Kelly realized a lifelong ambition at last. In the film, he wore a white suede cowboy suit for a silent-movie sequence of the film. "I've always wanted a cowboy role," said Gene, "and at last I've made it!" Here's one for the books, while you watch Gene Kelly dancing in the rain, keep in mind he was very sick with the flu and had a 103 degree temperature. Now that is stamina!
Debbie Reynolds is living proof of the fact that the American school system worked. She sings, dances, twirls a baton, plays the French horn, can keep her check book straight, can recite the preamble to the United States Constitution, has a working knowledge of French, can hold her own in a discussion of current affairs and, within a record-breaking time had risen at M-G-M from a one-song part in "Three Little Words" to a co-starring role in Singin' in the Rain. The fact that the French horn was included in her school curriculum surprised everyone but Debbie. "I admit it was sort of an accident," she said in an on-set interview. "When the preference cards were distributed, I put in for a clarinet. But somehow or other, the card was lost and by the time the teacher got around to me, all that was left was a French horn. So I learned to play the French horn."
Publicity still Debbie Reynolds and Gene Kelly
All of this took place in Junior High School. By the time she entered Senior High she was good enough to have a chair in the regular orchestra, and before she graduated she was proficient enough to be chosen as a member of the Burbank Symphony Orchestra. "School?—I loved it," stated Debbie. "There is so much more to it than subjects like English or history or mathematics. You learn about people, how to choose friends and keep them. It teaches tolerance and understanding because pupils come from all over rather than from a segregated level of society."
That Debbie chose her friends wisely was proven by the fact that she still has them. Her closest associates were not players she had met through her work at the studio but the boys and girls of Burbank's John Burroughs High School. The fact that she is well on her way to becoming one of Hollywood's brightest stars hadn't affected her relationships. "I consider what success I may have had in motion pictures a matter of plain luck," she said. "In fact, it's still hard for me to believe that I am Gene Kelly's partner in 'Singin' in the Rain.' It wasn't too long ago that I went to a matinee in Burbank with a girl friend and we both wondered what it would be like to play June Ally son opposite Mr. Kelly in 'The Three Musketeers.' I never found out about June's reaction, but I know my own now. It's wonderful!
Debbie Reynolds wardrobe test stills
Debbie Reynolds was one actress who took her work home with her. As a result, her family was temporarily moved out of the living room of their Burbank home. When young Miss Reynolds started preparations for her singing and dancing role opposite Gene Kelly in the new musical, all the furniture was removed from the living room, which was transformed into a rehearsal hall, with full-length mirrors lining one end. And that's where Debbie did her homework!
U.S. six sheet poster
Ten years prior, Donald O'Connor ate lunch in the M-G-M commissary as an "unknown." A decade later, he returned to the studio, co-starred with Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds in Singin' in the Rain . But he still felt ill at ease in the commissary. Mr. O'Connor and the dining room of the stars met each other after his erstwhile vaudeville partner, Judy Garland, signed with the studio. "When Judy invited me to lunch," he recalled, "it took me an hour to get ready. My face was scrubbed, my hair was slicked to within an inch of its life, and I wore a white Palm Beach suit. The commissary was so impressive I was struck dumb. In addition to a lot of stars, I spotted Abraham Lincoln in one corner of the room and George Washington sipping coffee in another. I was too busy staring to pay much attention to my food. Suddenly I found a steak, with plenty of "catsup" on it, reposing upside down in my lap. Even in that extraordinary set-up I must have looked a bit unusual as I left the room with a napkin draped across the front of my pants!"
But the O'Connor family, and Donald in particular, were born to be spectacular. "You should have seen our introduction to Broadway," he said. "The town really turned out for that." It seems the family had completed an engagement adjacent to New York and was on its way to Montreal, Canada, for a series of performances. "Six of us were piled into a Model-T Ford," said O'Connor. "The scenery for our tumbling act was roped to the top of the sedan, with the suitcases containing our costumes strapped to the sides. As we traveled down Broadway near the Roxy Theater, the car suddenly burst into flames. People started running from everywhere. Traffic was halted while the fire department came to our rescue. And it's a good thing we knew about tumbling because some of us had to do double-rolls out of the car windows!" It was two days before the ' troupe could start out again, battered but unbowed. Montreal, Canada, however, was destined not to see the O'Connors for some time. It was Donald who caused the next delay. He tried to get friendly with an unsociable dog at a service station. When the dog and Donald were finally pried apart, the mutt took a healthy portion of the boy's right cheek with him. "It's all in the day's work," said the youthful entertainer. "Just show business."
Original herald handed out to theater patrons to promote the film
The fact that the entire family felt the same way was indicated by the knowledge that a second generation O'Connor, Donald's niece, had joined forces with Mel Torme's sister as a song-writing team. Donald's wife, Gwen, appears with him in a skit in Singin' in the Rain and later planned to break in his five-year-old daughter, Donna, by writing an act for her to present at local charity shows. "If you're going to be in this business, you can't start young enough," was O'Connor's opinion. O'Connor hoped some day to achieve a directorial berth along with his singing, dancing and acting. "And I'd like to devote part of every year to hitting the road again," he said. "There's something about one-night stands that gets in the blood." One experience along this line proved something of a record. During a tour of American army and navy installations abroad he covered 15,000 miles in fourteen days. "For a really good audience, you can't beat a bunch of G.I.'s," he said.
Gene Kelly publicity ad
Donald's first film was titled "Melody for Two" and featured a specialty comedy act in 1937. His first contract was with Universal Pictures, where he played parts in comedies and musicals including "The Merry Monahans," "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," and "Francis." He was signed to MGM for several films that included Singin' in the Rain and "I Love Melvin" while still sppearing for Universal in the "Francis" sequels. Fox signed him in 1954 for Irvin Berlin's "There's No Business like Show Business." He tended to work with many studios, including Paramount for their 1956 remake of "Anything Goes" and "The Buster Keaton Story."
Posters from Argentina
Husband-and-wife combination hit the screen when Donald O'Connor and his wife, Gwen, joined hands in a comedy skit of Singin' in the Rain. Although Gwen O'Connor had appeared in a number of pictures in her own right, the musical marked the first time she and her husband happeared together on the screen. Donald O'Connor made good use of his acrobatic heritage. His solo number, "Make 'Em Laugh," is described as one of the most strenuous acrobatic dance routines ever filmed. In it he leaps over couches and chairs, dodges falling boards, jumps from a balcony, crashes through a wall and somersaults through a window. O'Connor was taught the tricks of the trade as a child, his father, John E. "Chuck" O'Connor, having won renown as one of the greatest acrobats in show business.
Publicity still Dawn Addams
Donald appeared on television frequently, in twenty hours of the "Colgate Comedy Hour in 1951," "The Jimmy Durante Show," "The Red Skelton Hour," and in 1954, after the tremendous popularity of Singin' in the Rain, produced and starred in nineteen episodes of "The Donald O'Connor Show" for NBC. Later he would play in series such as "The Bionic Woman," "Fantasy Island," "Police Story," "Murder She Wrote" and "The Love Boat." His last major film was "Out to Sea" in which he played Jonathan Devereaux. He was a Golden Globe winner, an Emmy winner (for "The Colgate Comedy Hour)" and won his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. He died on September 23, 2003 at the age of 78.
Did you ever wish you had been on the deck of the Santa Maria when Columbus discovered America? Or a guest at one of the glamorous parties thrown by Marie Antoinette? Or perhaps a 49'er blazing the trail West in a covered wagon? None of these would do for actress Jean Hagen. She claimed her era should have been the Roaring Twenties. "If I could have had my say, that is the era in which I would have chosen to live," declared Miss Hagen. "Everything about it appeals to me, the music, the clothes, the flaming youth." Born some twenty years too late, Miss Hagen was given a chance to enjoy vicariously the era of long waistlines, short skirts, lively jazz and deadly bathtub gin. Of course, if she hadn't been a movie actress, it couldn't have happened. For Miss Hagen relives the twenties in Singin' in the Rain.
Publicity still Jean Hagen
"Since my favorite authors are Anita Loos, Dorthy Parker, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hecht and MacArthur, that was one character I didn't have to read up on," commented Miss Hagen. But her knowledge of the twenties wasn't all due to books, it was Hecht and MacArthur who gave the young actress a first crack at Broadway in the play "Swan Song," and it was MacArthur who kept her fascinated for hours while he related stories of his experiences as a newspaperman at the height of those roaring twenties. None of this, however, was sufficient to explain why Miss Hagen, a typical 1951 model, was able to wear the wardrobe of a flapper stylishly in Singin' in the Rain. Considered to be caricature clothes at the time of production, they were worn by the actress with the dash and aplomb of a new Paris creation. On her they looked good too.
Newspaper copy sent to theaters for their local newspapers.
As Lina Lamont, Miss Hagen enacts a motion picture star of the silent era whose voice and exaggerated temperament finish her career at the birth of sound films. "It was a tough acting assignment in the vocal department," she said. "We made dozens of tests before finally arriving at the proper voice for Lina. It had to be bad, but not bad enough to cause cash customers to run for the exits. I had so much fun on the set. Gene Kelly was not the easiest director/actor to work for. He wanted things his way and sometimes we would do take after take.
New York Premiere
Radio City Music Hall original program
But when we sat at the premiere and watched the completed film with an audience, I had no question in my mind that this was worth every bit of hard work and I respected Gene immensely after that." In one scene, in which Jean and Debbie play rivals for the love of Gene Kelly, Miss Reynolds was required to throw a piece of cake at Kelly and hit Miss Hagen by mistake. Debbie's Girl Scout training came in handy. She made a perfect pitch and hit a perfect target. The next day, she arrived on the set carrying a large chocolate cake which she deposited in Miss Hagen's dressing room. "Here's one you can eat with a fork," said the accompanying note.
New York Premiere advertisement
Tickets for the premiere in Los Angeles at the Egyptian Theater.
Gene Kelly at the theater
Singin' in the Rain lived on long after the film version which became a stage show. The original London production opened on June 30, 1983 and starred Tommy Steele. This version is available on CD. It ran at the London Palladium until September of 1985. However the show was troubled and didn't come close to the film. The show moved to Broadway at the George Gershwin Theatre on July 2, 1985 and played a little under a year. A 1994 version toured the U.K. starring Paul Nicholas, followed by a 2000 London revival at the Royal National Theatre for 45 days. The show has just opened in London at the Palace Theater in a major revival, which is said to finally be a colorful and faithful version of the show. Broadway plans are being discussed. At the same time, TCM held a film festival which featured the film, and it was recently shown in theaters for a one day only screening across the country using the newly remastered 4k digital master.
Clockwise: Palace Theater in London's current stage version, Advertisement for the one day screening and a poster from the TCM film festival (inset photo of Debbie Reynolds attending).
In contacting Warner Classics, I found out that some of the original negative to Singin' in the Rain has been lost or damaged for some time. Other generations of the film had to be used. The last remaster of the film was done for the Warner Ultra-Resolution project which produced the last released DVD. For the Blu-ray version, a 4k scan was done. Reviews on the web for this new anniversary set are nothing short of spectacular. Our own expert disc reviewer, Kenneth Brown, says that the film has never looked better and that colors have been granted new life and are gorgeous. The history of Hollywood would never be complete without including Singin' in the Rain, and now it's finally available on Blu-ray including a special box set thanks to the wonderful classic department at Warner Home Video.
Although Kenneth Brown has written one of his excellent reviews on the disc, I read it and wholeheartedly agree that such a tremendous effort shines in this set. The color and sound has been superbly mastered, and the box set in beautifully put together, and how wise to add an umbrella! Warner has really mastered the art of collectors sets!
All materials in this and other Silver Screen columns are copyright their respective studios, Blu-ray.com and the collection of Robert Siegel. Many graphics on this page have been painstakingly corrected and cleaned, and are internet tracked. Special thanks to Warner Home Video Classics for transfer information and Debbie Reynolds and her auction staff. Premiere ad courtesy of John Greco of Twentyfourframes.com. Special thanks to the Motion Picture Academy Library and the UCLA film library. Please ask for permission to use any graphic by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. This edition all artwork, publicity and production photos/drawings original copyright MGM and Warner Home Video and are used for informative and promotional use.
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