A History and Behind the Scenes Review of
Hollywood’s Greatest Musical
Hollywood, California. Most of the action takes place in and around the studios of Monumental Pictures.
Story’s Time Period:
The story takes place at the beginning of the Sound–Era in Hollywood, 1927 & 1928.
This humorous, nostalgic, original screen musical is based on the movie industry’s awkward transition from silent pictures to sound. A silent–era matinee idol, Don Lockwood, meets a struggling young movie extra, Kathy Selden, when he escapes from overactive fans by jumping into her car. A romance develops, irritating Don’s screechy–voiced co–star, Lina Lamont. Lina is forced to grudgingly accept Kathy, however, because the young actress has a lovely voice and can dub Lina’s dialogue and songs when Lina’s silent film, “The Duelling Cavalier”, is remade into a talkie and re–titled “The Dancing Cavalier”. Even so, Lina does everything she can to destroy Kathy’s movie career. In the end, this inventive backstage musical ends up lampooning the foibles of the fledgling movie industry with affection and genuine wit.
Arthur Freed wanted to produce a musical using songs he and Nacio Herb Brown had written in their early career, especially their 1929 song “Singin’ in the Rain”. The screenplay was developed after the writers, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, had listened to the catalogue of Freed/Brown songs and realized that most of them had been written for the very early Hollywood musicals made between 1929 and 1931. “It occurred to us,” they said later, “that rather than try to use them in a sophisticated, contemporary story or a gay–nineties extravaganza, they would bloom at their happiest in something that took place in the very period in which they had been written.” So they based their original screenplay on the dramatic upheavals of that period, when great silent–picture careers were often wrecked because the public’s image of a favorite actor was suddenly destroyed by a voice that did not match the fabled face.
Metro–Goldwyn–Mayer, Inc. (M-G-M)
Singin’ in the Rain Cast:
|Don Lockwood||Gene Kelly|
|Cosmo Brown||Donald O’Connor|
|Kathy Selden||Debbie Reynolds|
|Lina Lamont||Jean Hagen|
|R.F. Simpson (Studio Head)||Millard Mitchell|
|Roscoe Dexter (Director)||Douglas Fowley|
|Zelda Zanders (the “Zip Girl”)||Rita Moreno|
|Phoebe Dinsmore (Diction Coach)||Kathleen Freeman|
Singin’ in the Rain Crew:
|Story & Screenplay||Adolph Green & Betty Comden|
|Songs||Arthur Freed (lyrics)|
Nacio Herb Brown (music)
|Musical Direction||Lennie Hayton|
|Musical Numbers Staged By||Gene Kelly|
|Musical Numbers Directed By||Stanley Donen|
|Director of Photography||Harold Rosson, A.S.C.|
|Art Direction||Cedric Gibbons & Randall Duell|
|Editor||Adrienne Fazan, A.C.E.|
|Sound Recording||Douglas Shearer|
|Orchestrations||Conrad Salinger, Wally Heglin, and Skip Martin|
|Vocal Arrangements||Jeff Alexander|
|Set Decorations||Edwin B. Willis & Jacque Maps|
|Special Effects||Warren Newcombe & Irving G. Ries, A.S.C.|
|Hair Styles||Sydney Guilaroff|
|Associate Producer||Roger Edens|
|Directors||Gene Kelly & Stanley Donen|
Behind–the–Scenes of Singin’ in the Rain:
Before the filming on Gene Kelly’s classic musical “An American in Paris” ended, preproduction began on “Singin’ in the Rain”. Although Gene Kelly would receive an Honorary Academy Award for “ . . . his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film,” during the 1951 Academy Award ceremonies when “An American in Paris” won the Oscar for “Best Motion Picture”, the following year’s film “Singin’ in the Rain” is considered by many to be his masterpiece.
The film’s co–director, Stanley Donen, recalled that, “now, when we talk about “Singin’ in the Rain”, it seems like a wonderful title for the movie. But at the time the only reason to call it “Singin’ in the Rain” was because the number turned out so well.” The writers of the film’s screenplay, however, recollect it a little differently. Betty Comden recalls that one day she and Adolph Green, “had been called into our producer Arthur Freed’s office, and he said ‘Kids, you’re going to write a movie called “Singin’ in the Rain”. Just put all of my songs in it.’ All we knew was there would be some scene where someone would be singing, and it would be raining.”
In addition to “Singin’ in the Rain”, the Arthur Freed Production Unit also made: “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944), “Easter Parade” (1948), “Annie Get Your Gun” (1950), “An American in Paris” (1951), “Show Boat”(1951), “Brigadoon” (1954), “Silk Stockings” (1957), and “Gigi” (1958), among many others. Many consider Arthur Freed to be the all time greatest producer of movie musicals.
The song, “Singing in the Rain”, was originally written for the Los Angeles stage revue “Hollywood Music Box Revue of 1927”. It was later featured in the 1929 film “The Hollywood Revue of 1929”, where it was sung by the Brox Sisters and used as the “show–stopping” color finale of the film. The song was also used in the films “Speak Easily” (1932), “Little Nellie Kelly” (1940), “Hi, Beautiful” (1944), “A Clockwork Orange” (1971), and “That’s Entertainment” (1974). Arthur Freed wrote the lyrics for the song, and Nacio Herb Brown wrote the music.
The dance number for the song “Singin’ in the Rain” was initially written to be performed by all three of the main characters, Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor. All three do perform the number during the opening credits of the film.
The song, “Moses Supposes”, was the only song written without the help of Arthur Freed. The music was by Roger Edens, and the lyrics were by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
Most of the songs used in “Singin’ in the Rain” had been written by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown for previous films, before Arthur Freed became a producer at M-G-M. The new song, “Make ‘Em Laugh”, which they plagiarized from the Cole Porter song, “Be A Clown”, was their last collaboration. (With great tact, Cole Porter chose to ignore the existence of the song.)
Arthur Freed wanted to cast the pianist/songwriter/wit Oscar Levant as Cosmo Brown, Gene Kelly’s piano–playing partner in the film. However, the writers Comden and Green, the co–director Stanley Donen, and Gene Kelly himself wanted a dancer for the part. Donald O’Connor was eventually cast as Cosmo.
While filming the “Singin’ in the Rain” number (which was actually shot during the daytime under a black tarpaulin), the technicians lost water pressure in the late afternoon when the residents of Culver City arrived home and turned on their sprinkler systems to water their lawns and gardens. The filming of the number took a day and half, and on the first day of filming Gene Kelly had a fairly high fever. Years later Leonard Bernstein said, after watching the number for the first time, “That’s a reaffirmation of life.” This dance number has gone on to become the signature number of the American movie musical.
Jean Hagen, who plays Lina Lamont, the glamorous, screechy–voice movie–queen, had previously been in the gritty, 1950 Film Noir classic, “The Asphalt Jungle”. In “The Asphalt Jungle” she played a weary, lonely waitress who is in love with a gangster who cares very little for her. From 1953 to 1957 she played Danny Thomas’ wife in the popular TV series “Make Room for Daddy”.
Debbie Reynolds was an athlete who had planned to teach gymnastics before she was discovered at a beauty contest in Burbank, CA. She was 19 years old when she made “Singin’ in the Rain”. Gene Kelly, whose character “falls in love” with the Debbie Reynold’s character in the movie, was 40 years old at the time.
When Debbie Reynolds’ character is supposedly dubbing the singing for Jean Hagen’s character, Debbie’s voice was, in fact, dubbed by Betty Noyes. In several scenes the Debbie Reynolds’ character is supposedly lip–synching and rerecording Jean Hagen’s speaking–voice. In actuality, Jean Hagen’s real voice was much more cultured than Debbie’s voice, so Jean dubbed Debbie dubbing Jean’s character.
Although “Singin’ in the Rain” made Debbie Reynolds a star, she had some mixed feelings about the actual making of the film. “Gene Kelly made me work so hard,” she revealed in a 1998 interview, “that I’d almost pass out trying to keep up.” In another interview she added, “The two hardest things I ever did in my life are childbirth and “Singin’ in the Rain”. In a 2002 TV Special made by Turner Entertainment Co., Debbie said that after 14 hours of shooting the song and dance number “Good Mornin’ “, “When I took off my little blue shoes my feet were bleeding from all the dancing.” On the other hand she also admitted that, “He [Gene Kelly] worked me hard, but he taught me so well that I’m still in the business 52 years later because of his teachings.”
When Jean Hagen’s character comes out of a dressing room wearing a large wig, she says, “Gee, this wig weighs a ton.” In response to, “Everyone wore them.” she replies, “Then everyone was a dope!” The wig, in fact, was the same wig worn by Norma Shearer in the 1938 movie “Marie Antoinette”.
Donald O’Connor was born into a Vaudeville family and made his first stage appearance when he was 3 days old. After making many films, he became best known for starring in the popular “Francis the Talking Mule” film series. He made “Francis the Talking Mule” films both before and after doing “Singin’ in the Rain”. In fact, the reason he isn’t in the final “Broadway Melody” number is that he had been called away to do another “Francis” movie.
O’Connor was 27 years old when he performed in “Singin’ in the Rain”, and he was smoking 4 packs of cigarettes a day while shooting the film. After successfully completing the “Make ‘Em Laugh” dance routine in one day, on a concrete floor, it was discovered that the camera aperture had not been checked and the film was unusable. They had to film the entire dance sequence over again despite the fact that O’Connor was sore and bruised from the first shoot.
The “Broadway Melody” ballet number cost $600,000, took a month to rehearse and two weeks to shoot.
Cyd Charisse didn’t know how to smoke a cigarette, but was informed that she would have to smoke one during the “Broadway Melody” number. After a number of takes she finally was able to get the smoke to come out of her nose, but after the number had been filmed she never smoked another cigarette again.
Cyd Charisse was slightly taller than Gene Kelley, but with all the dips and swoops in their dance routine it doesn’t show.
“Singin’ in the Rain” cost $2,540,800 ($620,996 over budget), and had initial gross receipts of $7,665,000. Walter Plunkett created more than 500 costumes for the principals and bit players in the movie. The design and execution of Plunkett’s designs cost $157,250.
In the film, Debbie Reynolds drives the same jalopy used by Mickey Rooney in the Andy Hardy movies.
Jean Hagen was nominated for the 1952 “Best Supporting Actress” Academy Award for “Singin’ in the Rain”, and Lennie Hayton was nominated for “Best Scoring of a Musical Picture”. Neither person won an Oscar.
Donald O’Connor won the 1952 Golden Globe award for “Best Motion Picture Actor in a Musical or Comedy” for his performance in “Singin’ in the Rain”.
In 1952 the Screen Writer’s Guild of America presented their “Best Written Musical” award to Betty Comden and Adolph Green for their work on “Singin’ in the Rain”.
Pauline Kael, the late, great film reviewer for the New Yorker magazine, wrote in her review of the film that, “This exuberant satire of Hollywood in the late 20s is probably the most enjoyable of all American movie musicals.”
Gene Kelly began to struggle with his career after the release of “Singin’ in the Rain”. M-G-M changed under new leadership, and though Kelly would go on to make such entertaining films as “Brigadoon” (1954), “It’s Always Fair Weather” (1955), and “Inherit the Wind”(1960) among others, he lost a great deal of his artistic control and his movies never produced anything like the critical and financial success he enjoyed with “An American in Paris” and “Singin’ in the Rain”.
In 1989 the U.S. Film Registry of the Library of Congress chose “Singin’ in the Rain” for inclusion in its initial list of films deemed worthy of preservation for its cultural, historical and artistic significance.
In 1982, Sight and Sound magazine’s 50th Anniversary poll of world critics’ “Ten Best Lists” listed “Singin’ in the Rain” #4.
The American Film Institute’s list of “100 Years . . . 100 Movies (American’s 100 Greatest Movies)” lists “Singin’ in the Rain” as #10 . . . the highest ranked musical. They also list “Singin’ in the Rain” #16 on their list “100 Years . . . 100 Laughs (America’s 100 Greatest Comedies)”; #16 on their list of “100 Years . . . 100 Passions (America’s 100 Greatest Love Stories)”; and nominated the songs “Good Morning”, “Make ‘Em Laugh”, and “Singing in the Rain” for inclusion in their 2004 list of “100 Years . . . 100 Songs (America’s 100 Greatest Songs in American Movies)”.
(This article is dedicated to Tammy C.)
© 2004 The Picture Show Man. All Rights Reserved.
The following products will help you explore this subject further:
- Singin’ In The Rain, (BFI Film Classics), (1993) by Peter Wollen
- M–G–M’s Greatest Musicals: The Arthur Freed Unit, (1975/1996) by Hugh Fordin
- Red Hot & Blue: A Smithsonian Salute to the American Musical, (1996)
by Amy Henderson, et al.
- Gene Kelly: A Life of Dance & Dreams, (1999) by Alvin Yudkoff
- Singin’ in the Rain: The Making of an American Masterpiece, (2009) by Earl J.
Hess & Pratibha A. Dabholkar
DVDs & Blu–ray Discs:
- Singin’ in the Rain [Blu–ray] (60th Anniversary Edition) Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds
- Singin’ in the Rain [Blu–ray] (60th Anniversary Collector’s Edition) (3 discs, includes DVD)
- Singin’ in the Rain, (2–Disc Special Edition) starring Gene Kelly, Debbiie Reynolds & Donald O’Connor
- Gene Kelly Collection, 4–Disc Box Set of 4 Films including “Singing in the Rain”
- That’s Entertainment, (1974)
- That’s Entertainment Trilogy Giftset, 3–Disc Box Set
- Gene Kelly: Anatomy of a Dancer, (2002)
- Singin’ in the Rain, (1952 Film Soundtrack)
- Singin’ in the Rain, (1952 Film Soundtrack) (Deluxe Edition)
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