Debbie Reynolds claimed Gene Kelly was a “severe taskmaster” who “criticised everything that I did” because he didn’t want her to be his co-star in Singin’ In The Rain. The Kathy Selden star was worked so hard on one scene, the blood-soaked actress was forced by doctors to be bed bound for two days.
It’s been six years to the day since Debbie Reynolds’ sudden death at 84, tragically just one day after her daughter Carrie Fisher. The Golden Age star shot to fame after being cast in Singin’ In The Rain when she was just 18 opposite Gene Kelly, who was over 20 years her senior. Before her death, she confessed how terrible the Don Lockwood star was to work with on the 70-year-old classic that is considered one of the greatest movies ever made.
Writing in her 2013 memoir Unsinkable, Reynolds shared how professional dancer Kelly didn’t want her to co-star opposite him in Singin’ In The Rain, given she was a newcomer who was only starting to learn the craft.
She wrote: “Gene definitely hadn’t wanted me as his co-star. But Louis B. Mayer [the co-founder of MGM] had chosen me to play Kathy Selden, and there was nothing Gene could do about it, even though he was MGM’s biggest star at the time. He came to rehearsals and criticised everything I did and never gave me a word of encouragement. He was a severe taskmaster.”
Shooting the four-minute Good Morning sequence was particularly gruelling, taking 15 hours for the stars and Donald O’Connor to get right. The Kathy actress was left with bloodied feet and ordered by a doctor to take two days rest in bed. Another grim moment for her was when she had to shoot a kissing scene with the Don Lockwood lead, which left her horrified.
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Speaking with the Sydney Morning Herald in 1996, Reynolds called Kelly a “great dancer” and “cinematic genius”, adding: “He made me a star. I was 18 and he taught me how to dance and how to work and be dedicated.”
In her memoir, she wrote: “In the early Seventies, Gene came to see me when I was starring in Irene, my first time ever on Broadway. After the show, he came backstage, hugged me, told me how proud he was of me, and kissed me — no tongue. I was so moved, I cried.” Additionally, Kelly later reflected: “I wasn’t very nice to Debbie [on Singin’ In The Rain]. I’m surprised she still speaks to me.”