Saturday, 1 April 2017

A Debbie Reynolds Film Friday

This week's «Film Friday» is quite special because it is entirely dedicated to Debbie Reynolds, whose 85th would have been today (hence why I am posting this on a Saturday). Sadly, Debbie pasted away last December, so I thought I would honor her by remind you of all the Debbie Reynolds films I have written about since starting this blog.

Directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen | Co-starring Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, Jean Hagen and Millard Mitchell | MGM

Singin' in the Rain gave 19-year-old Debbie her breakthrough role and it remains her best known work. She played Kathy Selden, a nightclub performer and aspiring actress who falls in love with Don Lockwood, the swashbuckling matinee idol played by Gene Kelly. Selected over Judy Garland, Kathryn Grayson, Jane Powell and June Allyson, Debbie always stated that Kelly and Donen did not want her in the film, feeling that they were «stuck» with her. However, Donen maintained that he and Kelly wanted her from the very beginning, despite her relative inexperience in musicals.

Debbie Reynolds as Kathy Selden in Singin' in the Rain

Being a trained gymnast rather than a dancer, Debbie had difficulty adapting to Kelly's demands and perfectionism. The «Good Morning» number proved especially challenging for her. After fourteen hours of filming the routine, she had to be carried to her dressing room because she had burst some blood vessels in her feet. Debbie later said 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.» For his part, Kelly commented that 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.» Despite her hard work on the «Good Morning» sequence, Kelly ultimately decided to dub her tap sounds.

Directed by George Marshall | Co-starring Glenn Ford, Gustavo Rojo, Eva Gabor, Fred Clark and Harry Morgan | MGM

It Started With a Kiss was the first of two pictures produce by MGM co-starring Debbie and Glenn Ford. In this George Marshall-directed romp, they played a young married couple who decide to go without sex for thirty days in order to determine whether they are suitably matched or not.

Lobby card for It Started With a Kiss
When she began filming It Started with a Kiss, Debbie was in the midst of an humiliating scandal. She had been married to teen idol Eddie Fisher, her co-star in Bundle of Joy (1956), and the two had been labeled by the fan magazines as «America's sweethearts.» Fisher was the best friend of producer Mike Todd, who happened to be married to Debbie' close friend Elizabeth Taylor. When Todd died in a plane crash in 1958, a grief-stricken Taylor was consoled by Fisher, with whom she soon became involved. As he was still married to Debbie, the affair caused a major public scandal, topped only three years later when Taylor left Fisher to consort with Richard Burton on the set of Cleopatra (1963).

The Gazebo (1959)
Directed by George Marshall | Co-starring Glenn Ford, Carl Reiner, John McGiver, Martin Landau and Bert Freed | MGM

In The Gazebo, MGM repeated the It Started with a Kiss formula by paired Debbie, Glenn Ford and director George Marshall for a second time. Ford played a television writer who decides to murder the man who is blackmailing him over nude photographs of his wife, played by Debbie. 

Debbie Reynolds and Glenn Ford in The Gazebo
As Debbie's marriage to Eddie Fisher collapsed, so did Ford's marriage to Eleanor Powell. During the making of The Gazebo, Debbie and Ford helped console each other and apparently they grew quite close. He even proposed to her, but she was not ready to commit again so soon. They remained lifelong friends instead, although they never appeared in another film together. 

From Debbie Reynolds, I also saw:
The Tender Trap (1955) | Co-starring Frank Sinatra, Celeste Holm and David Wayne
How the West Was Won (1962) | Co-starring Gregory Peck, James Stewart, Henry Fonda and George Peppard
   Divorce American Style (1967) | Co-starring Dick Van Dyke, Jean Simmons, Jason Robards and Van Johnson

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