We learned yesterday that the incredible star of Singin’ in the Rain and other fantastic films has passed away — less than twenty-four hours after daughter Carrie Fisher’s death. As news of her death spread around, tons of celebrities and friends gave their touching condolences for the incredible performer. Because the world just lost a legend.
Debbie Reynolds didn’t become the star she was by pure luck. She worked her butt off. And her time in Singin’ in the Rain is a perfect example of that. The story from Debbie’s memoir, Unsinkable, perfectly portrays the incredible strength and spirit that made her an icon. And we think it’s a perfect way to remember this incredible star.
When she started on Singin’ in the Rain, Debbie Reynolds didn’t have any dance experience.
As soon as Debbie was cast in the role of Kathy Selden, she had to start studying dance. In Unsinkable, Debbie said, “I had three months to learn what Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor had been doing for years.” So Debbie got to work. She said that she studied all of Gene and Donald’s signature moves, so she could keep up with them.
And throughout, Gene, who was not only the star but also a co-director, didn’t give her much encouragement. She said, “He came to rehearsals and criticized everything I did and never gave me a word of encouragement. He was a cruel taskmaster.” That sounds SO difficult. And a lesser woman might have cracked under the pressure.
But Debbie worked through the pain to turn in a stunning performance.
Debbie explained in Unsinkable that she would never have thought about quitting. She said, “My father had raised me to never start a job unless I planned on finishing it, and I was determined to do my damnedest. The word ‘quit’ was not in my vocabulary.” That totally explains how Debbie became the strong, impressive performer that she was.
Debbie famously said, “Making Singin’ in the Rain and childbirth were the two hardest things I’ve ever done.”
But Debbie is living proof that doing something that feels like the hardest will probably be worth it in the end.
When she was reaching her breaking point, another famous dancer came to her rescue.
Debbie described how Fred Astaire found her sobbing under the rehearsal piano. She said, “He asked me why I was crying, and I told him dancing was so hard, I thought I was going to die.” But Fred just told her that feeling meant she was doing something right. Fred took her to another stage, where he was rehearsing with a choreographer. Debbie said that he was working “to the point of frustration and anger.” And Debbie realized that if Fred Astaire, who made dancing look so effortless, had to work hard, then everybody must have to.
When they finally got to filming Singin’ in the Rain’s incredible dance numbers, Debbie was ready.
But being ready didn’t make it that much easier. Debbie said that filming “Good Morning” for the film took from 8 a.m. until 11 p.m. She said, “My feet were bleeding from hours of abuse. I couldn’t move.” She was actually so exhausted that her doctor ordered her to stay in bed for two days.
But the experience on Singin’ in the Rain taught Debbie that her hard work would pay off, and that’s a lesson she clearly took with her.
In Unsinkable, she explained, “When I look at Singin’ in the Rain now, I realize something that I didn’t understand at the time but must have known somehow. Mr. Mayer said I could do it. Gene Kelly said I had to do it. I didn’t know that I couldn’t do it. So I did it. And I was terrific.”
Now if that isn’t a perfect lesson in trying something scary and hard, we don’t know what is. Clearly, Debbie Reynolds had incredible courage and strength of spirit that propelled her forward, even when roadblocks stood in her way. Which is why this is the perfect story to illustrate the incredible star who we lost.