Singin’ in the Rain is turning 70 and looks better than ever as it becomes available on 4K for the first time. The Hollywood classic is not only considered to be the greatest musical of all time by many but also one of the great films of all time, period.
Now a revered gem, it was only a moderate box office hit. In case you didn’t know, Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds play three stars in 1920s Hollywood as the industry moves from silent movies to talking pictures.
To celebrate Singin’ in the Rain‘s milestone and stunning new look, I caught up with Patricia Ward Kelly, the wife, and biographer of legendary dancer, director, and choreographer Gene Kelly. As well as the film itself, I asked her what became of the Kelly animatronic that wowed millions as part of the classic Walt Disney
Simon Thompson: Did Gene Kelly have any idea how influential Singin’ In The Rain would be? Did he see it in the same way that so many others do?
Patricia Ward Kelly: I would probably say no and no to both of those because it didn’t really stand out among his movies. Each movie had a particular role, a particular stage in his life, and a particular event. I think An American in Paris, which had come out the year before, people described as the sine qua non of the American movie musical. His ability to direct, choreograph and star in the ballet was really something because it was a real challenge for him to do. Singin’ in the Rain came along, and he had this team of sidekicks from before Hollywood, including Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who he’d known for many years. He loved and had performed with, but I think they never envisioned that people would be still watching these movies so many years later. I believe that the audiences are just growing larger and larger each year, and the appreciation is growing larger each year along with that. Gene did say to me that only Adolph Green thought that Singin’ in the Rain might have legs. He was the only one. I don’t know why he felt that, but he was the one who saw it. Stanley Donen, who co-directed and co-choreographed it, didn’t think the movie would do very well. Once the critics got out of the way, I think people are the ones that perpetuate it because it’s word of mouth. It’s very much a familial thing. I hear people say that their mothers showed them it or their grandparents, and now they’re showing it to their kids. I’m hearing many college kids have movie nights, and they are showing Singin’ in the Rain. I think it was one way they got through Covid. They would have screenings parties in their own homes, watch it together via video and comment down the side.
Thompson: With this 70th anniversary and the 4K release, how involved did you want to be in that process? Was it something you sought out, or were you approached with the idea?
Kelly: I just run along behind on the track. They have the money, the technology, and the technicians. I’m probably the biggest cheerleader in the world for this kind of thing. Anything that will keep Singin’ in the Rain and Gene’s breadth of work out there to introduce him and his work to new audiences, I’m 100 percent behind all of that. I appreciate the ability to work with a company like Warner Bros. when something like this comes out because it’s with the hope that it gives it a kind of personal voice. Having had the opportunity to record Gene almost every day for over ten years, I have a lot of stories about it from the horse’s mouth. He didn’t embellish and what was important to him was the process, how everything was done, and how the process was revolutionary. Gene wanted to make sure that somebody got that down, that was going to be recorded and not just a lot of the mythology that was out about the movie.
Thompson: Gene is sadly no longer with us but as the custodian of the Gene Kelly archive, do you find yourself still learning new things about his life and Singin’ in the Rain and his other work?
Kelly: Absolutely. I experiment on social media, and I try different things. I try personal stories, things Gene told me, things other people have said about the movie or Gene. One thing I started doing a few weeks ago was beginning to identify some of the dancers in the An American in Paris ballet because they’re all uncredited. I just happened to figure out who some of the people were. I went back to their histories, what else they had done, and whether they were alive or not, and I started posting pictures of the cast, and people loved it. Gene called every one of them an unsung hero, whether they had the minutest role or the biggest, so I started to do it too. With Singin’ in the Rain, I identified the man that Gene hands the umbrella to in that iconic scene, and he’s a well-known guy named Snub Pollard. He was uncredited. The hairstylist doing Jean Hagen’s hair when she comes out in the big Marie Antoinette wig is Mae Clarke, the woman Jimmy Cagney puts the grapefruit in the face of in The Public Enemy. Gene would bring together this team of people and would give them roles. People love this stuff, and I’m always seeing something new.
Thompson: One thing I am curious about is what happened to the model of Gene from The Great Movie Ride, the attraction that was in Walt Disney World for many years.
Kelly: I reached out about it, but apparently, it was just destroyed, but I don’t know for sure. It hasn’t turned up on eBay yet, and that’s usually where I find everything for sale. I never got down there to see it. We were brought over to Disney to take a look before it launched, and it was a funny experience. They hit go; they were so excited about Gene being there and everything, but the whole animatronic went off track, and it just flipped, and its arms went flailing, and there was this panic (laughs), but we never really got to see it in full. Many people loved seeing that on the ride, but I think it would be a little bit strange to see it. We did erect a statue in Leicester Square in London right before lockdown, and interestingly, it’s static, but it has movement in it. It feels very alive, so I’m very happy about that. Every day somebody sends me a picture of themselves holding on to the lamppost next to him.
Thompson: We all think of Gene as this icon and a movie star. Was he comfortable with being considered a movie star?
Kelly: He knew he was a movie star but wanted to be seen as a director and choreographer, but unfortunately, he often wasn’t included on those lists. I keep trying to make sure he gets on there. He was comfortable as a movie star because he realized that you had no private life once you got to be that. It’s a bit of a deal with the Devil, and I think that that was hard for him because we couldn’t go out in public without people surrounding him and taking pictures. I can only imagine what that would be like today. I remember we were at the Savoy Hotel in London, and it was the Queen’s Day, and everybody was in their dress suits and their toppers. One man turned to Gene in the elevator, and he just touched the brim of his hat and tipped it. That was perfect for Gene, a very quiet nod with no words at all. I always remember that because it sent chills down my arm when it happened, just a moment of recognition and appreciation and a perfect way to say, ‘I see you there, and I love and respect what you do.’ That was very special.
Singin’ in the Rain is available in a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Combo Pack and on Digital from Tuesday, April 26, 2022.