Back in April, a good friend came to LA for a visit. He and I are both big fans of the GREATEST MOVIE MUSICAL EVER, Singin’ in the Rain. We were both in it in high school (where he was the Gene Kelly role), in fact.
So I arranged a little something special for the both of us. You see, the Cinematic Arts Library at USC has quite a collection, and included in this are the 1st AD’s production reports from when they made the film back in 1951. And I cannot overstate: READING THROUGH THEM WAS AWESOME.
Each one has the call sheet, with the actors’ call times, lunch times, and dismissal times. And on the back, there’s a typed up minute-by-minute summary of the shoot day. Thumbing through the scores of these, you literally feel like you’re there on set, watching them shoot one of the greatest films ever made.
Poor Debbie Reynolds had three weeks of “dance rehearsal”, just by herself, before shooting even began. And then once shooting begins, it’s the little moments that really make you feel present. Like, as Donald O’Connor is filming “Make ‘em Laugh”, it reads like:
9:48 - Film Make ‘em Laugh, two takes. First take NG (no good)
9:55-10:01 - Actor resting after strenuous dancing
Strenuous. No kidding!
Here’s some entries from July 9, 1951:
8:45am - Gene Kelly arrives on set
1:40pm - Too ill to rehearse in rain; dismissed
3:05pm - Listened to playback, tried out wet sidewalk in rain, checked camera angles
I learned some of the little tricks, like putting sawdust in the puddles so the splashing shows up on film. The times when the crew would wax the floor for a Gene Kelly floor slide. That the Culver City water pressure plummeted during filming of the rain number, and they had to stop filming.
But it was the little things that really put you there. Seeing the 1st AD has typed out “Rehearse Vo Dee Oh Girls” is just fun. Learning that rehearsing and shooting the “Broadway Melody" piece took almost two months (half of the film’s shooting schedule). The day that Kelly was ill and Cyd Charisse was listed as "INDISPOSED", which the historian explained to me as "she had her monthly visitor".
This isn’t the only gem at the USC Cinematic Arts Library. But if you’re a fan of Singin’ in the Rain and you’re in the Los Angeles area, I urge you to call, make an appointment (required), and head over to the reading room. You won’t regret it.