That Time Gene Kelly Made Debbie Reynolds Gag
I knew he was going to kiss me, but I didn’t know anything else was involved.
In the last shot of Singin’ in the Rain (1952), Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) validate their love with a kiss. Sweet, right? Well, a nineteen-year-old Debbie Reynolds would shake her damn head.
According to Reynolds, her “more experienced” co-star, Gene Kelly, unexpectedly French-kissed her while shooting that final scene. Reynolds recoiled at the act, ran off the set, and gargled her newly defiled mouth with Coca-Cola.
For your reading pleasure, excerpts from Reynolds’s interviews, conducted in 2002, 2009, and 2011, are featured below.
A Very Mature Kiss
Only 17* and completely innocent, which was why, when they were shooting the last scene, Debbie Reynolds ran off to her dressing room in tears after the 40-year-old Kelly gave her a big French kiss.
“He gave me a very mature kiss,” Reynolds said demurely. “I was a young girl, and I was shocked and stopped the scene and pulled away and wouldn’t go on, you know, and finally he had to kiss me square on the lips or I wouldn’t do it,” she added, laughing — no, guffawing at the memory.”
“He was a little upset with that, but I was a very inexperienced young girl.” (Pittsburgh Post Gazette)
*Reynolds was actually 19 during the production of Singin’ in the Rain.
A French Connection
There’s that fade-out kiss between 40-year-old Kelly and 19-year-old newcomer Debbie Reynolds beneath a movie billboard. The kiss that many moviegoers saw but few know about. The one that Kelly put extra effort into.
“I was taken totally by surprise” says Reynolds. “It was a great shock. I knew he was going to kiss me, but I didn’t know there was anything else involved.”
The French kiss was such a shocker to Reynolds that she had to leave the set to gain her composure. “Filming was held up for about an hour while I drank Coca-Cola and gargled,” Reynolds says.
She was eventually persuaded to return and reshoot the scene. This time around, an embarrassed Kelly promised that it would be a “simple kiss.”
“I don’t know why he wasn’t aware I had never had a French kiss. I was such a young girl. . . . I was really upset. Yes, that was an embarrassing moment.” (The Orlando Sentinel)
Gagging, Shrieking, and Running
Debbie Reynolds had never danced before Singin’ in the Rain, and she had never kissed, either.
To her shock and horror, Kelly not only kissed her once the cameras rolled, but jammed his tongue down her throat, which she had never expected or heard of. Disgusted, and outraged, she backed off, gagged, shrieked, and ran crying all the way to her dressing room.
Production halted until someone could coax her back to the set.
She says that if you take a look at the last scene of the film, you’ll see a mightily annoyed Gene Kelly giving her the tiniest of unromantic, closed-mouth smooches at what should have been the happy triumph of a couple over all manner of Hollywood adversity. (Michael Levin)