To hear Debbie Reynolds tell it, the man she acted opposite in her breakout film, Singin' in the Rain, would've preferred she not be there at all.
"Gene Kelly was a little tough and he used to yell at me on the set," Reynolds, who died Wednesday, told the Sunday Express in 2013. "When studio chief Louis B. Mayer told him I was going to be his leading lady, Gene stared at me and said, 'What have you done before?' I said, 'Nothing ... but I won the Miss Burbank beauty pageant!'"
Kelly took issue with the actress' near-total lack of dance experience — but, as she said, "I was going to be in the movie whether he liked it or not, and I had three months to learn to dance." So learn she did — and as outlets like Vox and Entertainment Weekly have noted, she overcame her lack of experience to become a star.
Reynolds is nothing short of a charm hurricane in the part of Kathy Selden, particularly in her big number "Good Morning." Though Reynolds didn't sing the part — as was common practice at the time, she was dubbed by singer Betty Noyes — she dances like mad, despite her lack of experience.
Getting that magic on film wasn't easy for Reynolds, though. Kelly was something of a "taskmaster," the late actress said, demanding repeated takes and expressing little sympathy for her pain.
"My feet were bleeding from all that dancing and when I pointed it out, Gene would say 'Clean it up!'" she recalled to the Express. "If I wasn't smiling, Gene would yell at me to smile more. During filming, I thought my cheeks were going to crack from all that smiling."
Reynolds felt the weight of Kelly's demands but found solace from an unlikely source: Fred Astaire, who even invited her to watch him rehearse.
It took blood, sweat and tears — but for Reynolds, the end result was an unmistakable success. As she told the Express, "It's a movie that makes you smile and forget your troubles."