Arguably the greatest movie musical ever made, Singin’ in the Rain is celebrated as much for its songs and dances as its behind-the-scenes lore: Gene Kelly’s 101-degree fever while filming the title number; Donald O’Connor taking to his bed with exhaustion after filming “Make ’Em Laugh”—only to have to reshoot it days later due to a camera malfunction; Debbie Reynolds rehearsing until her feet bled. But of all the “making of” stories, the most impressive is that Reynolds, only 19 at the time, learned to dance in just three months to play leading lady Kathy Selden.
In her 1991 autobiography Ginger: My Story, Ginger Rogers didn’t mince words: “It was tough being a woman in the theatrical business in those days…women were not allowed in the production department or in the directorial field. We had script girls, dress fitters, costume designers, and stand-ins, but no women were on the cameras or operating the sound boom, or, indeed, working on any of the sound equipment. There were no women set designers, nor were females allowed to act as assistant directors or directors.” In 1982, a comic strip summed up Hollywood sexism in one memorable phrase: “Sure [Fred Astaire] was great, but don’t forget that Ginger Rogers did everything he did, backwards…and in high heels!”