Gene and Debbie (Not) Sitting in a Tree: That One Kiss Debbie Reynolds Cannot Forget

Last Saturday night, a slew of Gene Kelly fans from across the country tuned in to Turner Classic Movies to watch and live-tweet An American in Paris (Vincente Minnelli, 1951), the lavish MGM musical which earned Kelly an honorary Oscar and which Alec Baldwin and Robert Osborne introduced as one of The Essentials. Here’s Osborne on the film: “It’s joyous, it’s fun, it’s Technicolorful. It’s why people went to the movies.” Moreover, Osborne beamed, “it’s the perfect Gene Kelly movie. All that Kelly had — that smile, attitude, average Joe — he brought to the screen.”

Baldwin went on to discuss the film’s cinematography, in particular the long shots and long takes which Gene Kelly often used to frame his (as well as his co-stars’) body: “When you can do what Kelly can do — a god of contemporary dance — I wouldn’t let them cut the camera from me either,” Baldwin quipped. Yes, An American in Paris is an essential indeed.

And now, to the evening’s events…

Several portions of An American in Paris brought about an onslaught of tweets, especially the ballet dream sequence (you know, because of “dat ass“). But so did a random comment I made as Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly) kissed Lise (Leslie Caron) the first time; see tweet at right. My Tweetdeck lit up immediately with responses:

  • Whaaaa? He did??
  • NO!!!!! He slipped Debbie tongue?!?!!?
  • If I were her, I wouldn’t be able to keep quiet if he did.
  • Me either. And that was Debbie’s FIRST kiss? Ever? What a first one to have.
  • I would melt. Or spontaneously combust or something.

Yes, according to Debbie Reynolds, her “more experienced” co-star unexpectedly French-kissed her while shooting the final shot of Singin’ in the Rain (1952), shown below. Much to the chagrin and sheer dismay of Kelly’s current fans, Reynolds quickly recoiled at the act, ran off the set, and gargled her mouth with Coca-Cola. Excerpts from Reynolds’s interviews, conducted in 2002, 2009, and 2011, are featured below.

 

Come on, Debbie. Just go with the flow.

“A Very Mature Kiss”

Only 17 — and completely innocent, which was why, when they were shooting the last scene, she 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,” she 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)

The French Connection

And 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, speaking by phone from California to mark the 50th anniversary of Singin’ in the Rain, which premiered in April 1952. The “surprise” wasn’t the kiss, which was in the script. It was the French connection.

“It was a great shock,” Reynolds says. “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 that 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, and Shrieking, and Crying, Oh My!

She had never danced before Singing in the Rain, and she had never kissed, either.

She had to be shown how to kiss and be kissed, she recalls, and I won’t tell that entire story, because I don’t want to steal the thunder of the Hollywood legend whose memoir I am currently writing. Instead, that legend gave her a lesson, she said it took just a few minutes, and he claims that it went on for hours in how to kiss. Thus she was ready, or so she thought, for the moment when Gene Kelly would embrace her. 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)

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